THE MOUSE THAT ROARED

Every now and then, the mouse roars. There aren't too many things an O-2 pilot can do to claim the spotlight. The following is an incident of my one moment of glory in the annals of aviation.

The stereotype fighter pilot is Mr. Macho himself. There's nothing he doesn't know. Nothing he can't do better than anyone else. No other man knows women better than he. Nobody has a greater sexual prowess than he. Just look at "Top Gun". He can just barely tolerate living on the same planet with the rest of us mere mortals. He is the ultimate in creation. At least that's the way he sees himself.

The rest of us can recognize them by the sloping foreheads, single thick eyebrow, calluses on their knuckles from dragging them on the ground, non opposable thumbs, and other simian trails.. You can always tell a fighter pilot, as long as you use simple, easy to understand words. When you brief fighter pilots, you know its time to move on to the next slide when you see their lips stop moving. They are living proof that with enough bananas ...

I know dozens of fighter pilots who do not fit either image. Most of them are ordinary guys, representing an average cross section of the population from ministers to ex-NFL football players. However, there are those who insist on living up to the stereotype.

As a much younger (23 years old) 1st Lt, Forward Air Controller (FAC), one of my assigned missions was to teach fighter pilots at MacDill AFB, FL. how to work with FACs. MacDill is where the Air Force taught F-4 "school" for pilots coming in from pilot training or cross training from other aircraft. During one of my pre-mission briefings to a group of F-4 "studs1," I got the distinct feeling that they regarded anyone who flew an aircraft that didn't have afterburners as sub human. What they thought of non fliers, I don't know. They listened to my briefing only because it was part of the lesson plan. After all, what could I tell them that they didn't already know.

I did have something they wanted. I got to choose the targets they would attempt to hit. What they wanted to hit was a convoy on the tactics range. This was a new target consisting of 5 non-serviceable trucks hauled out to the range on a flatbed truck, and placed along one of the roads. It was a "virgin" target. Unlike the other targets on the range, this one wasn't beat up. In fact, we were the first flight with an opportunity to run an airstrike on it. This group of jocks couldn't wait to "deflower" that virgin. My initial thought was not to work them on that target, but I figured that the target would still be a there after they got through with it. (I later read a quote in Clancy's "Red Storm Rising" that sums it up, "They couldn't fight their way into a Turkish bordello, much less do something useful while they're there")

According to the lesson plan given to me verbally by the F-4 instructor, I was supposed to give these guys a general purpose workout. Each F-4 was loaded with two 750 lb canisters of water (to simulate napalm), 4 BDU-33 (little blue bombs that go "poof" but fall exactly like big green bombs that go "bang"), and 100 rounds of 20 MM. My plan was to them out with napalm passes on another target to simulate a low threat environment, practice dive bombing on the convoy, and strafe for score on the panels.

As the last F-4 came off the first target, I was already into my briefing and positioned my Oscar Deuce for the second strike. As number 4 pulled into strike formation, I went in for my mark. I came down the road along the length of the convoy, aiming for the middle truck. I unleashed my "willie pete" at what looked like the appropriate place2, and immediately pulled off and out of the way to work the airstrike. During the few seconds it took me to maneuver into position, I gave the flight their final instructions. The last part of the instructions was how many meters off my mark to aim. I usually planned my speech, and my flying so I could look back and find where the rocket hit. Unlike the movies, you don't see the rocket hit. You don't watch it go in, you get out of the way.

I had a problem finding my smoke. The first I saw of it was as it started pouring out of the windows of the middle truck. One of the F-4 instructors told me during the debriefing, that it had gone into the back window of the cab. What I wanted to do was an aileron roll3 and scream over the radio in a pitch slightly lower than that audible only to dogs; "I GOT THE TRUCK ... I GOT THE TRUCK ... GOD DAMN, I GOT THE TRUCK". What I actually did, was punch the mike button, and say as deadpan as I could muster, "Er, I got the middle truck, you guys can pick up the rest."

Only one of their bombs got close enough to do any damage if they were dropping 500 pounders. As it was, I don't think they even got close enough to get the trucks dusty. My BDA (Bomb Damage Assessment) was that all of their bombs impacted in Florida.

It was a slightly more somber group I met upon debriefing.


On another trip to MacDill, there was a group of four of us lieutenants who were flying the midnight to noon shift (you don't think they'd make higher ranking officers fly those hours). So we met at the Officer's Club bar about 2 in the afternoon for some cold ones. This old timer comes in and sits down. He notices our patches, knows that we're from out of town, introduces himself as "Eddie," and strikes up a conversation. He buys us a round of beer, and seems very interested in our quaint O-2s, and the mission we fly.

He finishes his beer and leaves. One of my squadron mates asks the bartender who the old geezer was. The bartender replies that he frequents the O'Club a lot since his old squadron, the 94th, is stationed there. The old geezer used to be the commander of that unit in WW I ... Eddie Rickenbacker.


  1. "Stud" is supposed to stand for "students," but they considered themselves under some other interpretation

  2. I was rarely on dive angle, airspeed, or altitude at release time. I made "best guess" corrections for being off. While these tactics made it more difficult for me to hit them; it also made it more difficult for them to hit me.

  3. Yes, it is possible, albeit illegal to do aileron rolls in the O-2. Don't ask me how I know.