You never know when you wake up to your day that possibly one of these three things will happen to you:
- It may be the best day of your life
- You may be a life changing experience
- It may be your last day
Sometimes, when it is almost the third one of these, it usually will result in the other two. This happened to me on numerous occasions. It seems to the uninitiated non fighter pilot, this might be a daily occurrence looking at it from the outside. In other words, many people might view this profession as one in which every time you strap on a jet, you face the very real possibility that one or more of the above list might occur.
We were flying our A-10 Warthog in a 2 ship battle formation, line abreast spread apart about 8000 feet. As lead in the formation, it was my responsibility to constantly be monitoring every aspect of the flight. Our aircraft’s position, fuel, potential enemy threats, weather conditions, target area, time to target, and the list just goes on and on.
This day, the flight involved a student training sortie, simulating low altitude combat ingress. I signaled for a cross turn. A cross turn is where two aircraft flying essentially line abreast begin a simultaneous turn towards each other with the intentions of ending the turn flying 180° from where you began.
The best way to envision what happened next is to think of walking down a crowded hallway, at school perhaps, or a shopping mall. Seeing someone approaching directly at you, you step right. Only thing is, the person coming at you, noticing the same thing also stepped out of the way. Only they stepped left, right into a collision course.
Ok, you do a little dance in the hallway and maybe even almost collide in a hug. Embarrassed, you step away and apologize to each other. Now, imagine this similar event occurring at low altitude. Only, flying at low altitude at 350 miles per hour, turning toward each other in a defensive turn to check your rear position (6 o’clock), the above scenario can have disastrous consequences. In the hundreds of times this turn is called, there is never a conflict. It is theoretically almost impossible. As the turn is initiated, you both turn into each other at 4 g’s and turn 180 degrees.
Invariably, the spacing just works itself out. One of you perhaps started a fraction later than the other. Or you pulled slightly less. You could even do a slight climb, giving way in elevation. But to mirror your wingman exactly, pull for pull, turn and climb for turn and climb, Well, it just couldn’t be done that way. Impossible.
Only today, it happened. All the way from 8000 feet apart to inevitable collision. At the last possible second, knowing you are going to die, you say a quick prayer, key the microphone and say something really inane and stupid, and then, boom.
Later, comparing notes with each other, when we felt comfortable enough to talk about it, neither of us could explain how we missed each other. We both filled each others canopies and the crash had to happen. We couldn’t miss.
All I can say is, it turned into one of the best days of both our lives, and it was a life changing experience. Even today, 30 plus years later, it simply cannot be imagined or explained.
So, be ready every day for one or more of the above list to occur and eat a great breakfast!! (For all the obvious reasons).