The flight I most remember on a wet day one November,
Was an out-and-back I’m fortunate to tell.
We were coming back from Robbins with a drop-in planned for Dobbins
When the weather over Georgia went to hell.
The forecast called for clearing, though an upper trough was nearing
With cumulo-nymphos building in the west.
The weatherman insisted if we took off now we’d miss it
But, in retrospect, he was an optimist.
The sun was shining yet as we lumbered to our jet,
Stowed our gear and fired that mother up.
We had no apprehension as we’re cleared into position,
Then Stanley lit the burners – giddyup!
The sky was blue and white as we rocketed to height,
Though the white was growing tall and turning gray.
With Stanley under hood, I did the best I could
To dodge the taller build-ups in our way.
When he called up Dobbins Tower she reported that a shower
Now obscured her view of Runway Oner-One.
Turning final it was raining. What the hell, it’s only training,
So I asked her for the viz. She said, “There isn’t none.”
Inside the outer marker, our world was growing darker
As we banged from side to side and up and down.
At the minimums selected, our glideslope full deflected,
I yelled at Stan, “For God’s sake, go around!”
As Stanley cobbed the power, I called good-by to Tower
And told her we’d be back some other day.
I figured it was best we be headed to the west
With Columbus some three hundred miles away.
The turbulence was fierce, and the crackling hurt my ears
When a blinding flash of lightning split the air.
We were climbing like a comet when I heard my student vomit
And my only thought was getting out of there!
I called for further clearance but, except for interference,
The radio was silent as a stone:
Just the static, my own breathing – and the sound of Stanley’s heaving –
Filled my head. I turned down interphone.
With poor ol’ Stanley sick, I shook the forward stick
And kept climbing with a sense of urgency.
The fuel was looking tight and I knew we needed height,
So I dialed the code to squawk Emergency.
Passing twenty-one I still couldn’t find the sun,
But I looked around and found alarming things:
Both EGTs were rising and crystal horns of icing
Were sprouting like stalagmites on my wings!
When you hear that little voice that says you got a choice,
Mister – shake the stick, control your destiny.
Grab the devil by the throat, be a hero or a goat,
But there ain’t no sunshine where you gotta be!
It was down into the well of that dark electric hell
As I aimed our Thirty-Eight into the muck.
I felt an engine cough so I pulled some power off
And hit both starter buttons just for luck.
Did you ever stop and wonder where the lightning and the thunder
Have their genesis? They’ve got to start somewhere.
Well, I can tell you straight, it was my own T-38
That they started from. I know, ‘cause I was there!
Passing over Birmingham, we were sorely in a jam;
To say the least, our fuel state wasn’t good.
The ride was really bumpy, and Stan in back got jumpy
Every time a lightning bolt lit up his hood.
But the ice was dissipating and the turbulence abating
In the warmer air at lower altitude.
Just a hundred miles remaining and at least it’s only raining.
We’ll break out soon, that brightened up the mood.
It was then I felt a shudder, first a tremble in the rudder,
Then a buzzing like a chain-saw in my seat.
I scanned the engine gauges as I fumbled for the pages
Of my checklist, when I saw the overheat.
The number one was cooking – its EGT was looking
Like Chernobyl as it passed the thousand mark.
I thumbed the throttle gate and did not hesitate
To jam that lever all the way to park!
The temperature came down as the RPM unwound,
And I compensated for the adverse drag.
With a snap, crackle, pop the engine shuddered to a stop
And lay there like a lump of molten slag.
When the left-hand engine froze I felt lucky, I suppose,
That the gen on the right picked up the load.
But our fuel was disappearing. “Stan,” I said, “I’m fearing
We just might have to have this mother towed.”
I thought about my life and what they’d tell my wife,
And I wondered if this seat would really work.
But you play the cards you’re dealt, so I cinched my safety belt
And slapped myself for being such a jerk.
My eye caught something wrong – how long’s that light been on?
Prob’ly ever since I shut that engine down.
We had thirty miles to fly with the right gauge showing dry
And the left gauge barely read a hundred pounds.
Then arcing onto final with the throttle back in idle
We broke out at just about two thousand feet.
I flipped the gear doors open, pulled the handle and was hopin’
To see three green – and they never looked so sweet!
On final, down and dirty, we dodged an MU-30*
(Who called us awful names, he later said).
I ran the flaps full down as the main gear touched the ground,
Aero-braked and stopped it straight ahead.
As the trainer came to rest, I called for ground egress
And shut the one remaining motor down.
“Stanley,” I reflected, “I guess we weren’t expected.”
We safed our seats and scrambled to the ground.
I stood there in the silence, but for sounds of distant sirens,
While Stanley kissed the ground for cheating Fate.
Did the seven eighty-one and my paperwork was done,
And I smiled: Yippee, another one point eight!
I wrote this ballad for the occasion of my Air Force retirement in 1999, as a sort of recap of my career. All of the events and most of the dialogue actually did happen—just not all in one flight. The point of my poem is that, no matter how trying a particular flight may be, no matter how scared we might feel, or how frustrated we might become or how relieved we might be at its successful conclusion, it is in the logging of a flight that we take great pleasure. Every flight you can walk away from is a good one. And if they can still use the airplane again, so much the better. It’s all good time.