Peter R. Fleischhacker
You ain’t gonna believe this one: It’s a dark night in late 1968, somewhere over South Vietnam. I was scrambled as a 2-ship (2 planes) off the Phan Rang alert pad carrying napalm and high drag bombs to provide close air support to our troops in a firefight. A C-130 was overhead dropping flares to light up the battle. I was diving in just short of the target when the last flare extinguished, and it became pitch black.
I should have aborted the pass but decided to count to two, then pickled* and pulled hard. As the napalm lit up the ground under me I saw what looked like the trees going by underneath at a horrendous rate when I suddenly realized: trees my ass, I got so low that those were weeds and grass blades! Back at Phan Rang, my crew chief said he could not find any grass stains on the Hun’s belly. A Lucky Devil indeed!
I had gone from AF pilot training at Reese AFB to flying F-102s at Perrin AFB in 1965, and on to F-101Bs at Tyndall and Wurtsmith AF Bases. When I volunteered to be a Forward Air Controller (FAC) in Viet Nam I was sent to Luke AFB for a short indoctrination course in the F-100, expecting further orders to Hurlburt AFB for FAC school.
It was the time of the great Tet offensive and my employer needed F-100 drivers more than FACs, so I found myself minimally qualified at Phan Rang AB and the 614th Lucky Devils squadron, doing my own on-the-job training. 180 combat missions and 365 days later, out-of-the-blue, there came a phone call from MPC (Assignments Branch) offering me an exchange assignment with Australia’s RAAF to fly Mirage IIIs.
The three years down under were the highlight of my career. It was followed by years of the dreaded “rated supplement ” where I rode a desk in command posts and civil engineering squadrons, scrounging occasional flights in T-33 and T-39s to keep my sanity. The Training Command finally rescued me and sent me to train Luftwaffe fighter pilots at Sheppard, then train future T-38 Instructor Pilots at Randolph. I resigned from active duty in 1981 and went to the AF Reserve and then to the Texas ANG where I checked out in the F-4. At the age of 45, a start-up airline PeoplExpress hired me and I flew “side-saddle” on Boeing 727s.
When Continental Airlines took it over; I flew their MD80s, DC10s, Boeing 727s, 747s, and 757s all over the world until the FAA decided that at 60 I was too old for that. Not ready for retirement, I bought a Citation-type rating and spent 15 more years and 4,000 hours hauling folks with too much money all across North America. For 6 weeks every summer I took leave to fly a motorized Schweitzer glider loaded with research gear through thunderstorms, collecting data for scientists at New Mexico Tech who were studying the origin of lightning.
If you think I’m stupid you are probably right. I got hit by the research subject (lightning) more times than I can count. In return, I met some fascinating scientist types, like Bernie Vonnegut, Ph.D., who invented cloud seeding, and is the older (and much smarter) brother of the famous 60’s author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
I’m a Lucky Devil indeed: I made my living flying someone else’s jet planes until age 76.
*Pickled: dropped bombs
- AF pilot training, Reese AFB, TX
- 1965 Perrin AFB, TX (F-102)
- Tyndall AFB, FL/Wurtsmith AFB, MI (F-101B)
- Luke AFB, AZ (F-100)
- 614th Tactical Fighter Squadron (Lucky Devils), Phan Rang AB, Vietnam (F-100-180 combat missions)
- Exchange assignment, Australia RAAF (Mirage III)
- Training Command, Headquarters (T-33, T-39)
- Sheppard AFB, TX (IP – Luftwaffe fighter pilots)
- Randolph AFB, (T-38 IP)
- 1981 Resigned USAF, entered AF Reserve/Texas ANG (F-4)
- PEOPLExpress (Boeing 727)
- Continental Airlines (MD-80, DC-10, Boeing 727/747/757)
Awards & Decorations
Distinguished Flying Cross
Citation – 4000 hours
52 years, 18,000 hrs in fighters, airliners, and business jets
Military & Civilian Education
- BS Electrical Engineering