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Friday, January 6, 2012

"Blackbird Singing in the Middle of the Night"

So here's the full story. When I lived in San Diego and ran my little flight training business, I accidentally came into a situation where I could and did, perform a favor for the US Navy. Here's how it unfolded: 

One day, while flying my Aeronca out in the back country, I got into some low level lift with some hawks and followed the lift, being mindful of the chaparral hillside close below. Suddenly a metal shape loomed up from the hillside - a green oblong cylinder. I dropped a little lower and made a second pass. It was obviously military and I guessed a fuel drop tank, it didn't look like any typical guided explosives. On a hunch I circled up a few thousand feet for a better look. Yup! Sure enough, I was on the extended center line for Miramar, but many miles up into the back-country. I took two sight lines and estimated it's position. 

Later that weekend, I told my neighbor, who I knew as  Master Chief at Miramar. He listened to my story with a smile and said 'That's interesting!"

The next day was Monday. At work in El Cajon I heard several large helicopters, and stepped outside for a look. There were two Navy choppers, heading in formation to roughly where I'd flown that weekend. 'Coincidence.' I thought, and went back to work.

That night my neighbor came over all smiles and exuberant. "I have permission to extend a special 'thanks' to you!" He said. Turns out, I found a Navy drop tank they'd accidentally released on a landing at Miramar coming in from the east, and they had no idea where it was. "We hoped we found it before a hiker did." he told me. They were glad it was found by a pilot and not some kid hiking in the wilderness. 

My reward was wonderful - half a day spent flying the F-14 full motion sim and the full dome sim (A big deal back then) and some time flying the E2-C, which flew just like the twins I knew, just with more power. I got an escort through the sim area, and an official Navy flight jacket with my name on the leather patch and the title 'Instructor',  and I got this photo.

Now, about the photo. It was relatively fresh, taken from the forward turret camera of an F-14 flying cover for the refueling mission. I was told the image was shot from many miles away, and it is IR enhanced - that's why the odd colors, and the glow on the SR-71 nacelles is engine heat. The optics and tracking capabilities are amazing when you think the target aircraft must have been flying at least 250-300 mph, and the camera plane, much faster than that, flying towards them and looking down at an angle, and tracking the target ship through cloud cover as well!

Our pilots do amazing things, things most of us will never know. Here is just one hint at the edges of what they do or did, in daily life. 

Onwards & Upwards,
Rob Bremmer

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