Phantom launch

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Todd McCready
  • 28th Maintenance Squadron commander
The phrase “faith moves mountains” usually refers to using our personal “faith” to give us strength to overcome life’s obstacles. However, the faith we show to other people can also “move mountains.”

For a leader to show his faith in the capabilities of each member of the team is essential to motivation and enthusiasm for the task at hand. I know this to be true because the faith a chief master sergeant had in me when I was an airman 1st class did just that for me.

After I enlisted in 1979, the Air Force trained me to be an avionics communications specialist. At my first assignment, Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, I put my nose to the grindstone to learn the ins and outs of repairing the radio and navigation systems of the F-4D Phantom fighter-bomber.

I also volunteered for cross-utilization training on several crew chief skills, and I became proficient at refueling, pre-flight and post-flight inspections, and my favorite: launch.

Launching the F-4D was a blast!

For me, this is where the action was at -- on the flightline. The smell of burnt JP-4 fuel filled the air, and the deafening rumble of twin J-79 engines pulsed vibrations through every cell in my body like no rock concert I’d ever been to.

Helping with the launch and then watching the Phantom roar into the South Korean mist was an absolute rush.

However, since I wasn’t a “real” crew chief or a dedicated crew chief assigned my own F-4D, I was always regulated to be the assistant on launch.

The assistant got to drag the air hose to start the engines, disconnect ground power and pull the chocks.

I longed to be the number one man -- the Airman on headsets and ground cord who got to go through the flight control checks with the pilot and marshal the jet out of the parking spot.

I volunteered for every launch I could, and each time, I would beg the crew chief to let me be the number one man.

The standard answer I got was, “Sorry Mac, this is my jet and nobody launches this jet but me.”

I wasn’t going to let this response deter me, though.

I pressed on to memorize the launch procedures and practiced them during slack times with whatever crew chief was willing to work with me. I was determined I’d get my chance. It was just a matter of patience and persistence.

Months later, we deployed to Clark Air Base, Philippines, for Exercise “Cope Thunder.”

On the last morning of the deployment, the jets were to be launched for their return flight to Kunsan AB.

I was sent out to assist, but the crew chief wasn’t anywhere in sight at the jet I was to help launch. So, I started getting the jet ready for crew show, figuring the crew chief would show up any second. The aircrew showed but still no crew chief.

The flightline supervisor drove up, and I asked him, “Where’s the crew chief?” He looked close to panicking and answered, “The crew chief must have had too good of a time last night in Angeles City, and he hasn’t shown up yet. We’ll get someone out here to launch the jet as soon as we can.”

With engine start time looming, the aircrew and I continued to press on.

Then, the chief master sergeant walked up. Now, I knew all about awe of rank because as an airman 1st class, a chief master sergeant was like God to me, and this particular chief took great pains to reinforce that perception in his Airmen.

“A1C McCready,” he bellowed.

“Yes, sir?” I nervously responded.

He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I know you can launch an F-4.” He then picked up the headset from the ground and shoved it in my hand. “You launch this jet,” he barked.

“God” had just ordered me to launch this F-4D, and there was no way I could let “God” down. I was terrified and excited at the same time.

To my relief, the launch went without a hitch! I marshaled the F-4D as it taxied out of the parking spot, and for the first time in my career, I exchanged a salute with the pilot and gave him a thumbs-up.

The Phantom thundered into the sky on time, and a sense of accomplishment washed over me.

I’d been a part of the team when my unit needed me because I’d gone the extra mile to acquire the skills needed to do so, but that chief’s faith in me was the final element of the team effort I needed to put it to use.