Three Generations of Blue

Hello again!

Flying is the family business. First, it was my Grandfathers’ business, with my patient & loving Grandmothers trailing along keeping everything going at home. Both of my grandfathers, Willie B. Craig, & William F. Moffett, went through pilot training in the 1950’s along with thousands of other men. My dad told me once that my grandfather was the top of his pilot training class–of a thousand! (No pressure or anything). My Mom’s Dad went from being enlisted to becoming an Aviation Cadet. They had to live in barracks and tents while going through pilot training! If I’m ever feeling scared or shocked at something the Air Force has asked me to do, or something that’s happened, I call my Grandpa. His response is usually something along the lines of. “That’s nothing, let me tell you about this one time.” And believe me, he’s always right.

This is only part of my flying family. L-R: Uncle Scott, Grandpa, me, and Dad.

For example, I went on my first overseas combat mission with only 9 hours in the C-17. Most of the initial qualification training is in the simulator, and the simulator is really good. But for someone who had only set foot on a C-17 a handful of times, the prospect seemed daunting. When I told my grandfather, he chuckled wisely, in the way that Colonel Moffett of the old Strategic Air Command days only can. “That’s nothing,” he said, and proceeded to tell me the story of how his checkride in an airplane was the first time he’d set foot in it.

My first mission as an Aircraft Commander of the C-17. We were doing a Joint NATO Med-evac exercise with a british helicopter unit in England. I’m just supervising, making sure no one gets close enough to hit the plane.

According to my Grandpa, the instructor gave him the manual the night before, and he and another pilot did a co-checkride in the plane. He did the takeoff, the other guy did the landing. The next day, the squadron put him on a mission to fly the aircraft across the ocean to Hawaii to preposition it for Vietnam. Upon arriving, my grandfather noticed that the flight orders had a Lt Col flying with him, and he felt relieved. “Hopefully this guy knows how to fly the damn airplane!” He thought. Turns out, the Lt Col hadn’t flown a single hour in the plane, and had the same dashed hope! Together, they had to navigate across the ocean in an airplane they’d never landed before to a base they’d never been to.

It gives new meaning to the phrase “back when it was hard”. I didn’t feel so bad after he told me that story.

In the second generation, it was my Dad’s business.  My father was a navigator in the FB-111, and has a brain for conceptual strategy like I have never seen. We don’t play monopoly with my dad. And most other board games we only play if he’s at some kind of obvious disadvantage, like never having played the game before. It doesn’t always help. My Dad was one of the brightest young navigators in his day, and his team won the AF-wide “bombs on target” competition back in SAC.  These days, he quietly retired from his second career in Security, plays golf, and edits my Aunts’ books for military correctness. I call him if I don’t know what to do in any situation, and he literally always has the best advice, even if isn’t what I want to hear.

And then there’s me: I’m technically too short to be an Air Force pilot. I needed a waiver for a quarter of an inch (5’3 ¾”, instead of 5’4″). Apparently, “big AF” hasn’t figured out how much fuel they save per pound less I weigh than your standard six-foot tall guy pilot, or else they’d be handing out a LOT more waivers.  I’m definitely not what most people expect from an “Air Force Pilot”, with a capitol “P”. Once, two years ago, one of my loadmasters posted a picture of me in the C-17 cockpit. One of his family members commented something along the lines of, “How nice of you to show a child around the cockpit of the C-17”.  I didn’t take offense, the photo is a close-up, but it isn’t the first time someone’s said something along those lines to me over the course of six years flying.

In the meantime,  these days I fly every day, most days twice a day, “around the flagpole” with brand-new pilot trainees. I try to laugh a lot in the airplane with students, and most days I taxi in with a smile on my face. I’ve got a great job, and I only fly when the weather is good and I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep.

The family business is a pretty great one.

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Girls Fly Too- Graduation from Air Force Pilot Training

Today’s blog honors two occasions…my niece’s graduation from pilot training and Women in Aviation week. If you’ve spent any time on my website or reading through earlier blogs, you already know that aviation is a household word and a lifestyle in my family. Thus when someone gets a pilot’s license of any kind, it’s a big deal.

New Wings on the name tag

New Wings on the name tag

So in January, the family headed down to the rousing town of Del Rio, Texas. Once we left San Antonio, half of our cell phones went on hiatus in the great expanses of Texas lacking in cell towers (or really much populace at all save for perhaps a few prairie dogs). The perfect place to put a base with pilots learning to fly. Onward we pressed in the face of adversity, forewarned by my brother to be wary of speed traps. Imagine our surprise later when we passed the car with his family temporarily parked aside the road and my brother speaking to the nice gentleman whose car flashed colored lights. My brother must have smiled nice, because the man in blue gave him a warning and sent him on his way.

We had no doubts when we closed upon our destination as a buzz of aircraft swarmed the airfield. Opposite patterns ran to parallel runways, one which catered to T-38 jets and the other to T-6 turboprops. The entrance to the base took us past a line of aircraft on static display. We later discovered my father had flown a good number of them. Thus, as we traditionally do, we gathered all the military folks, put them in flight suits (some suits had shrunk since retirement) and did a photo shoot in front of the T(trainer)-28, a plane my dad had flown in his pilot training days.

Grandfather (KC-135), Dad (FB-111), Graduate, Uncle (Test Pilot)

Grandfather (KC-135), Dad (FB-111), Graduate, Uncle (Test Pilot)

To give you an idea of how proud my brother is of his daughter, just take a look at this close-up of the two. Kinda says it all.

Father and Daughter

Father and Daughter

Later, after formal ceremonies inside where awards were presented, all the students went out to the flight line, where their chosen “rated” Air Force officer officially pinned on their wings. My niece chose her dad and they pinned them on in front of the T-1, a trainer for those pilots going on to fly heavy aircraft. She is thrilled to be going to C(cargo)-17s.

Father pinning official flight wings on his daughter in front of her aircraft

Father pinning official flight wings on his daughter in front of her aircraft

The first plane my niece flew in training was the T-6 Texan II turbo-prop built by Raytheon Aircraft as a military trainer. The second half of Undergraduate Pilot Training brought a switch to the T-1, built by Raytheon and Hawker Beechcraft, with handling characteristics mimicking heavier aircraft.

T-6 Texan II

T-6 Texan II

T-1

T-1

A photo of the women in the family was taken in front of the T-6 and included Grandma, Aunt (that’s me), and my niece’s mom. We may not have been the military pilots in the family, but we all gave her encouragement through the years that she could achieve the dream of being a pilot.

Aunt, Graduate, Grandmother, Mom

Aunt, Graduate, Grandmother, Mom

The next photo is of my niece in front of the T-6 with her shiny new wings visible above the chest pocket of her uniform jacket. After all the stress and effort to get to this point, I can guarantee she has a lot of pride in those wings.

2Lt. Moffett in front of the T-6 Texan II

2Lt. Moffett in front of the T-6 Texan II

Of course, I had to have my special moment for a photo. I couldn’t be prouder and am glad my niece had an opportunity to fly for the Air Force that when I was her age wasn’t open to me. Thankfully times have changed.

Aunt and Niece

Aunt and Niece

Any time family gets together to celebrate there are always presents or food. Since we were on the road for this celebration, we ate out and brought gifts. Tradition has it that pilots build a “me” collection of plaques, patches, photos, and models as they go through their careers. This T-1 model of her first aircraft is a great way to start.

Niece with T-1 Model

Niece with T-1 Model

After all the ceremonies and photos, it’s dinnertime. For the military, it means official mess dress (cummerbund and all). But once they hit the bar, dinner changes to party time and the jackets come off. Just to show you formality doesn’t come without some sense of humor, I took a shot of the  pilots’ party shirts not visible when their  jackets are on. My niece altered these shirts for herself and a few friends (her mom helped to get them done in time). Those are shoes on her shirt. Every girl needs a pair or two to party, and these are a lot hotter than suede flight boots.

Congrats new Air Force pilot 2Lt. Moffett.

Party (Mess Dress) Shirts

Party (Mess Dress) Shirts