Monday, March 2, 2009

Home on the Range (TONOPAH TEST RANGE)

Let me start by saying that nothing you are about to read is classified or confidential. I will only be relating to you my personal time (did not exist for the most part) at Tonopah Test Range (TTR). I was first able to go up range as we called it about one month after being assigned to the 4450th Tactical Group SLUF'S A-7D/K aircraft. We were the cover story for the F-117 Stealth Fighter program.

When I first arrived I was totally in the dark (funny I will explain later). I had applied for the position and had gotten the needed security clearance and had all my life laid bare and been interviewed by the FBI guy who asked anything he wanted of me and everyone I ever knew.

For the first month at the squadron based at Nellis AFB I was what you would call now out of the loop and conversations would stop when I approached a table of guys or entered a room. When sitting down with some folks in the ready room the first thing they would ask is "ARE YOU BRIEFED" if the answer was NO or I do not know then they knew to keep quiet about any program related topics. Well as you might guess you start to feel like an outcast and that is no fun. Then one day I was told to go to this other building where the pilots worked out of and That was my briefing day.

I went to the room number they gave me and sat down. Now this was not your normal room it was a safe room and I am guessing it was soundproof. When I say safe room I mean it had a safe door on it. A very large room all the same. There were 4 other people there to get briefed like myself. The officer giving the briefing started by checking our Id's and then his list. Once he was satisfied that we were who we were supposed to be he started. Turned out the lights and started a film. The film ran about 1 minute and he stopped it. We had only seen the F-117 from the side and then no more. He turned on the lights and told 2 people that they could leave now. After they had left the Captain informed the remaining 3 of us that they only had clearance to see the aircraft nothing more. He then started the film again and it ran about 15 minutes if I remember right. We saw it fly, taxi, sitting in the hanger, in the cockpit I would say everything about it except touch it. Then we signed our lives away and he sent us to get our badges that would allow us to go up range to TTR. I WAS NOW BRIEFED YEAH!!!

When I returned to the ready room I felt like a new man and part of the crew finally. All the guys I had been hanging out with shook my hand and asked me what I thought and when did I want to go up range? I really felt extra special that day like nothing else I had experienced in the service to that date.

The next available time for me to go up range was the next Tuesday so I was scheduled for that days early flight. Oh the flights were great to me and crap to some. I love to fly any chance I get so I was happy to go anytime I could. We flew on red and white Boeing 727's with the air stairs. One of the aircraft was reported to be the one that D.B. Cooper jumped out of. The best pilot we had for theses A/C said he was researching it but I never heard anymore. By the way that pilot was a shit hot jock and could fly a 727 like a fighter. Very fun to fly with and always made flying interesting. I remember one flight back when the weather was a bit rough and the winds were strong he came over the intercom and said that he was going to make a very steep and fast decent into Nellis AFB. He was spot on about that. I never had so much fun on a commercial size A/C. At the last minute he flared this good size aircraft and the gear came down and we landed. Just that fast. That was great!!! Once while having the honor of his piloting skills he got permission for a short cut over Mercury test range you know the place where they set off the above ground nukes. Man the landscape below was like looking at the moon. (not classified since they now allow visitors to some of these areas). Another fun flight! The flights up to Tonopah were just about boring most of the time. Before we would land we would have to close the shades since some of the people were not fully briefed. This ended when they told the world.

My first trip up was exciting of course. I could not wait to see it up close and sit in the cockpit.

I had actually gone up on an afternoon flight since I got bumped for someone who worked up there. That was OK though. I was there when the planes started flying and of course it was dark out and the first time I saw one in real life all I saw was a light coming at me and a whining sound. Nothing else was visible since the A/C was black. The guy who was there to show me around took me into a phase hanger and there was my first look at one up close. There were two in this hanger one in pieces and one mostly whole. What a thrill. I checked out both till the guy I was with got bored and said we should get a room for the night.

To get to the place where the living area was for everyone there was a bus system that ran 24 hours day from the hanger areas to the Entry Control Point. Once you went through the entry control point on foot and out of the secure area where the A/C were you had to change buses to one that went to the living area. If I remember right it was about 10 miles away or was it 7 I forget. Once you arrived at the living area you had to stay on the bus so that security could check every ones ID. We went into the office to get our rooms and then headed off to them on the next bus. They had a great transportation system since no one had a car and only the big guys had GOV's.

The rooms for everyone were at a place called MANCAMP. These were originally used by another aerospace company I will not mention. There were new barracks that were built by the USAF and the old trailer style rooms from the aerospace co. These trailer type barracks were mostly used by the pilots since they were far from any noises that could disturb the daylight sleeping habits they needed. It was for me lucky that I could stay in these pilot type rooms for the night, the only time I was able to do so. The rooms were small and had a frig, TV w/cable, private bath, closet, bed, phone and a table and a chair. Nothing special just enough for comfort.

Well I think I will make this a continuing story so that you must come back and read the rest if you are interested. If it is boring let me know, you wont hurt my feelings because nothing anyone can say will tarnish this special time in my life.

1 comment:

  1. That's an interesting read. I used to drive through Tonapah when I was at school at UNM in Albuquerque. All you could see from the road was rows of old fighters, I never knew what they were for.