BAILOUT! BAILOUT! BAILOUT! 10-13 G’s later and just like that the canopy of my T-38 was gone. Plummeting towards the earth at an alarming speed, I saw our T-38 from the 394th Combat Training Squadron at Whiteman AFB arc towards the Earth. Or at least that is what would happen if I ever had to eject out of the two seat twin-engine, high-altitude, supersonic jet trainer. And just like that I was back listening to Maj Troy Faaborg in my T-38 Egress Training at Whiteman AFB, MO; home to the most advanced and feared bomber in the world – The mighty B-2 Stealth Bomber!
I can remember the very first time that I saw the ominous B-2 Stealth Bomber. A dark, silent wing slowly orbited the East Bay Foothills in the San Francisco Bay Area, waiting to do it’s flyover for the Fleet Week Airshow. I can’t remember what plane was that was performing, but then again, no one else can either because all the eyes were looking at this mysterious object to the east. This week, I have the distinct privilege to do something rare and exciting, and to fulfill a childhood dream of mine….to fly in a US Air Force jet. In just two days, I will be the first civilian photographer in 5 years to fly in the back seat of a Whiteman AFB T-38 and take air to air images of the beautiful B-2 Stealth Bomber. A feat that isn’t accomplished easily. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing my experiences of what it takes to be able to hop in the back seat and get the ride of a lifetime.
But before I could climb into that sleek and sexy jet, the Porsche of jets, I had to get trained. Really trained. And that’s where the my day began. I joined 7 pilots, from Lt’s with just an hour of stick time, to a Major who has been flying for years, for B-2 / T-38 Egress Training.
This class taught by Captain Rob Schoenberg, a B-2 pilot himself and a former Life Support member, and teaches us the fundamental techniques of what to do when things go wrong in our jet. Be it for a newbie such as myself, or someone with hours of time on the flight deck, it’s a skill that perishable and a key to surviving the violent ejection process. G Awareness, hydration, fatigue, when to eject, proper airspeed and altitude, how to leave the cockpit, proper posture when you eject, how to overcome issues with your parachute, and how to land properly on the ground (or in trees, or power lines). This was enough to make me question what I had gotten myself into. Up until now, I was just worried about getting my shots of the B-2, but I never thought about ejecting at 13 G’s, limbs flailing all over the place, running out of oxygen while my body hurdles towards the ground, and landing in a lake.
But as with anything, practice makes perfect. So off to a full scale mock up of the T-38 and B-2 cockpits we went.
These cockpits contain all the ejection equipment to train our pilots (and photographers) so that they are armed with the knowledge to be safe in these dangerous situations. Better to eject in one of these simulators then in the real thing. 🙂
Visor down, Chin in, proper posture, feet in, pull the yellow handles, and off you go. Well, at least in the T-38. Each aircraft is different, including the B-2 which has the ACES II ejection system show below, and has it’s own unique procedures.
After that it was off to parachute training. Post ejection bailout: Visor up, 02 mask off, activate 9/P LPU, perform 4 line mod, steer & land. Unless of course you’re tumbling and have to stabilize free fall. Arms out, knees slightly bent, and stabilize. 🙂 Yeah, that’s me!
After that it was time for the most important meeting of my day (sorry Col. Bussiere!). Lt. Park, one of the best Public Affairs Officers I know, was having her going away lunch. Some of you may recall that I worked with the Lt. back in Chile during the FIDAE/NEWEN trip I covered and Whiteman AFB is where she is currently based at. Well, until Friday that is, because then she goes off to her next assignment in Honduras. So the fine folks of Whiteman AFB came to bid her a fond farewell. The Lt. is just one example of the fine men and woman here at Whiteman AFB. Each of them have very strong ties to the local community of Knob Noster; and Lt. Park is no exception. In addition to the helping oversee one of the most strategic bases, and visible air asset in the US Air Force, she has thousands of hours volunteering with the local community. And accordingly, she received a couple of medals, including “The Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal” for all of her hard work. But the thing that impressed me most was that out of the 40 or so people in attendance, over a third were members from the local area. Whiteman is not only a base with the most sophisticated bomber, but also some of the finest airman in the Air Force.
The rest of my day was spent taking various images around the base, including next to the runway. While I was there, a pair of A-10s from the 442nd Fighter Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit, landed. Whiteman is home to not only the 509th Bomb Wing, but also the Missouri Army National Guard’s 1-135th Aviation Battalion, who operate the AH-64A Apache helicopter. It was quite a sight to see all of these aircraft flying around.
But then it was back to preparing for my flight, and an exciting visit to the Flight Doc for some poking and prodding. I’ll spare you the lovely details, but let’s just say I passed. 🙂 For the final part of my day, I got an opportunity to sit down with Col Bussiere, the 509th Ops Group Commander and ask him some in depth questions about the 509th BW and it’s role in protecting our nation. “We sustain the excellence at Whiteman (AFB) because of the people. The people want to be here. Ninety percent, if not more, were hand picked and we hire the best people from all over the Air Force. We have the greatest weapons system, the greatest weapon ever built, but all it is just a 2.3 billion dollar airplane without the people. And it’s not just the pilots, it’s everybody from the cop, the cook, the transport driver, the mission planner, intel, and even the Public Affairs folks that makes this mission happen. And when you blend it all together, that’s what makes this the greatest place on the Earth.”
Tune in tomorrow as I report live from Whiteman AFB, and share with you more of my adventures with Mr. Reaper and DEATH. And for those of you who don’t know, REAPER is the call sign for the 13th Bomb Squadron and DEATH is the call sign for the 393d Bomb Squadron. 🙂