Letters from the front

  "A Weekend in Dayton "

by Brad "Mexican Bob" Pilgrim  ©2004  0456Z/21Jul04



Last week, my scheduler asked if I wanted to take a C-17 to the Dayton Airshow.  I tried to act disinterested and said “well, if you can’t find anybody else to do it, I guess I will”   He said "OK, if you don’t want it, I’ll send…….."  That’s as far as he got before I dove across the desk and put him in a sleeper hold!  There was already another loadmaster on the orders, an ex C-130 guy like me.  He was from the Dayton area and was anxious to show the plane to his folks.  I was told that I should really take a young loadmaster as well so that he could see what airshows are like.  Since I don’t currently have any students, I picked another deserving baby load to fly with.  Dan is a farm boy from Montana.  He’s also a heck of a loadmaster.  He’s a hard worker, well deserving of an airshow trip, and the product of my fine instruction.  On top of all that, he has become a good friend of mine.  Some of y'all might remember him from a previous story I composed about rental vehicles in Europe and insurance deductibles.  He’s a lot of fun to fly with and I’m pretty sure he knows the intricacies of  "The Kama Sutra for Sheep”.  I just chalk that up to his days in the wilds of Montana.    


On Friday morning, we headed out for Dayton with three pilots, three loadmasters and two crew chiefs.  The pilots were pretty cool and the female crew chief was a lot of fun.  I didn’t care too much for the other crew chief.  In fact, I’d even say that I’d cut him up and feed him to the hogs if I had half a chance.  I don’t know what it was that I didn’t like about him, but I wouldn’t pee on him if he was on fire.  Anyhow, we took off and spent about thirty minutes doing tanker work and then headed for Dayton.  When we landed, the airshow organizers decided that we should park right beside the C-141.  The only way to get the plane where they wanted was to back it up.  The loadmaster from Ohio lowered the ramp and we all sat with our feet dangling in the breeze.   When you back up a C-17, the loadmaster hooks up a comm cord on the ramp and gives taxi instructions to the pilot.  As long as the pilot does exactly what the load tells him, it’s a simple, safe operation.  So, we are screaming along backwards when the loadmaster tells the pilot that he is going way to fast.  The pilot stomps on the brakes (which you NEVER do) and the nose wheel comes off the ground.  When the pilot realizes that he is about to tip his airplane over on its tail, he releases the brakes and takes the throttles out of reverse.  Unfortunately, he pushes them too far forward.  About a hundred or so foot from our tail pipes are some hot dog stands and a beer tent with a Budweiser trailer.  Well, extremely hot air traveling at high velocity is a cause of concern for some folks.  Thirty or so people went running out of the tents, like roaches fleeing a house fire.  The beer trailer went up on two wheels but didn't quite flip over, the Budweiser tent departed the fix in a rapid manner as did the three hotdog and bratwurst tents.  Plastic chairs and tables, beer cups, napkins, forks and more than a few people sailed through the air.  Weenies and buns were scattered hither and yon.  I would do anything if I had a video tape of the event.  It was the highlight of the airshow.  Fortunately, nobody got hurt.  But, needless to say, the weenie merchants weren’t too interested in giving the C-17 crew any free food or beer! Most importantly, I had nothing to do with the incident!!


The Dayton folks know how to run an airshow!  As soon as we shut down engines, a whole herd of really cute females with red “Event Staff” t-shirts came on the airplane.  They were passing out beer, water and cokes and were just as friendly as they could be.  The show organizers came on board with an envelope full of room reservations and rental car keys.  From the time we landed until we left on Sunday, everybody treated us like kings.  Well……except the weenie and beer peddlers……they sure seem to hold a grudge!  Two of those “Event Staff” girls seemed to take a shine to me and Dan.  He was probably cleared in hot, but they looked awful young to me.  Most of the crew started drinking and enjoying ourselves.  Dan and I walked around to look at the other airplanes and say hi to a few familiar airshow faces.  After a few hours, we all retired to the crew tent and continued to drink and be merry, courtesy of the Hooters girls. I visited with Steve Hinton for a little while.  He was there with the P-38 for the Heritage Flight with an F-16.  That night’s party was headlined by a band from the 70’s and 80’s called REO Speed wagon.  We stayed for a while and then it occurred to me that “they ain’t country” and nobody else on the crew was old enough to remember who they were anyhow.  So, we pressed for the hotel.  The party there was much better, so the fun continued.


Saturday morning at 0700, we opened up the plane for tours.  I swear that it seems like 20 million people came through before the day was over.  Dan and I walked over to watch the airshow from up close.  Thank the lord for all access line passes!  The Tora Tora guys were flying directly over our heads, so we had the best seats in the house.  Lots of aerobatics were flown and we had a front row seat for all of it.  Julie Clark, Jim Leroy (flew kinda ragged, scared me more than once), Bobby Younkin and Jimmy Franklin are just a few of the folks that flew.  As far as aerobatics go, Jimmy was the star of the show.  That jet powered Waco of his is pretty cool.  Especially when he’s only fifty yards from you while doing his show.  Les Shockley was there with his jet powered semi-truck.  He’s got a cool routine, but I don’t think it belongs at an airshow.  Same thing goes with that stupid Robosaurus nonsense.  This was the first time I’ve seen it, but it really seemed to be a waste of time to me.  What happened to the days when people went to airshows to see airplanes? 


About 1400 or so the weather turned nasty.  We closed the airplane up and headed for the beer tent.  Not long after we got there, it started to rain.  I’m talking stump floating, frog choking, pair them up Noah one more time, cow peeing on a flat rock rain!  We proceeded to drink and sit in the rain, which was now blowing sideways under the tent.  The Hooters girls, bless there hearts, holding umbrellas over their heads and their wet shirts continued to serve the beer.  We figured the show would be canceled all together so we drank pretty heavily.  About an hour later, the clouds went ! aw! ay and the sun started shining like a diamond in a goat’s butt.  The only person left sober enough to open the plane back up for tours was the crew chief that I hated.  Patty Wagstaff and one or two others flew during the afternoon, but I have very little recollection of what went on.  I do remember that Dan and I went over to look at the B-17 “Memphis Belle” belonging to David Tallichet.  The two pilots were leaving for the day but said the plane was open and to make ourselves at home.  So we did.  I’ve always been partial to B-17’s and according to Dan; I ended up taking several dozen people on tours.  Due to the two cute and young “Event Staff” girls having a cooler full of beer on their golf cart, I was able to do the tours with a beer in each hand.  I only dropped one, and it fell out of the bomb bay.  I didn’t really notice it until the next morning when I was looking at the plane while sober, but that has to be the dirtiest airplane I’ve ever seen.  I mean oil was all over it, top and bottom.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Unfortunately, due to drunken bomber tours the previous night, my hat and flight suit were also covered in oil.  It made me look a little out of place on the clean and fancy C-17.  The party on Saturday night was at the hotel and was quite a bit of fun.  About thirty minutes before last call, Dan and some F-16 guy decided to wrestle.   I was nominated as referee and was doing a pretty good job at it.  Then security showed up and made us go our rooms.  For the record, the fighter puke was loosing. 


Sunday morning, we showed up at 0700 again and opened up the plane.  When the flying started, we headed back to watch the from the position we had found on Saturday.  The highlight of this show was also Jimmy Franklin’s routine.  A very close second was the formation flight of the Planes of Fame P-38 and the P-38 “Glacier Girl”.  This is the plane was pulled out of the ice in Greenland several years ago.  Beautiful is the only way to describe it. 

The crowed was a little small due to the threat of rain, but there was still a mess of folks that wanted to see the C-17.  Dan and I spent a lot of the day riding around in the golf cart with the two cute girls.  When the show ended, we went back to the crew tent for barbecue and socializing with the girls.  They both wanted to know why we hadn’t invited them to any of the parties that weekend.  I initially though “Hell I gave you a C-17 and B-17 tour, what else do you want!!”  But I didn’t say it out loud.  Instead, I gave the real reason.  I thought they were too young and I didn’t fancy going to jail.  Dan made sure to tell them that he was much younger than I was and wasn’t threatened by or scared of younger women.  The girl that I was interested in showed me her driver’s license and I saw that she was 26yrs old.  The other one was 23.  I knew then that I had made a tactical error on Friday night when I should have checked on their ages.  I figured Dan had a better shot than I did so I told him that I’d get the plane ready for departure and he could try and salvage something with his lady friend. 


We did the preflight and had the plane towed to the end of the ramp before cranking engines, because we were scared the weenie folks might assault us if there was a repeat of Friday’s festivities.   Just before I shut the crew entrance door, Dan came running onboard.  He was madder than hell that we had to leave, but he had this girl’s phone number and email address written down.  I asked if he had gotten anywhere with her and he offered to let me smell his finger.  I told him that although we were friends and I thought his new girlfriend was cute, I would have to pass on his generous offer. 


Both of the girls stood and waved as we taxied off for departure.  I think Dan was crying, but I’m not sure.  I’m sure it was a serious mistake on our parts that we didn’t both go AWOL or at least find a way to break the airplane so we could spend another night.  I’ve made a lot of serious judgment errors of late when it comes to women and airshows!  We were pretty lightweight, so we did a max performance takeoff followed by a right turn on course.  That 60 degree 2G turn just happened to take us right by the tent where the survivor’s party was being held.  All I could see from my window was eyes, beer and teeth from the people looking up at us.  I looked for our lady friends, but they were lost in a sea of people.


The flight home was short and uneventful, war stories and tales of conquest were told by all involved.  We landed about 2130 and were met by a very somber looking maintenance staff.  We were told that a crew chief had been killed that morning while working on the spoilers of another C-17.  Apparently he had the spoiler raised up and was down inside the wing trouble shooting something.  For whatever reason, the spoiler closed with him underneath it and he was crushed to death.  He was 37, the same rank as me and a dang nice guy. 


What a bad way to end a fun trip.


Faithfully submitted,