When I left you last, I was on the ramp at New Orleans Naval Air Station pointing in contempt at aircraft 297 with half its tailpipe burned away. My plan was to never fly this jet again. This task was made a little easier in the short term because the aircraft would be grounded at the airfield for some time to conduct a safety investigation and repair the damages caused by the fire. After returning to my base in Las Vegas, I kept up to date with the progress of the investigation and repair of the jet. The maintenance experts determined that one of the tail feathers failed to open properly when I selected afterburner. The flame from the AB section was routed outside of the nozzle which caused the tailpipe to ignite and burn away from the outside in. After a couple of months of uneventful flying, I looked up in dismay at the scheduling board to find 297 in my line to fly that day. I asked one of my wingmen to trade jets with me and so started my endless effort to never fly the jet again. The supervision finally caught wind of my plot to fly anything but 297 and they usually worked out the tail lineup before I even made it to the step briefing. I made it all the way through the rest of my tour in Las Vegas without flying the aircraft again. I went on to a staff tour at the Pentagon and figured I had rid myself of this predicament for the rest of my career. Now for the rest of the story... After my transition to the Air Force reserves, my next assignment after the Pentagon was back to a flying assignment at Homestead air base in Miami. I had previously flown there in an earlier active duty assignment. The reserve unit had transitioned from the venerable F-4 Phantom II to the F-16C model. My first day at the unit, the snacko asked me to suit up in my flying gear and head out to the ramp to get a hero picture with one of the jets. As we walked out to the jet, I asked the captain where these jets were stationed before coming to Homestead. He said they all came from Bergstrom air base in Austin, Texas which was an airfield recently shut down. I didn’t think anything of it until we walked up to the first jet on the ramp and I looked up at the tail flash to see FM, for the “Florida Makos,” and the tail number 87-297!!! The photo attached is the hero picture I took that day with a smirk of disbelief on my face. I didn’t fly that aircraft for the next two years until my boss finally told me I would have to start flying the jet or I would be taken off the schedule. I can precisely remember the first flight back with my old friend. I walked up to the jet and stated in no uncertain terms that “if you give me one bit of trouble, I’m going to drop you in 3000’ of water and that will be the end for you.” After our little understanding was hashed out, I never had any more trouble with 297!
To read the first part of Maj. Gen. Rob Polumbo's heroic story, click here.
To read the second part, click here.