Before the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (SFTI) came to be in the 1960s, aka, the Navy’s TOPGUN program, what you see in the TOPGUN films, it was my dad who taught the best of the best of the best at Andrews adjacent to D.C. while he was also going through JAG school, degreeing out at Georgetown and being accredited to SCOTUS.
Did I say the best of the best of the best? Besides skill, what that also means is pushing the limits. One of his students did that over D.C. coming into formation with a too-quick barrel roll, clipping off the end of dad’s wing, so that he had to fly with that wing dipped waaaay down. He told me about the emergency vehicles there to clean up the crash. But, no. He landed on that same broken wing, then on that broken wing and and its wheel, until it dropped hard. No worries.
Dad’s one of the most highly decorated pilots (Guam, Philippines, Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam…), with the story behind some of those medals being worthy of multiple major films. Sure, I think of his saving ambushed troops, alone, his plane ripped with shrapnel, and of his exploits with Minoru Wada, ending Japanese aggression.
But, for me, what especially stands out is his F-You moment to the powers that be after funding was cut for his training of the best of the best of the best. With the new jets coming in, these guys flying faster, maneuvering faster than they ever had, necessitating flying not by thinking but by instinct, but with no program-money for practice flights, they were ramming themselves into the ground. Imagine the heartbreak. Dad made constant appeals to Congress for more money for his program. His line to them was: “If you think up there, you’re dead. You can’t think. It has to be instinct.” Nothing. Since he was the teacher of the best of the best of the best, if he had an F-You statement to Congress, it would mean something, striking a cord. Dad did have some language skills. His F-You was to take a cut in rank and pay and then join the National Guard for another twenty years while taking over a law practice and starting up a family (including yours truly). It would be a few years until they missed such instruction. That’s when the TOPGUN program was born in the Navy. Of course it was the Navy. That was the apology of Congress for cutting the funding from the Navy in the first place.
Meanwhile, as a courtesy to my dad – or as a result of his momentary thefts – there were a number of times he got in a gullwing Corsair once again from an airport an hour away by car, then flew to my hometown, and then “took off the roof” of the house with waaaay tooo low passes. I think that if I were to have been up on the roof I could’ve touched the plane. So loud! :-) I remember running outside to see him fly over and dip his wing in salute to me with me cheering him on.
I’d like to go see TOPGUN Maverick. Busy with priest stuff, I haven’t seen it, yet. Have you?