Stephen Coonts' Journal

A-6 Days

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When I was young I lived a great adventure.  I joined the United States navy and went to flight school.  Then I got lucky.  The naval bureaucracy sent me to NAS Whidbey Island to fly A-6 Intruders.

So the adventure began.  I soon met my first A-6.  Walked around it, touched it, climbed into the cockpit and smiled broadly.  The Intruder was, and, if you can find one in a museum, still is a big,ugly thing, sort of a flying drumstick, fat in the front tapering to a delicate-looking, gorgeous shapely tail.  It sported the sexy tail because the jet exhausts were at the wing root, so the plane didn’t have a couple of pipes running out the back.

Like so many of the men now gray-haired grandfathers who flew A-6s, I would love to live the experience over again.  Would love to meet my fellow adventurers one more time, when we were young.  Would enjoy immensely sitting through the lectures about aircraft systems, studying emergency procedures ad infinitum, spending hours with my NATOPS manual; and finally donning a flight suit, steel-toed boots, G-suit, torso harness with survival vest, helmet, gloves, grabbing my bag with oxygen mask, charts and approach plates, and waddling out to my waiting steed.

If only I could once again settle into that ejection seat and flip switches and twist knobs.  WIth the yellow huffer roaring away, I would push the crank button and that right engine would began to turn.  

Soon we would be taxiing and my BN and I would be doing all those things pilots and BNs do to ensure their steed is indeed ready, including the takeoff checklist liturgy.

On the runway with the brakes firmly applied, I would advance the throttles, not too fast, not too slow, but just so, “smoothly”, as the book said.  The roar was always satisfying, a visceral howl that carried for miles.  Everyone on the base could hear the beast ready for flight.  The nose oleo would compress a little.  Yeeeah!

Then I would release the brakes and away we would go… faster and faster and faster and the stick would come alive and the nose would life itself off because I had the trim set just so, six degrees nose-up.  Free of the ground, climbing, I would stop the rotation, start feeding in forward trim, lift the gear handle.  Wait for the rollers to lock up, wait for the airspeed to build enough to lift the flaps and slats, checking that there were no warning lights… and my BN and I would roar off into the wild gray Whidbey yonder… again.

One more time.

I have flown airplanes most of my adult life.  But I fell in love with flying in A-6s.  What a sweet, honest airplane!  When you were up there cruising along on a sunlit day the sunshine would stream through that huge canopy and soon you would be thumbing the air conditioning to a cooler setting.  Sweating under your flight suit, running a finger up under your visor to swab sweat from your eyes, feeling the way the plane rode the air, responding to every control input, even the tiniest… well, the experience filled a place in my soul.

The men I met in the Navy (the squadrons were all male then) were universally interesting. A few were assholes, a few were super technocrats, but most were extremely competent young men somewhere on the spectrum between those poles.  These were men to fly with.  These were men to fight with.  And if necessary, these were men to die with.  They were good friends and good companions for life’s journey.

Walking out onto a flight deck, manning up, taking the cat shots, flying around a while and dropping some bombs (without getting shot at), doing a few whifferdils on the way back to the boat, then catching a wire (hopefully the third one) and strolling into the ready room to laugh and scratch with my shipmates–yes, I’d love to do that one more time.  Or two.

Hell, I’d pay to go on another A-6 cruise.  I remember poker in the JO’s bunkroom, mid-rat sliders, liberty in Hong Kong and Singapore.  It certainly wasn’t all fun and games, but life never is.  Naval Aviation was dangerous, people died doing this, combat was insanity, at times I was so scared that even today, all these years later, I remember the fear.  And yet… That was Life with a capital L, the 200-proof stuff, the pure, raw essence.

I recall one summer afternoon aboard USS Nimitz off the Virginia Capes.  I was the arresting gear officer that day.  The ship didn’t have any airplanes aboard, but an A-6 outfit in Oceana had flown an Intruder out so the captain could log some traps.  He wanted a thousand.  Heck, so did I.  He got them and I didn’t.

Anyway, I stood on the fantail looking up that 1,100-foot deck, watching the ship pitching gently up and down, riding the sea, while the lone A-6 with the captain at the stick taxied to Cat One, took the shot, came around and trapped and did it all again.  Over and over, pausing occasionally to hot-pump some more fuel.  I’ve forgotten how many traps he got, but if I had ben in that cockpit, I wouldn’t have stopped until the hook-point wore out or I wore out the #3 pennant.  

Yeah, I would do A-6s again.  In a heartbeat.

If only it could be so.

Written by stephencoonts

December 10, 2012 at 2:48 pm

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What were they thinking?

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The news these days is depressing.  I cringe when I see a newspaper.

 The trustees of Penn State had former FBI director Louis Freeh investigate how the football coach and college administration turned blind eyes to a pedophile predator in their midst, and did it for many years.  All to protect the “good name” of the football program.  To hell with Sandusky’s victims.  The NCAA will undoubtedly do something–they sure as hell better–and killing the football program at Penn State for a few years certainly seems justified.  What were these people thinking?

The big British bank, Barclays, just fired its CEO and COO for their involvement in fixing the LIBOR rate, which determines the interest rate on Trillions of dollars of debt world-wide.  The chairman of the board resigned.  Parliament and US authorities are just getting started.  It is entirely possible this scandal could doom the bank.  What were these people thinking? 

Then there is the CEO of PFGBest, an Iowa commodity broker, who tried to commit suicide and botched it.  Only after stealing over $215 million over twenty years.  Too bad he couldn’t even kill himself.  This on top of the collapse of commodity broker MF Global Holdings, who somehow lost $1.6 billion of clients’ money.  What were these people thinking?

And how about the traders of JPMorgan Chase who managed to lose–are you ready for this?–$5.8 billion?  Doesn’t anyone check on these people?  Jamie Dimon is sweating in front of Congress.  Unfortunately the FDIC (that’s us, folks) insures the accounts in this bank.  Dimon should be fired.  

Ponzi schemers, thieves in suits, an attorney general who perjures himself in front of Congress…

What are we thinking, to tolerate all this?  Have you had enough?  I sure have!  But what am I going to do about it?  Darn if I know…

Written by stephencoonts

July 16, 2012 at 9:39 am

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Colorado Burning

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Yesterday, June 23, we drove up to Cascade, up Rt 24 west of Colorado Springs, for lunch at a little Colorado wine bar and grill. A plume of smoke, from perhaps a house fire, was rising on the ridge to the north. Small. As lunch progressed, it got bigger and bigger. Hot and windy. We drove on up behind Pike’s Peak, an afternoon ride, and found the smoke was pluming to 20 to 25k feet, and the column was thickening ominously. Fire trucks and fire fighters on the way down the canyon. The fire spread, evacuations started. After dark the blaze was visible from our deck, an ominous red monster.
This morning the fire has spread to 2,500 acres, no containment. They call it the Waldo Canyon fire. All the little communities are being evacuated, including Manitou Springs.
This morning the sun rose red in the smoke that spread loosely to the east. Blue sky everywhere else. Only a little wind out of the north. But in a few hours, the wind will shift to the south, 20 knots gusting to 35, temp 99 degrees. Some of the western subdivisions here in the Springs will be evacuated, one suspects.
THe big fire near Fort Collins has burned 90 square miles, over 200 homes.
Scary. And heartbreaking for the families that lose everything.

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June 24, 2012 at 7:54 am

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My Hero

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Now that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has solved all of New York’s problems and has the city ticking like a Swiss watch, he has decided to tackle bigger problems.  He recently announced that NYC was banning the sale of soft drinks in cups larger than 12 ounces.  Big soft drinks are killing fat people, of whom there are many.  Yet the very next day he went before television cameras to promote National Doughnut Day.  Only skinny people eat those.

Who could make this stuff up?  But wait, Mike Bloomberg isn’t finished.  A day or two ago he told the audience listening to his weekly radio show (do you have one of these?) that “it’s sometimes hard to spot a prostitute.”  This might have been a warning to us out-of-towners planning a New York visit.  Or it might have been merely a general comment on lonely Saturday nights in the Big Apple.  Ahh, the voice of experience.  I note that prostitution is one of the few industries in New York that lacks its own municipal regulatory agency and a dedicated commissioner.  Maybe Bloomberg intends to fix that.  

It’s a credit to America that we continue to produce giants like Mike Bloomberg who willingly endure the travails of public office.  Is this a great country or what?



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June 17, 2012 at 4:32 am

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America’s Game

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Baseball is America’s game, and my favorite.  This past weekend Philadelphia pitcher Cole Hamels plunked a batter.  Ho hum.  But the guy he hit was Washington Nationals rookie phenom Bryce Harper, who went to first base as usual.  Then it got interesting.  A bit later Harper stole home, which is quite a feat, and one reason the Nationals signed him at the age of 17 for $10 million.  Yep.  He’s a future star.  Two innings later the Nationals pitcher plunked Hamels.  A little retaliation, which is baseball as usual.

Then it got interesting.  After the game Hamels was asked about the pitch that plunked Harper.  Hamels then astounded the nation.  He didn’t say, “It got away from me,” and “I was just trying to defend the plate,” and “I have a sore finger,” or “I slipped during my delivery.”  None of that.  He told the truth.  “I was trying to hit him,” Hamels said.  Holy Moly!  Doesn’t he understand that a pitcher NEVER says that.  NEVER EVER.  Predictably, Hamel was suspended for five games.  And Nationals GM Mike Rizzo called Hamel “gutless.”  Ha.  So Rizzo got fined an undisclosed amount.

Baseball players telling the truth!  What if politicians start doing it?  Celebrities?  Teenagers?  Husbands?  Wives?  Employees?  CEOs?  Doesn’t Hamel understand he is a role model for the rest of us?  What was he trying to do–ignite a revolution?   The press almost melted down when they heard Hamel’s explanation.  The foundations of our society cracked then and there.  Fortunately for us, the political scrum is in full swing, and enough lies have been told the last few days to repair Hamel’s damage.

We Americans are blessed that we have this game, and players like Cole Hamels and Bryce Harper and gruff buffoons like Rizzo.  Let’s play ball!



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May 10, 2012 at 7:27 am

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An Officer and A Movie

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The movie FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER will air on the Military Channel on Saturday, May 5, at 8 pm Eastern.  This is part of An Officer and A Movie series, and I will co-host.  The film will air again on May 20th at noon, May 26th at 8 PM, and June 15th at 8 PM.  

Discovery’s Military Channel will air many good flicks this year on An Officer and A Movie, including Kelly’s Heroes, PT-109, The Bridge at Remagen, Tora Tora Tora, Courage Under Fire, 633 Squadron, the Thousand Plane Raid, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, The Dirty Dozen and many more.  Each will be co-hosted by a special guest.  

Check them out… 

Written by stephencoonts

May 1, 2012 at 2:33 pm

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Favorite Writers

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People often ask, Who are your favorite living writers?  I got lots of favorites, many dead, some above ground, but I’d like to tell you about three still scribbling merrily: Stephen Hunter, Lee Child and Michael Connelly.  In my opinion they are the top three pros writing popular fiction today.  

Michael Connelly: This guy is the king of the police procedural, a sub-genre of mystery fiction.  He isn’t just the king, he owns the space these days, and has for about twenty years.  He has written at least twenty-three published novels.  Some feature one-off characters.  The books of his that I like best are a series starring Harry Bosch, LAPD homicide detective.  Harry’s life sure has its ups and downs, with girlfriends, a wife, then the wife gone, more girlfriends, trouble with his superiors, the press, colleagues screwing up or selling him out… Amid all this setting are some really good mysteries, and Harry peels the onions slowly.  New cases, old cases (including his mother’s murder) with a zillion unexpected twists, at least five per novel, and lots of suspense make these books riveting.  Michael Connelly.  Do yourself a favor–read this guy.

Stephen Hunter was a film critic for many years for The Washington Post.  You’d think a guy who spent his days watching movies and writing about them would relish the real world after dark, wouldn’t write fiction, but Hunter does.  Writes it extraordinarily well.  Another surprise, this staffer for one of the most politically correct newspaper in the country has a hobby: rifles.  Now he isn’t just any gun nut.  He knows as much ballistics as your average expert witness, and he knows how to write about snipers.  His novels are perhaps best described as a saga of the Swagger family.  His first creation was a Vietnam sniper named Bob Lee Swagger, but he has written a novel about Bob Lee’s dad, his son, and how Bob Lee solves his pop’s murder, among others.  Hunter is a craftsman of the first order: suspense, great plot, terrific, plausible shooting, and the good guys win in the end.   I love his books.

Lee Child is the author of the Jack Reacher series.  Reacher, a former Army MP, gets my vote for the most improbable hero in fiction today.  He is a loner whose only possession is a toothbrush, which he carries in his shirt pocket.  He rides around the country on buses or hitchhiking, a man going slowly no where, with the rest of his life to get there.  Sometimes Child’s character is so real I wonder what in the world he thinks about as he looks out bus windows and watches the world go by.  A man without a future or a dream. Still, he manages to get into deep and serious trouble in every book.  Reacher is big, fearless, and when he wants to be, brutal and ruthless.  This only works if the villains are really nasty, and Child’s are.  Absolute scum.  It’s an new twist on an old formula and, you will be amazed to see, really works.  Lee Child.  

These three are my favorites still above ground.  I watch for their books, grab them while the ink is still wet.  You should too.



Written by stephencoonts

January 2, 2012 at 11:48 am

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