Friday, February 10, 2006

Final Flight

In December I "celebrated" one year of not flying.

My last flight in the T-37 was in December of 2004. It was a significant flight in that Laughlin AFB was just finishing up retiring the Tweet in favor of the newer, sexier T-6 Texan II. Over the course of my tour I watched as a ramp full of hundreds of what would become my most beloved aircraft dwindled slowly down as the new kid on the block moved in. Most pilots were excited since there was so much more that you could do in the T-6, as well as it being safer and more comfortable. Like an old Vet who glares at the younger generation I refused to buy off on the new model. I didn't like the seating configuration (front to back versus side by side), I didn't think it was very durable, I was skeptical of the instructional use, and most of all I didn't like one engine versus two. To be honest it could have been the greatest trainer in the world--the fact remained that my baby had won my heart over and I was bound and determined to remain faithful to her.

They extended my tour a couple of months to finish the transition out. Week after week we flew T-37's out to Davis-Monthan AFB to park them in the "boneyard," a giant final resting place that the Air Force retires its aircraft to. Important components were pulled out, fuel was drained, they were sealed up and left to bake in the hot Arizona sun. In that last month, my last remaining T-37 brethren and I mounted up for the last show...

They did it right, at least. The media came out, the final crew chiefs that we had grown to know surrounded the four-ship of Tweets for that last engine run, and every IP and student that was available came out to the flight line to send us off. With four final takeoffs, the screaming whine that was responsible for reducing thousands of pilots' hearing capability was silenced from Del Rio's skies.

On the last leg into Davis-Monthan, I deferred to my younger wingman the honor of leading our two-ship formation into the boneyard. I had a hidden agenda: I wanted to be the last Laughlin AFB pilot to fly the T-37 by being the last to land.

We came up initial faster than normal, and I delayed my break several seconds in order to build up even more speed. At the last second I reefed into the break, pulling as many G's as the plane could handle for it's last bit a abuse before a long-deserved rest.

We taxiied into a special ramp area where they do the preparations for parking the planes permanently. After I stopped I hesitated before shutting the engines down for the last time and just listened to the engine whine and breathed the JP-8 in. Ironically, it wasn't just this plane's final shutdown; it was the last flight I was going to take as a pilot for the next three years, instead working a staff job not two miles away in the 12th Air Force Headquarters. My eyes watered as I pulled the throttles into CUT-OFF and listened as the tweet breathed her last.

I drive by the area that they parked the fleet every day. In a wonderful twist of fate, out of the thousands of planes in the boneyard they parked mine not 100 yards from the fenceline, several rows of my babies side by side just like they were on the ramp in Del Rio. The 16th hole of the base golf course runs alongside the display. I was out there last week with a good non-pilot friend of mine when he saw me quietly looking at the line of retired warriors with grass now grown up around the wheel wells underneath.

"Do you miss it?" He asked, apparently just making conversation. I thought of my response for a second.

"You have no idea."


  1. sound like a good friend of mine, a captain in the PD, who almost didn't take the captain's spot because he'd have to stop riding his bike (he was the Lt. over the motor squad so they let him keep riding as an LT)...I think he's still sad about it.

  2. I always thought that the boneyard looked like such a sad place... Apparently I was right. Great post, Lucky

  3. Wonderful story. It makes me reminisce of our first loves. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. I know just what you went (are going) through. I had the honor to place my F-5E into the "boneyard" years ago. I was a Crew Chief for 23 years, and the bond the pilots and CCs form with thier jets is hard to explain. You did a fine job; thanks for the memories.

  5. I used to pass that plane every day on the way to work (the AIA SCIF way down the flightline). Thanks for the story!

  6. I trained as an Air Traffic Controller out at Laughlin AFB back in 2000 before heading up to Alaska, and I loved talking the tweets down out of the pattern. Great planes to watch, and even better to fly. Every so often we'd get a flight with the excuse that we were monitoring the controllers.

    Ironically I ended up at Wright-Patt on the JPATS team. I got to help build and deploy the T-6A, soon to be T-6B. Great plane, and a blast to fly, but it'll never have the history the tweet did.

    Thanks for the story. It's nice to know that they all went out in style.