That was the question. You see, every officer candidate carries a demon inside that tells him (or her) that he wants to be a jet pilot. That demon will keep talking until it is confronted, and if necessary, exorcised.
As Midshipmen (a few years ago), we were treated to an extended field trip to different bases to help us figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up: submariners, ship drivers, Marines, or aviators.
Our aviation base was at Beeville, Texas. We were told that some of us would fly in a trainer jet – the T-2 Buckeye – and some would get to fly in the real thing – an A-4 Skyhawk. Everyone wanted the A-4. I got the T-2.
I was bummed. A stinkin’ trainer? To add injult to injury, it was painted orange as if to advertise to all the other pilots that we were in flying a pretend jet.
When I got to the “jet”, I was met by a young pilot – the type of guy who I’m sure had a callsign like “Scooter” or “Skippy.” “Ready?” he said. Whatever. Let’s get this over with.
Once I was strapped in, he told me we would be doing dogfights with another trainer. Whoop-de-doo. Dogfighting with another trainer was like playing nerf basketball. It kind of, sort of resembles the real thing, but you can’t do real basketball stuff like, I don’t know, dribble for example.
When we took off, I had to admit the little thing had a lot of punch. Skippy took us up and told me to look around for the other jet. Yeah, right. You go ahead, Skippy. I’ll be back here napping.
That’s when my head hit the side of the canopy.
Without warning, “Skippy” had become “Ice Man.” Like a man possessed, he turned, he banked, he climbed. He raced around towering cumulus clouds like Jeff Gordon at Indianapolis.
My head hurt, and my stomach didn’t feel too good either. Skippy said, “Do you see anything? Keep looking!” All I could see was…who am I kidding. I didn’t see anything. Except I think I saw his head rotate once or twice, like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
Skippy, on the other hand, did see something and suddenly my stomach hit my toes. I felt “G-forces” for the first time – not the pansy G-forces you feel on a roller coaster or something…I’m talking REAL G-forces. The kind that make grown men whimper. I think we hit 8 G’s. (He told me later it was more like 3 or 4, but I’m sure he was lying.)
My head banged around inside the cockpit like those little balls inside a can of spray paint until my subconscience took over and said, “No mas!”
I told Skippy I was going to be sick. In a calm, soothing voice he told me that he’d head back to base. In a not-so-calm, shaky voice I warned him that if he hit just one bump on the way back, I’d do my own impression of Linda Blair and decorate his canopy with … well, you know with what.
That return trip was the smoothest airplane ride I have ever been on.
When we landed, Skippy gave me a patronizing, “Good job,” and I stepped onto the tarmac, humiliated and defeated. Trainer indeed. And come to think of it, I never did see the other jet.
That was the day I decided to drive ships.