This is Cisco, aka Mike Francisco. He was a fellow member of the Air Force Academy class of ’67. After graduation, we split directions as Cisco had eagle eyes and was bound for pilot training. Me, my eyes had deteriorated during my four years at the Academy and I flunked the pilot’s eye exam four times, each time getting one eye or the other to qualify but unfortunately not both at the same time. By the slimmest of margins, I found myself qualified to earn the wings of a navigator instead of becoming the fighter pilot I dreamed of.
At first, I thought I would instead take the non-rated route in the Air Force, but my squadron officer convinced me that earning navigator wings might open the door for the Air Force to grant me a waiver on my eyes and let me go to pilot training after a few years of flying. So we packed our bags and headed to Mather Air Force Base in California where I did earn my nav wings and then stayed on for advanced training to become a navigator-bombardier. Nav-Bomb’s were assigned to SAC where there was the possibility of quick advancement in rank and position.
Because I was first in class ranking in Nav-Bomb school, I had the privilege of being first in line to select initial duty assignments of those available to my class. I picked one of two Nav-Bomb slots flying the new FB-111 aircraft which was just becoming operational. I figured if I could not be a pilot, I’d be sitting side-by-side in the cockpit of what was supposedly the hottest/latest aircraft in the Air Force inventory. The other option being sitting in the belly of a SAC B-52 in the dark on top of a downward ejection seat.
But just before graduation, we learned that the two FB-111 slots had been canceled due to a fleet-wide structural problem with the swing wings (three F-111A’s had crashed during a secret test mission in S.E.Asia). Instead, I was assigned into a test program placing newly hatched navigators in the back seat of the F-4E Phantom two with a likewise newly hatched pilot. Prior to this test program, only pilots filled both seats of the F-4. I was excited to be at the forefront of a new program and eagerly accepted the change (I could have opted out and taken a B-52 slot). The F-4E was the newest variant of the F4 with improved avionics, a nose-mounted Gatling gun, and greatly improved engines. Plus it still had the complete set of flying controls ( a Stick!) in the back. And better still, the assignment was initially at Eglin AFB in Florida for six months building a totally new squadron which would then deploy en mass to Vietnam. (That last part did not make Cyndy happy) And it was at Eglin that Cisco and I crossed paths again.
More to come in installment two 🙂