LISTEN TO LT. ABBOT'S DIARY
APRIL 5, 2003 · Last night, Navy Lt. Spencer Abbot flew an F-18 Hornet over northern Iraq. His fighter squadron is based aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is sailing in the eastern Mediterranean. With their missions lasting five or six hours, Abbot and his squadron have to refuel their jets in the air -- at night -- as they fly to and from their targets. This is his War Diary entry.
Tanking at night on what Navy pilots call a "big-wing" tanker is a surreal experience. With no visual reference other than the giant dimly-lit tanker filling your entire windscreen, it feels as if both aircraft are suspended in space, moving only in relation to each other.
"There's very little that compresses geography like flying while wearing night vision goggles on a clear night."
Most pilots in our air wing agree that many of their most exciting moments during missions to Iraq have related to air-to-air tanking in bad weather. Our F-18's are equipped with a fuel probe that we have to maneuver into a basket attached to a hose that is in turn connected to the tanker.
It is challenging in smooth air, and in turbulent conditions is unnerving to the most experienced pilot. The combination of a tanker zig and a pilot zag all too frequently results in the receiving aircraft ripping the basket off of the tanker's hose. The best analogy that I've heard for air-to-air tanking over Iraq is taking refuge on an iceberg in the Caribbean Sea. As soon as you find one, you have to start looking for the next one, as the one that you've already found has started melting.
After taking gas we press east and I turn on the night vision goggles attached to my helmet. There's very little that compresses geography like flying while wearing night vision goggles on a clear night. The entire eastern Mediterranean lies before us, a part of the world rich in history that has seen much conflict, visible in total in the green amplified light of our goggles.
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