Matter of Experience

by Col. Harry C. “Steve” Stevenson, Daedalian Life Member #3122

Air Force CT-39 1960 model

Many years ago in the land of Tactical Air Command, I was a major and “staff puke” on the TAC staff at Langley. Because of five years non-rated duty, I was way behind my peers in flying time. Thus, the TAC rated assignments folks allowed that I should fly the “Teeny Tiny Airlines” T-39 Sabreliner from the MAC detachment as an attached pilot.  I was duly checked out in the T-39 at Scott AFB, and mostly on weekends I would fly the VIP lifts around the east coast.

After flying as a co-pilot for a year, I upgraded to aircraft commander (AC). For the next seven months I hauled Army, Marine, Air Force generals and Congressmen around the eastern United States to airbases and the major civilian airports (ATL, DAL, BOS, ORD, RDU, MCO, JFK, etc.).

One sunny day, our airlift mission started from Langley to Andrews to pick up and fly an Air Force Reserve IG team from Andrews to Montgomery, Alabama’s Dannelly Field to “no-notice” inspect the F-4 Air National Guard unit.  It was a beautiful day with clear skies the entire flight.

My co-pilot that day was a new second lieutenant, arriving straight from UPT to Scott AFB for T-39 checkout, and to the Langley MAC detachment. As my co-pilot, he did a good job at Langley, the leg to Andrews and down to Montgomery.  This was only his second line mission.

A divert from our filed destination (Eglin AFB) to Montgomery’s Dannelly Field was requested in-flight by the IG team (sneaky bastards).  My co-pilot was uncomfortable as he had never made a divert, even for weather.

“Can do easy, in clear such weather.”

We landed at Dannelly, dropped the IG team on the red carpet at the FBO and went to park and refuel. Thirty minutes later, I finished paying for the fuel, talked to MAC Airlift Mission Center and returned to the Sabreliner.

“Let’s saddle up. Start ’em up while I strap in.  MAC changed our destination to Maxwell AFB.”

He looked at me in amazement: “Aren’t we going to file a new flight plan and get a weather update?”

“Stop the checklist, unstrap and come with me.”

We opened the passenger door, stood on the top step.

“Do you see a cloud in the sky?  Have we seen one in the last 500 miles?”

“No, sir”

“Look over there, to the north, just above the tree line.  See what could be a control tower?’

“Yes, sir.”

“That is Maxwell Field, our destination.  Any questions?”

“No, sir”

We closed up, started, taxied, and took off on a VFR clearance to Maxwell.  I even let my co-pilot fly his first ever VFR mission leg.