“FAST 31, Whiteman Tower, Cleared for take off Runway 19. REAPR 21 is 10 miles initial for Runway 19.” And so the adventure of a lifetime began.
Four months ago, while on a ten hour KC-135 flight from Chile to Texas, I asked a crazy question: “Hey Candy, what would it take to get me in the backseat of a T-38 and chase the B-2?” Paperwork, Persistence, Patience, and the hard work of dozens of people. With the strong support of the Whiteman AFB leadership and the dedication and foresight of the Public Affairs office, a lifelong dream of mine was fulfilled today. I got to fly in a United States Air Force T-38 Jet. And if that wasn’t cool enough, I got to “chase” a B-2 Stealth Bomber.
Many of you have been following my adventures over these past couple of days as I prepared for my T-38 Ride. Egress/Parachute training, life support fitting of my flight suit, helmet, regulator, G-suit, and the Flight Doctor approvals. And today it all culminated for one of the coolest photo shoots of my career.
My day started early at 8am. I met with Lt. Miller from Public Affairs, a superior photographer in his own right, and had a nice, light breakfast. I was quite nervous as this was my first ever ride in a fast jet. How does one deal with the exposure, what lenses & bodies to bring, how do I deal with canopy reflections, where to store all the unused equipment, spare compact flash cards and batteries. What formations were we going to do, how were we going to position the aircraft so that we get the most dynamic shots, safe altitudes, and light angles.
Miller and I went to the 394th CTS (Combat Training Squadron) and met up with my T-38 pilot Capt Luke “Deuce” Jayne, and Capt Nichoas “Willy” Adcock and Maj Jared “Evel” Kennish; the B-2 Spirit pilots. They were flying the Spirit of Ohio this afternoon for my photo shoot before heading out on a 4 training mission. The briefing part of our mission is like any other mission the men and women of the 509th Bomb Wing fly. Planning and Preparation is the key to success. And working with these professionals, I know I was going to get some awesome shots.
So as we accelerated down the runway, Deuce yanked the plane to the left and we began our rendezvous with the REAPR 21. 150 feet off the B-2’s 8 o’clock, the gear of the B-2 lowered and the photo shoot had begun. Just an hour earlier, I was sitting in the ready room of the 394th CTS with Deuce going over the final checklists for our flight. Emergency procedures, discrete frequencies, weather, airspace restrictions, etc. This was now feeling very real!
At $15,000 an hour to have the B-2 Stealth Bomber in the air, there was little room for error. And as the Col. had mentioned earlier in the week, “No Pressure.” 🙂 But with all of the training, preparations, and briefings, this shoot went off without a hitch. And even more important then those aforementioned items, were the pilots: Deuce, Willy and Evel. Without their help, none of these shots would have been possible. Those pilots placed their planes exactly where I needed it to be: 360 degree turns, straight and level, echelon turns, and rolling over and aft of the B-2. These were just some of the shots that we briefed for our hour flight.
And after our shoot was done, it was time to enter the MOA and get an orientation flight in the T-38 with Deuce at the controls. Loops, rolls, and being weightless were just some of the maneuvers that we did. It was so cool! I’ve been in many planes, but when you are doing Mach 0.98, you can’t help but smile. And before I knew it, it was time to return to base. 2 touch and goes in the right hand pattern and then it was “FAST 31, Whiteman Tower, Check wheels down, cleared to land Runway 19.” Floating to the ground was like landing on silk. Slow down, exit on Charlie and taxi back to the ramp.” It was simply amazing. A rare occasion; and the first person in 5 years to fly chase with the B-2.
Just like that it was all over and it’s time to head back to Life Support. Gear back and stowed, it was time for a beer.
But this adventure is far from over. Stay tuned for my final day at Whiteman AFB tomorrow.