I flew 197 combat missions during the Vietnam War. Later I flew as a commercial airline captain for many years with three different major airlines until my retirement.


Comments: 169 • Responses: 76  • Date: 

Esc_ape_artist14 karma

Congratulations on a successful career, sir. Who did you fly for and on what equipment did you retire?

flite1116 karma

Thank you.
Continental Airlines, until the strike and hostile takeover by Frank Lorenzo and Texas International in the early 1980s. Then I flew for the Padres MLB team and Ray Kroc on the B-727. After a short stint with Pride Airlines, I flew many years as captain for America West on the B-737 along with the Airbus A320 and A319. After a merger, I retired from USAirways early, on a medical. My last trip was a trans-con on the Airbus.

Esc_ape_artist6 karma

I see you're missing the fun happening now, it sounds like you got out at the USAir/AWA fray. It hasn't gotten better, and the plot thickens with the addition of another airline.

Anyway, questions more suitable to Reddit: What did you fly in the service, and did you ever have a holy-crap-I-can't-believe-I-made it moment during combat? What was the most spectacular thing you saw? Did a mission ever come down the pipeline that left a bad taste in your mouth?

Thanks for your service and the AMA.

flite1114 karma

I knew I should not have posted this Ima. The questions are really piling up. But yours are good. Yes, I follow the USAir/AWA/AA fray daily. I have opinions (and old friends on all sides, mostly retired) so I don't comment.

I flew many Navy aircraft, but primarily the F-4, the F-14, and the A-4. In addition to some time in a P-3 and others, I have 30-some hours in a Ch-53.

I had quite a number of "holy crap" moments both in combat and elsewhere in normal operations. Each is an interesting story better said later.

I think the "most spectacular" thing I ever saw was the 3rd night of B-52 raids over Hanoi in 1972. I cannot watch holiday fireworks today without flashbacks to that night long ago.

The war left a "bad taste" in my mouth. However I was proud of my service and every mission I did. But there were two that still bother.

cp51841 karma

Did any of the military or civilian planes you flew leave you with any strong impression? How did you like flying a helicopter? How different/difficult is it from flying a plane?

Do you have any opinion about the new airplanes? The 787?


flite114 karma

I liked and enjoyed every aircraft I flew, military or civilian, each for a variety of different reasons. But flying F-4 and F-14 fighters was the best! Along with the A-4. My least favorites were the T-2 Buckeye and the Cessna 172.

Although I only have a few hours of helicopter flying, I was really surprised at how much fun it was. And how different than more normal aircraft they are. My biggest problem was watching the airspeed bleed off toward zero when landing, something that would cause a stall in any other aircraft. I also became unglued when trying to hover and found myself flying backwards! Yikes!

Having no experience with the new generation of commercial aircraft like the 787, either as a pilot or a passenger, I am not qualified to comment. Sorry.

captain_obvious_scum3 karma

F-14 Tomcat huh?

What are your thoughts on Topgun?

flite114 karma

The school or the movie?

The movie was great entertainment and great for recruitment. I still enjoy watching it sometimes, despite all the knocks it gets.

The school, Naval Fighter Weapons School (aka TOPGUN) was the best and most intense, yet enjoyable learning experience I have ever experienced!

captain_obvious_scum2 karma

Cue Top Gun Theme! From the movie!

flite112 karma

Yes! It is on my Ipod.

DongleNocker2 karma

My father was a Pilot for the Navy during Vietnam and flew for Continental during the same time. Did you leave the airline due to the Strike?

flite117 karma

Yes. Although I was furloughed before the strike, I honored the picket lines when recalled, and that led to losing my job at CAL

DongleNocker1 karma

Looking back now, do you think the strike was worth it? and Do you regret not crossing the picket lines?

flite115 karma

No, it was probably not worth it. Indeed it lasted far too long - 2 years! It was a failure early on. We should have cut our losses.

No, I have absolutely no regrets about not crossing the picket lines, even though it later cost me my job. Forever after I can look at myself in the mirror with some pride, and my integrity intact!

DongleNocker1 karma

I was a small child at the time, but the strike caused my parents to sell the house they had built and move the family to the opposite corner of Texas to live with family.

My father eventually went back to fly for CAL at reduced pay, and moved the family to another corner of the state. I am not sure what his reasons were for crossing the picket line after the strike failed. He passed away in the late 1990's and I can't ask him questions of this nature.

flite112 karma

I am sorry to hear about your father's passing.

Yes, those were difficult times. If it is any consolation, a number of guys I walked the picket line with returned to CAL before the strike was over. It was really difficult to blame some of these guys because it was obvious the strike had failed and was being carried on for far too long. I don't know why.

DukeMaximum7 karma

Is it true that you and the co-pilot have to eat different meals in case of food poisoning? I've heard that.

flite116 karma

Some if not most airlines have a policy that the Captain and the First Officer eat different meals for that very reason.

Even if it was not the airline's policy, I found most crews had different meals by their choice to preclude both becoming ill inflight.

Brad_Wesley4 karma

Do you get to eat the first class meals or the coach meals?

flite113 karma

That depends on the airline and its in flight service. Today many flights have no meals. However catered meals are sometimes delivered onboard for pilots. In the old days, we always had first class meals. But the industry has changed.

best_name_maybe6 karma

What do you recommend for young guys wanting to be pilots? Either military or commercial?

flite116 karma

The industry has changed so much that I am a poor source to answer given today's different environment.

Nevertheless, follow your dream! My daughter finally found her dream in aviation and flies charter jet aircraft. But it takes work and dedication. But if you love aviation, it is worth it.

CynicalJill6 karma

How do you feel when you hear people say the war was a "waste" knowing you had fellow service people KIA or MIA?

flite1117 karma

Well for anyone that has not been directly in combat, that is a tremendously difficult question, but a very valid one. However combat experienced personnel have a far different perspective that others cannot, if ever truly understand.

Some of the best things I have ever seen individuals do were in war. It had nothing to do with the politics or justification of the war they find themselves. Risking one’s life to save one’s buddy is perhaps the best manifestation of the human condition. Is that ever a “waste?” Whatever the war?

Paradoxically, the horrors of war often do propel the participants to a much higher plane of humanity.

Whatever side of the conflict, Shakespeare captured it: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,”

DoopSlayer5 karma

I have always wanted to work in aviation, but not join the militairy. Does the aviation industry have a bias against non-militairy pilots/engineers? thank you

flite117 karma

In a word, no. Not today. Years ago ex-military were preferential hires due to their extensive screening and professional training. But that is no longer the case. There are far fewer military pilots today leaving the military. Furthermore, those flying with the smaller commuters (while building hours at horrendously low pay) may be more attractive because of their similar airline experience.

Nevertheless each airline has their own formula for hiring, so it does differ. My daughter bypassed the military route and is now very successful flying commercially.

babypuncher995 karma

What fire arm did you carry in your bag in case you were shot down what else did you have? And thank you for your services

flite113 karma

While a few guys carried their own personal sidearm, most of us carried what was issued to us. That was either a 45ACP or a 38 special revolver. For ammo, we carried ball, tracer, and flare rounds. The chances of ever successfully using the sidearm if shot down were slim. A downed pilot would quickly be outnumbered and outgunned by the enemy prior to capture. The flare and tracer rounds were to signal a rescue helo.

TheDancingRobot5 karma

Is it true that if an airman mentions that (s)he has seen something in the sky that is unidentifiable, and insists that it was a craft of unknown make and origin,, that their wings may be taken away? What is the strangest thing you ever saw in the air?

flite1112 karma

No, that is not true. I have seen a number of interesting things, but they all were explainable - weather phenomena, lights, reflections, meteors, the planet Mars, etc.

The strangest and most inexplicable thing I ever saw was descending into LAX from the north. We noticed a bright light above us and far in the distance. We thought it was another arriving aircraft. But we thought it strange the he had his landing lights on at such a high altitude. Then suddenly the light streaked, no jumped instantly across the sky and then stopped so fast that it defied physics and logic. I have no idea what it was. And no, we did not report it. Why would we, and what could we say?

TheDancingRobot2 karma

your example is exactly what I am referring to. the explainable instances you mentioned above are all unidentifiable, but the last example was not. and, as I have been told, if pilots (who are the experts on in-air velocities, altitudes and descriptions of flying objects) report something they cannot explain, they often do not even bother fear of judgement of their senses or rational--potentially compromising their wings.

the last example you gave is exactly the type of objects that most pilots do not report. fear of ridicule may be why.

thank you for your response!

flite111 karma

Interesting link. I had not heard that one. However I do or did know a pilot who flew with my airline. He saw and reported a UFO over Texas years ago. Although he is no longer alive, his story has been recreated on TV, and I have seen it a number of times over the years. He was an experienced pilot, a straight shooter and well respected by all. There is no reason to doubt his story.

Just to add a little bit more…

Within a month or so of my sighting on approach to LAX of an extremely strange and unidentifiable object, something else happened that was quite unusual.

Flying again at night on the same route to LAX, we switched our radio over to SoCal Approach Control. But before we could check in with them, there was a lot of unusual chatter on the frequency. The pilots of a number of aircraft had apparently witnessed something unusual – what it might have been I do not know and never found out.

Approach control queried three or four flights, asking each if they wanted to file a report on what they saw. The first said “negative” followed by another who said they did not want to file a report. A third replied, “Ah, no, ah… we didn’t see anything.”

I have always wondered what it may have been they saw. I would not be surprised if it was something similar to what my F/O and myself saw.

Finally I don't think it is fear of ridicule. Rather is that most pilots do not want to go through all the paper work involved and have to answer inane questions that they really do not have good answers to give. And if they do report it, what is the real useful advantage of doing it?

zanics2 karma

Im just going to add to this thread that i have seen that exact same phenomena before. The white light that was there and then suddenly shot accross the sky at what i can only imagine was an incredible speed.

All i could say was "uhh.. shooting star?"

Edit: Im not a pilot, i saw this from the ground.

flite112 karma

Thanks for the comment.

What we witnessed was far different than shooting stars or meteors, of which I have seen thousands inflight.

This was a bright light that initially appeared to be an airliner on the normal arrival and approach to LAX, maybe 15 or twenty miles from us, and appeared to be at maybe 25,000 feet. (We were about at 17,000 ft.) It caught our interest because it was too high, if it were an airliner, to already having its landing lights on. My F/O and I briefly mentioned this to each other. And we continued to glance at it on our descent.

The light appeared to be almost stationary (which would be normal from our angle for an aircraft on the approach) for a few minutes. Then suddenly it jumped instantly and almost horizontally about 50 – 70 degrees across the sky, and then stopped abruptly. Nothing known can do that. I turned to my F/O and asked, “Did you just see that?” With eyes as big a saucers he answered yes!

Then we got busy doing checklists and preparing for the approach, so we could not any longer watch this extremely strange phenomenon.

TheDancingRobot1 karma

Your last comment makes so much sense...your job is hectic and stressful enough...yay, let's add more paperwork that will only lead to who knows what?

I did some time in Antarctica, and the NY Air National Guard flies us down there from Christchurch, NZ. (we even used JATO to get off the ice...WTF).

I was able to sit with the pilots as we flew across the Indian Ocean towards the ice and they pretty much told me of stories that prompted me to initially ask you about 'not reporting things for fear of retribution'.

Thanks again for your answers! ps. ever use Jet Assisted Take Off?

flite111 karma

No, never used JATO. But it looks like it would be fun. I do wonder how much different it is from using afterburners.

DevilWorshipper5 karma

I'm late to the party but hoping you could give me your perspective on alcoholism among pilots. My father was a pilot and I grew-up surrounded by pilots and every single one of them was a raging alcoholic.

flite115 karma

That is a difficult question for me to answer, since I do not have any studies, statistics or research on the subject. Nevertheless I tend to agree with you. I have witnessed what seems to be much more alcohol abuse and alcoholism among both military and civilian pilots than the general public at large. Why that is, I do not know. But it is an interesting question if true.

While the Navy and the military in general are much different today, back when I first entered the service alcohol was used with wild abandon and drinking - especially in a fighter squadron - was seriously encouraged. Of course many also relied on alcohol to relieve the stress of combat.

Over the years there have been a few regrettable but incredible instances of commercial pilots attempting to fly while under the influence. Fortunately a large number of my former cohorts have sought help and are recovering quite nicely from the disease.

zuprizemofo4 karma


flite117 karma

Pilots were older, due to a needed degree and extensive flight training.

I was 24 when I first flew in combat and about 26 at the end.

romprompromp4 karma

Any scares ( landing, flying, etc) while Flying commercial?

flite114 karma

Never flying commercial, although there were some rare times I was concerned for wide ranging variety of reasons.

Flying in combat was mostly, scary. But I loved that challenge.

karmanaut4 karma

Could you please provide some proof that this is your website? The easiest way to do that would be to add something to the site now that says "I am doing an AMA on reddit" or something like that.

flite1113 karma

Thank you for keeping things real.

This addition to my website this should provide the proof: http://flitetime.net/new.html

Repa_livesagain4 karma

I can't immediately think of anything to ask but thank you for your service to our country!

flite1114 karma

Thank you. When I returned from war in 1973, there were no thanks. Sometimes, quite the opposite! But I was not bothered by all that. I did what I believed in, and did it to the best of my ability despite the circumstances, the politics, and the tragedies of war.

No need to thank me. My service was indeed my pleasure, seriously... as difficult as it was.

__Rednaz__4 karma

What is the worst thing that has happened while flying a Commercial Airliner?

flite116 karma

Nothing much. Some things I do remember over 20 years:

Wake turbulence once from an aircraft ahead coming into SAN. It flipped us almost 90 degrees, but easily recovered and landed quite nicely.

Had to shut down an engine one night at max gross weight because of oil problems out of DIA. Landed no problem single engine as advertised.

Had a few lightning strikes that scared me and everyone else, but caused no problems.

Hit a goose on approach to IAH that scared us all with the sound.

But mostly, nothing ever occurred that was really bad or serious, thankfully in my long airline career.

jednorazowa3 karma

  1. Are there any piloting skills that you need to have to fly a commercial aircraft but didn't learn as a fighter pilot?
  2. I'm not from the US and don't know anything about your military. Can you explain like I'm five why you worked for the navy (as opposed to the air force) even though you were a pilot?

flite114 karma

  1. Actually the skills required to be an accomplished fighter pilot are quite different than the skills required to fly a commercial aircraft. Furthermore the training to become a fighter pilot is far more difficult and demanding than it is to become a commercial airline pilot. However what was new and difficult for me in the transition to airline flying was learning to fly within congested air traffic system airspace comfortably. Taxiing on the ground at a wide variety of different airports, especially ones with complex and confusing taxiways was a new challenge. Also, the number of flights and the hours flown per day was far greater than when flying fighters.

  2. The US Navy operates a number of large aircraft carriers that each can carry 70 – 80 or more, tactical Navy Aircraft. The reason I joined the Navy rather than the Air Force was purely by accident. The Navy recruiters were on my college campus one day and on a whim, I took their aviation test and passed.

f-dawwg3 karma

I've heard that airline, and in general pilots are paid fairly terribly. Can you tell us what your salary was throughout your career?

flite113 karma

I was fortunate to be hired by a major airline rather than a smaller commuter airline. Their pilots are exploited and paid incredibly low wages while they build flight time to move up to a better airline.

But even at a major airline, the first year pay is extremely low. Mine was about $1200 a month. However when I retired my pay was well over 10 times that amount, even at the lowest paying major airline in the industry.

survo3 karma

Malcolm Gladwell discussed in one of his books ('Outliers'?), how dealing with air traffic control is different from nation to nation and even from city to city. How did you get along with air traffic controllers?

flite117 karma

English is the universal international language of aviation. Nevertheless, heavy accents can cause a problem. Also, not all countries are standardized in how they control aircraft.

Aside from my Navy flying, my international experience was only in Mexico and Canada. They do things a bit different sometimes, but if one is flexible it was never a problem.

denucacid3 karma

When was the first time you piloted an airplane and how was the experience?

flite119 karma

T-34, July of 1968. My Navy VT-1 Pensacola instructor said "turn to the left." I asked, "How do I do that?"

I later and soon learned I had some natural talent at this. My grades were at the top.

ZakuTwo3 karma

Considering that you were in San Diego around the right time, did you know Joe "Hoser" Satrapa, and do you have any good stories about him? He's become legendary among Tomcat enthusiasts, especially with the whole Toeser ordeal.

flite114 karma

Yes, I knew Hoser back then, but more by reputation than I did personally. Yes he was quite a colorful character amongst many colorful guys. He still is flying fire fighting tanker aircraft near San Diego, I believe.

snail-gorski3 karma

About Vietnam:

Which kind of missions did you fly during the Vietnam War?

Which plane/planes did you fly?

Have you ever encountered the Migs during the Vietnam War?

What was the most hilarious moment that happened to you during one of the missions?

Have you ever had to crash land? If yes what happened?

What was your opinion about the war?


Have you ever had any emergencies during the flight?

What was your favorite plane to fly? (Military or civil)

I know that this question sounds quite ridiculous but I want to ask it anyway:

I've heard that many airline pilots frequently encounter anomalies (i.e. ufos) during the flights but don't talk about that to avoid damage to their reputation. Did you encounter anything unusual during any of the flights? If yes what happened?

Thank you!

flite113 karma

  • I flew MigCap, TarCap, BarCap, photo escort, close air support, road recce, and strike/bombing missions.

*My aircraft was the F-4B Phantom.

*I chased a few MiGs on a number of occasions, but never got close enough to fight and attack.

*Hilarity was not common, but sometimes we laughed at some things, mostly to relieve the tension rather than something being funny.

*Thankfully I never crash landed. Of course we had ejection seats if ever needed.

*My opinion about the war naturally changed from its beginning to its end, and through the ensuing years. It is complex and difficult to explain. But I was and remain very proud of my service.

*I had many emergencies over the years. But we were well trained to handle them.

*The A-4 Skyhawk was the most fun. The F-4 was my favorite.

*See my answer above about the only unidentified flying object I ever saw.

window52 karma

Considering how divided the country is nowadays, would you serve in its military if you were 22 again?

flite112 karma

Oh yes, I would do it all again! What a life.

But today is much different. I am no longer 22, and so many things have changed. I would love to fly in the military again, but their requirements are much greater than in my day. I would not qualify today.

wildcatsnbacon2 karma


flite114 karma

First Officers are paid so poorly because cost cutting airline management can get away with it. There seems to be no shortage of prospective pilots putting up with substandard wages in the hope of working their way up eventually to the big bucks.

For a variety of reasons, USAirways is a special case. Hopefully that will change.

I liked to hand fly the Boeing under 10,000 feet. However I rarely hand flew the Airbus except for takeoff and landings.

The airline business is cyclic, and so is the hiring and pilot advancement. Then 9-11 happened along with the later, deep recession setting airline growth and hiring back a decade. To make matters worse for prospective pilots, the mandatory retirement age was extended from age 60 to 65.

Nevertheless, things are changing. The economy is slowly coming back. Airlines again are becoming more profitable after a long drought. And the senior pilots who stayed for an extra 5 years are now starting to retire, requiring replacements. So finally, after many years, the future for prospective new airline pilots is looking surprising bright for a change. So pay your dues for a while, then catch the wave. Good luck!

satanismyhomeboy2 karma

What is your favourite plane to fly?

flite113 karma

Military: The A-4 Skyhawk ('Scooter, Heineman's Hot Rod, etc.) was the most fun. However, although I flew the F-14 and once the F-18, the F-4 Phantom will always be my favorite. She and I had some interesting times together, and I will always love the Fox-Four.

Commercial: I loved flying Boeing aircraft. I loved flying the computer flying in the Airbus aircraft. Depended on how your preferences on the day.

romprompromp3 karma

Thanks. More insight on your Boeing vs Airbus preference?

flite113 karma

If you like computers, are lazy, and can overcome the non-intuitive training required to fly the Airbus, you become a fan.

If you are more old school, and like to fly airplanes, Boeing is the answer.

I loved flying both, equally... like chocolate and vanilla ice cream. [But since I am somewhat lazy and enjoy programming a flight, it might hint at my slight preference.]

Exovian2 karma

I'm not sure how I feel about the military or it's actions; most of it doesn't sit well with me. I will say thank you for coming here and explaining your experiences articulately and honestly. Now, question time:

Obviously, commercial aviation accidents happen, if quite rarely. Was there any one that occurred during your career that caused major concern, or that necessitated any extra caution/training on the part of the flight crew? Also, knowing the aircraft as well as you did, what were your favorite and least favorites parts of any given one?

flite112 karma

During the 1990s there were some fatal crashes with the B-237 that were unexplained. These caused major concern throughout the industry, and especially with me since I was then flying that model of aircraft.

Eventually the NTSB accident reports came out identifying what they thought caused the uncommanded, hard-over rudder that precipitated the accidents. @http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_737_rudder_issues However these accident reports were met with a lot of skepticism by pilots of the time.

Thankfully whatever really was the cause, enough changes were made to that aircraft model that it has never happened again.

Likes & Dislikes?

Commercial: I liked the flight deck of the Airbus far more than the B-737. It was much more spacious, more comfortable, and was carpeted. It had great sunscreens. And where the control yoke was in the Boeing, the Airbus had a nice fold out table because it had a side stick for aircraft control.

On all the newer models of aircraft I enjoyed working with and playing with the flight management computers. They could program the route, fly the aircraft, and provide extraordinary information to the pilot.

Military: I very much disliked the F-14s air conditioning noise. It used a high-speed turbine to force air into the cockpit, but if you did not have ear noise attenuation, it was so loud one’s ears actually hurt.

Exovian1 karma

Thank you! I've really enjoyed really this IamA; thanks for doing it! If you don't mind another question, what was the cause of the skepticism of those NTSB reports on the B-737?

flite112 karma

Thank you for your kind comments.

The NTSB accident reports were vague and inconclusive. The proposed fixes to the rudder system were not adequate, many thought. The NTSB, Boeing the manufacturer, the FAA, the Air Line Pilots Association and the airlines all seemed to have differing opinions on what exactly caused these accidents, and later related incidents.

An excellent review is here: http://www.b737.org.uk/rudder.htm

darksparten2 karma

How come in world war 2. Jap/German aces had 200-400 kills, whereas the top American had only 40?

Thanks for serving!

flite115 karma

I am not an expert in this area, but I will give it a shot.

The top WWII Ace was German pilot, Erich Hartmann with 352 kills. The most of all time. The top Japanese Ace was Hiroyoshi Nishizawa with approximately 87 kills. Richard Bong was the top American Ace with 40 kills.

Japanese and German fighter pilots continued to fight over and over again, until they either died or the war ended. American fighter pilots often rotated out of the war zone and back to the states as flight instructors. Thus the Germans and Japanese had more opportunities for kills than the American fighter pilots.

Also – and I am guessing here - many of the German kills were against the Russian air force who at the time did not have adequate training or equivalent aircraft compared to Germany. They lost their best and experience pilots early on. Their later inexperienced replacement pilots were vulnerable - what we used to call "grapes." As far as the Japanese, their Zero was a superior aircraft to anything we had, early in the war. However that soon changed later on with new models of US aircraft.

thisusernametakentoo2 karma

What is the fastest, highest youve flown? Worst carrier landing?

flite117 karma

Just under Mach 2. 55,000 feet. Took a "cut in the wires" and dribbled off the angle deck. Fortunately I recovered in full afterburner, but just barely before we went into the water.

thisusernametakentoo1 karma

What does the world look like at that speed or was the supersonic flight all over the ocean?

flite112 karma

Supersonic flight at altitude is little different than subsonic flight. The pilot experiences no real difference. It is only the airspeed indicator that changes. The speed is not noticeable.

However supersonic flight a few hundred feet above the terrain was a fantastic rush! We couldn’t fly over the US supersonic, although it sometimes happened. But over water or in other countries, and especially in combat, we did it frequently. It kept us alive when being shot at. And when just flying around elsewhere, it was great fun!

thisusernametakentoo1 karma

Are you into any "adrenaline" activities outside of flying? I remember watching the right stuff repeatedly in the theater when I was a kid. I wanted to fly but life took me in different direction. I now find myself occupying free time with every crazy sport except flying a fighter jet (nyt crossword doesnt count). What do you do for fun that gets the blood flowing? By the way, hindsight is something else. I thank you for your service and sacrifice so I may have the ability to have an opinion on wars and other topics past present and future.

flite112 karma

Unfortunately I am a little old to be into any “adrenaline” activities today. Although I do enjoy driving “really fast” and taking corners hard where it is relatively safe to do so in my Porsche. I raced it in a club-sponsored event last year.

Until a few years ago we had a 30ft Catalina sailboat. Aside from family and friends outings, I also like to sail single hand in some of the worst weather and high seas, just for the extreme challenge.

When I was young I use to be a very aggressive snow skier, out of bounds and on some extreme slopes. But that is about the extent of my adrenaline inducing activities.

daxdaxdax2 karma

Vets don't always get the recognition they deserve so thanks for your service.

flite116 karma

Thank you! 40 years ago, no one thanked us for our service. Today I am frequently surprised and taken aback by this newfound gratitude.

While it is deeply appreciated, it is a dichotomy that I have never been quite able to understand. I did what I believed in, and was proud to do it. I was very good at my trade. Any lack of recognition, indeed the insults were never a factor for me. Nor is the new gratitude much of a factor either, although it is appreciated.

I never listened to the jeers or the cheers of others outside of the arena. I listened to my heart, my training, and my ethics. I succeeded under sometimes incredible duress, regardless of others' opinions whether pro or con.

VIPERsssss2 karma

Did you have a gun on your F4 at first or did they add it later? Were the missiles as bad as everyone says?

flite115 karma

Navy F-4s never had a gun. The Air Force did. We had an external gun pod, but it never worked and was never used in combat.

The AIM-7 radar guided Sparrow missile was terrible, although the Navy version was far more reliable than the Air Force model. For us, the heat-seeking IR Sidewinder AIM-9 was super!

RexMundi0002 karma

My late grandfather worked for Vought he was on the engineering team for the F-8 project. What do you think of the F-8 vs the F-4 in the fighter role?

flite111 karma

I am sorry. Somehow I missed your comment earlier. And congratulations to you for your late grandfather's superb engineering.

The F-8 was a fantastic fighter aircraft for its time. It is one of the few aircraft that I would have loved to have flown but never did.

Indeed when I was at NAS Miramar there was tremendous competition between the F-8 and F-4 drivers. We went head-to-head often, and usually got beaten... until Top Gun trained us. Both were fantastic aircraft, but the F-4 eventually replaced the F-8 for some good reasons.

However I think that the prototype advanced F-8 may have been better than the F-4 that replaced it, if given a chance. Perhaps, but I don’t know.

kickbuttowski_892 karma

Require your psychological inputs:

Does being a part of war and seeing all that destruction around you have a deep impact?

Maybe after seeing all that death made you forget patriotism for a while and see that as human beings, this was unwarranted for?

flite113 karma

I think anyone who experiences combat first hand will forever be changed in some way. How deeply they are affected is difficult to judge.

The old squadron mates that I still see will all say it was a personal, life-changing experience. However I don’t know of any who were “deeply” affected. They all have dealt with the experience extremely well, although opinions of the war and its conduct are sometimes diverse. Nevertheless we were and remain, a band of brothers.

Willcagney3132 karma

Is top gun anywhere even close to the real deal?

flite114 karma

I've just answered this elsewhere below. Some of the movie was very realistic and true, but a majority of it was not.

Most of flying scenes were pretty accurate though... except for the 'foreign relations" inverted flight. They wanted the Navy to actually fly that scene. The Navy wisely said no.

panamafloyd2 karma

I know I'm late to the party (again!), but hoping for an answer if you see the question, Cap'n.

I first saw the Blue Angels perform in 1974. They were in F4s. However, many of their "trademark" maneuvers (Delta Break, formation rolls, solo passes, etc.) were already in the show. After I was an adult, I heard that the F4 was a bit of a brute, and was amazed that I actually witnessed F4s doing what they do in F18s today. Since you've actually driven both, can you give an opinion on the relative difficulty pilots would face in either aircraft?

flite113 karma

I have extremely limited experience in an early model F/A 18, so I cannot speak to how it might perform in a tight formation during an air show.

However like you, I have recently heard or read somewhere that the F-4 was "a bit of a brute" and difficult to fly. I am really surprised by this! It is not true in my estimation. Yes, it could be a real handful if you had limited experience. But once comfortable with her, she was a beautiful thing to fly.

I found the F-4 to be rock stable and able to fly in very tight formations through all kinds of maneuvers. Throttle, aileron, and elevator response was excellent. We would “tuck it in” extremely tight and fly with relatively ease through all kinds of wild maneuvers. No problem. I loved how that aircraft handled.

panamafloyd2 karma

Thanks! I have to ask a "follow-up" question, though. I've heard many ex-Navy guys also say that as much as they loved the A4..they'd rather be in an F4 in combat, just because of the sheer speed an F4 could achieve. Is that true?

Full disclosure: I am not a pilot, just an 'aviation buff'.

EDIT: Further disclosure..I grew up in eastern North Carolina, we used to visit Norfolk quite often (closest "big city" to us). My friends & once observed a Carrier leaving port, and commented upon how big the ship was. There was an off-duty Navy flier that overheard our conversation..

"Yeah, kid. It's a really big ship. But it's a really small airport."

flite112 karma

That is exactly true!

If both aircraft were sitting on the ramp and I wanted to just fly around and have fun, I would chose the A-4. However if going into hostile air I would chose the F-4.

The F-4 had much more thrust, could go Mach II plus, carried a wide range both of air-to-air and air-to-ground weaponry, had more and better electronic countermeasures gear, etc.

As we used to say when they shot at us: "Speed is life!" Sadly the A-4 was a sub-sonic scooter.

panamafloyd1 karma

Thank you again, sir! "Online gift", footage of F4 at Cleveland, 2011. Apologies in advance that it's Air Force instead of Navy.


flite112 karma

Thank you for the clip. It is good to see the Fox Four fly again. I see it doesn’t smoke like it used to back in the day. I also accept your apology for it being an Air Force aircraft. ;-)

I have some good memories of the Cleveland Air Show of long ago. It was before the Lakehurst tragedy, and I was ‘chasing’ the Blues to become a member.

MM22362 karma

What did you fly in Vietnam? Were you on a carrier? And what kind of weapons were you carrying?

flite115 karma

F4Bs, CVA-41 USS Midway (now the museum in San Diego)

Depending upon the mission, the weapons were Sidewinders and Sparrows air-to-air missiles. Sometimes we also carried MK-82 500lbs bombs. Rarely we carried 1000 lbs bombs, laser guided bombs, or anti-ship deep water mines.

Plank192 karma


flite116 karma

When I flew with the airlines, my favorite spot to fly to was my home... San Diego (SAN). I could turn a 4-day trip away from home into two, 2-day trips with a wonderful long layover at home in SAN.

When I flew in the military, Naval Air Station Miramar (NKX) was the best place in the world at the time!

123fakerusty2 karma

Any opportunity to fly at Top Gun?

flite117 karma

Yes I was selected to attend and graduated from TOPGUN in January of 1972. It was absolutely, awesome!

123fakerusty2 karma

Very cool, how did it compare with the movie? I know you were coming from a different time and place being that it was during an ongoing war.

flite116 karma

The movie I found very entertaining. But it was far different than the real thing. However the flying scenes were very realistic.

First off, there was no Top Gun “trophy for us. And no female at that time would have any credibility with some of the best fighter pilots in the world. I did live on the beach and did play some volleyball there, but I kept my T-shirt on. There were no showers in the hangar, so after a flight we stayed in our hot and sweaty flight suit for the classroom lectures.

There was little time for fun or extra curricular activities. It was many hours in the classroom, one or two demanding flights a day, home after dark tired and dragging, for hours of more study and homework. Yet it was one of the best 4 or 5 weeks of my life. What an honor!

window52 karma

Which side did you believe in the John Kerry swift boat controversy? ( my opinion: Kerry had everything to gain by lying and the officers accusing him had nothing to gain by making up their allegations. )

flite112 karma

I cannot honestly answer that... but it upsets me.

bobbymickpants1 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA. I feel like I am late to the party, but I will try anyway.

I am in grad school for aerospace engineering, concentrating in flight dynamics and controls. I have always wondered, what kind of things did you study when were in Navy flight school? I imagine it would be a lot of the same stuff I am studying but on a more hands-on level. Did they more or less teach you how to fly, in general, and what the capabilities of the aircraft are so that you don't kill yourself and/or the aircraft? or did they teach you very specific maneuvers that the aircraft was known to be capable of? I guess I am just completely curious as to how they go about teaching you how to fly a high-performance aircraft.

flite111 karma

Never late, and the party ain't over till it's over.

It has been so many years, but I will try to remember.

Initially we went through several weeks of ground school. It was ‘fire-hose’ learning, much more intense than anything I had in college. Some of the courses were aerodynamics, engines, aircraft systems and hydraulics, weather, navigation, flight rules and regulations, Morse code.

Because I had a business degree and just a bit of an introduction to calculus in college, I was at a disadvantage at the start. So I had to attend what was called, “Stupid Study” after hours with a tutor. Fortunately, once it dawned on me that the economic, supply & demand curve was a lot like the aerodynamic, lift and drag curve, I started catching up.

I had never flown before at the controls until my first flight in the single-engine prop plane, the T-34 Mentor. The plane was acrobatic and after only a few familiarization flights, we began to learn and practice aerobatic maneuver much like you would see at an air show, except at a much higher altitude. Barrel rolls, Immelmanns, wingovers, aileron rolls, etc. Then after only 24 hours total flight time, we moved on to jets and the T-2 Buckeye.

We learned in stages and in higher performing aircraft, basic, then intermediate, then advanced before getting our wings. 18 months in all. In intermediate and advanced, we learned instrument flying, we learned how to fly in tight formation, land aboard an aircraft carrier, air-to-air gunnery, and learned bombing and air combat maneuvering in advanced.

Through all the continuing phases of flight we also attended ground school, repeating much of what was learned earlier, and adding to it, along with all the systems of each new aircraft we flew.

EDIT: Here is a link to the initial aerodynamics course: http://www.netc.navy.mil/nascweb/api/student_guides/Aero_student_guide_7_April_2008.pdf

bobbymickpants1 karma

That does sound very intense. I am sure the prospect of flying an F-14 was plenty of motivation to learn it all and get through the hours of studying. I know it would be for me! When you break the sound barrier, is there a noticeable difference in the handling of the aircraft? I have learned some supersonic flight dynamics (not much) but from what I recall the dynamics are very different in compressible flow than non-compressible. I would imagine that handling the aircraft would be different as well.

flite111 karma

There was something called, “Mach Tuck” as we went transonic. IIRC, the aircraft would try to pitch nose down due to the shift in pressure and lift. However supersonic aircraft have a magic control system to compensate for that, so it is barely noticeable going supersonic… unless the compensating systems failed, which was extremely rare.

There is little difference in flying subsonic than supersonic. The modern aircraft were designed that way. Even before computers and fly-by-wire, the control stick was given artificial feel, making its movements more stiff so you would not easily over-stress the aircraft while supersonic. Often you would not even know you were flying supersonic unless you glanced at the airspeed/mach indicator.

When I went through flight school, the F-14 was not even in the design stage. My motivation was to just get my wings. Unlike most, I did not care what I flew. Most all at the time wanted to fly fighters – either the F-8 or even more, the F-4. Fortunately I graduated near the top of my class and got orders to the F-4, despite its limited availability at the time.

bobbymickpants1 karma

Very cool. Thanks for answering my questions!

flite111 karma

De nada. Thank you for good questions.

mantic591 karma

Is there anything a commercial airliner can do that a fighter cannot (other than carry lots of people)?

flite113 karma

Carry a lot more gas and can fly further and longer without refueling in flight. Also, fighters don't carry flight attendants.

nikorasu_the_great1 karma

What is your opinion on video games, such as Call of Duty, that glorify war? Also, thank you for serving, sir.

flite112 karma

That is a tough one to answer. I really have no experience with any of those games. I know they are extremely popular, and must be a great deal of fun.

Do they "glorify war?" No, I doubt it. But I sometimes worry about their fantasy and fiction bleeding into one's concept of reality.

jimbossa1 karma

What are your thoughts on the F-35 and using fewer types of aircraft to fulfill greater number of roles? Do you agree with the current size of the US navy or do you believe it should be expanded/reduced; especially with regard to naval aviation.

What do you think airlines in the US can do to compete against the growing carriers from the Gulf and East Asia?

flite112 karma

I am hardly an expert on the F-35, and I have been away from the Navy for many years. So my comments are not worth much. Nevertheless I believe the F-35 has been over-designed, is far too expensive and will be far too few in numbers. The late John Boyd must be rolling over in his grave.

Naval aviation has changed so much from when I served that it is hardly recognizable today for me. I have heard the arguments for expansion and reduction. There are some valid points on both sides. I cannot adequately give you an answer.

Many foreign airlines have a large advantage over US carriers primarily because they are state supported. That is difficult to compete against. At least, cabotage should never be allowed in the US

jimbossa1 karma

Thanks for the response. Good to hear your insight regardless of how up to date it is. I tend to agree with you regarding the F-35; a great but poorly executed concept.

Do you think drone warfare is/has created an atmosphere similar to the dreadnought race of the early 20th century?

I agree that the US carriers are hampered by foreign state backed airlines but others like Asiana, Korean Air, Singaporean, ANA, Cathay Pacific seem to thrive without it. Are there any reasons that account for it?

Do you feel US civil infrastructure needs to be updated/modernized or is it fine as is?

flite111 karma

Warfare from the earliest of times periodically makes a dramatic change because of new weaponry and tactics, with perhaps the invention of gunpowder having effected the greatest change. The advent of drone warfare once again will change how war is conducted. How much so yet remains to be seen.

However I cannot compare drones with the dreadnaught race between Germany and Great Britain leading to WWI. Apples and oranges I think.

I don’t know why Asian airlines seem to thrive, although their service is exceptional. Perhaps there is less competition in their part of the world that allows their success. Or greater passenger loyalty?

I believe the deteriorating US infrastructure is becoming a national embarrassment. Our bridges are rusting. Our rail service pales when compared to many other countries. We seem today to lack the visionary leadership to make the difficult choices to become better. For instance, JFK who once said, “We choose to go to the moon, and do the other things,” when that was inconceivable. Likewise President Eisenhower had the vision and leadership to begin work on our nation’s massive interstate highway system, well ahead of its time.

eolomea1 karma

Thanks for this nice AMA.

I have some questions.

What are the differences of flying for the navy and for the airforce?

And how was your relation/attitude towards airforce pilots?

Friendly rivalry and mutual respect or hostility?

flite112 karma

Well the most obvious and major difference is that most Navy aircraft fly on and off aircraft carriers operating at sea.

We did not give much thought to the Air Force, and did not have too much interaction with them. We respected some of their pilots and yes there indeed was some friendly rivalry. I do not remember any hostility though.

At the time of the Vietnam War and for some years after, the Air Force and the Navy thought and operated in two very distinct universes. The AF was a lot more rigid; Naval Aviators enjoyed a lot more freedom as to how they operated. I think we had a lot more fun and enjoyed our work more… and we were overall better at what we did.

We laughed at many things AF pilots did, like wearing ascots with their flight suits, and synchronizing their watches at the start of a flight briefing. While we operated off aircraft carriers, we joked that when the AF built a new base, they first would build the Officers Club and a golf course before they began building a runway.

Our training was more effective. The Navy Fighter Weapons School (aka TOPGUN) was established by the Navy to improve our performance in Vietnam. And indeed it did, with excellent results! The AF on the other hand was far behind in their training. It was years after the war that they initiated similar training.

eolomea1 karma

That was a nice elaborate answer.

As you have already been asked about Topgun and commented on that movie I have another question.

I know you are a fighter pilot, but have you seen Flight of the Intruder and if yes can you comment on how close it comes to reality, especially the relation between fighter and bomber pilots and the off duty stuff?

flite112 karma

Yes, I have seen Flight of the Intruder movie, I have read the book, and I know the author. He had served on another ship the same time as I did in the Gulf of Tonkin. However it has been a number of years to remember all the details of what you ask, specifically.

Nevertheless although it was fiction, the story was based upon most things that really did happen. It was mostly accurate. And yes, there was a lot of innocent banter and sometimes some real friction between the Attack (bomber) pilots and the Fighter pilots. One group would always chip away at the other. As a fighter pilot, the attack drivers always complained we burned too much fuel, that we were arrogant, that we were always first in line for any good deals.

We teased the A-6 attack drivers about their aircraft being ugly. When around them, we would curl our index finger off our nose, simulating the ugly refueling probe in front of an A-6 cockpit. We teased the A-7 drivers as being SLOW. We called all the attack drivers, “attack pukes” and they called us, “fighter pukes." We were always in competition. But we stayed tightly within our squadron and avoided socializing with the attack guys.

Having said all that, we came together working hand in glove in combat. We had each other’s backs, and would thank and praise each other after a mission. But off duty, we were like flammable, oil and vinegar. But that was our type of having ‘fun.’ We still do it as old friends now, over 40 years later.

eolomea1 karma

So to bother you again.

I myself having gone through my mandatory military service and having some work experience the "Maverick" character in Topgun is not really a character who would pass flight school nor a very pleasant guy to work with.

Because seriously after rewatching Topgun I am totally on Icemans side.

He was (in my eyes) right about all the criticism about maverick, he is no team player and dangerous.

What is your opinion on mavericks character?

flite112 karma

No bother. Another interesting question. And again a bit difficult to answer, yet I tend to agree with you.

First, when I went through Top Gun, all four of our crews got along extremely well together, even though we all were extremely competitive and from different outfits. Nevertheless despite our individual personalities and competing squadrons, we were all from the same “cookie cutter” military regimented flight schools and great training. While we operated (and often acted) in the extreme, we all were about the same. We loved what we were doing. We were tight!

My opinion of the character of “Maverick” was that it was way overplayed for effect in the movie. I also agree that Iceman was much more realistic. But my favorite character was Goose. I have flown with and known many guys like that. And some who also died in flat spins. His character was the most realistic for me. But I also knew a number of “Icemen” too in real life, and they are much more desirable in that profession than a “Maverick.”

thee_third1 karma


flite111 karma

No, not really. But I do know some who have had “accidents.”

A good friend of mine flying an F-4 on a mission to fly over North Vietnam called the ship’s controllers asking to go to Da Nang airbase instead. He said it was an emergency. The controller asked what the nature of his emergency was. He replied, “It’s personal.”

Shortly thereafter it was "too late." He cancelled his request to fly to Da Nang and proceeded on to his scheduled mission. Completing that, he returned to land at the ship. However his cockpit reeked. The seat cushions had to be discarded along with his smelly flight suit after a long shower.

I still kid him about that, even today.

krume3001 karma

Awesome Career Capitan!!

Seen that you have flew both fighters and commercials, if you got to put the planes at car level what will you compare them with?? Something like a fighter is an F1 and a latest commercial will be a Rolls Royce Phantom??

flite114 karma

Interesting question. I have never thought of it that way. Although most all the guys I flew with in the Navy also had hot and fast cars.

Maybe I would say the F/A 18 is like an F1. The F-14 like a Maserati. The F-4 like a NASCAR racer. The A-4 like a hot rod.

My current auto is a Porsche Boxster, and I enjoy driving it just like I used to flying high performance fighter aircraft. Of course I am a lot older now, slower and more mellow.

I don’t think I would compare any commercial airliner with a RR Phantom. Maybe I would compare the new ones to a rock star’s personal touring bus though.

IllogicalLogic211 karma

Thank you for your service, I want to ask you a few questions...

Did you drop napalm? If so, how did you feel then and how do you feel now about it?

How did you feel when you were drafted?

Where you pro or against the war?

With the massive anti-war protests, how were you treated when you came home from Vietnam?

flite117 karma

I never dropped napalm. After some of the horrendous fires aboard Navy aircraft carriers, napalm was no longer carried.

I was not drafted. In fact I had a student draft deferment. But I loved flight and the recruiters got my attention as a college sophomore by telling me I could fly and be paid for it. I needed a medical waiver because of a football injury to enter flight school.

Initially I was totally pro war. I really believed in the "Domino Theory." Nearing the war's end, most of us were somewhat disillusioned with both the conduct, and the reasoning behind the war. But like the Charge of the Light Brigade, ours was not to reason why, but rather to do or die.

The massive anti-war protests affected us, but we did the job we were sworn to do without fail. I did not have any problems when I returned unlike many of the stories of some being spit upon. However I was careful to not expose my service to others at that time who were not shall we say, "sympathetic" to our hell.

spyinbabylon1 karma

Do you fly RC aircraft? I work with a fair amount of pilots from Korea and Vietnam who have retired from flying but still are stick building MIGs and Phantoms

flite112 karma

No, I don’t fly RC aircraft but know several friends who do. However I did receive a couple of quadcopters as gifts last Christmas. I fly them and enjoy them occasionally.

When I was young I used to build many aircraft models. I enjoyed it, but I was not very good at it. I didn’t have enough patience or attention to detail.

XBradTC1 karma

Hey, Flit, good to see you, and nice ImA/AMA.

How come you're so much nicer here than at the blog I know you from?

flite111 karma

Thank you. I see you have smoked me out. :-)

Of course you should know, and probably do know that I can be a chameleon sometimes and hard to spot, depending upon the venue and audience.

My best to you, my old but hopefully friendly adversary.

And God bless Lex.

Deacon2721 karma

Thank you for your service, flite11. In your military days, did you ever shoot down or come close to shooting down another aircraft?

flite111 karma

No I never shot any MiGs down. However I did chase some a few times and came close to shooting them down, but they remained out of range.

Deacon2721 karma

What about any other type of aircraft?

flite111 karma

No that was all. Mig 21s and Mig 19s.

eagleroc1 karma

Have you ever went back to Vietnam or even wanted too? Seems the only vets I've talked with would only say, "Hell no!" and brood about the bad memories, yet I've seen where some have been somewhat healed after going back according to some of their stories. What are your thoughts on this?

flite113 karma

A good question. I have occasionally considered the idea of going back to Vietnam, but never seriously. My wife has no interest.

However I have some friends who have returned and were all glad they did. Two of them recently returned, and their story is just amazing!

Both were shot down over North Vietnam in their F-4. They landed near a small village and were almost immediately captured by the local armed militia. They became POWs in the Hanoi Hilton.

This past spring they returned with their families to the same village where they were originally captured, and actually met most of the people who had captured them in 1972. It was a great experience for all with many smiles, hugs, and joy shared by these old enemies and their families. A large banquet was set up to honor the former POWs and all had a great time. I guess time does heal some wounds.

Comparing the original photos of their capture with today’s banquet with them being guests of honor and all together again is absolutely incredible.

I also, like you, know of many others who say “No Way!” about ever returning. To each his own, I suppose.

eagleroc1 karma

A friend of mine who was firm about never going back because of a hatred, I'm not sure at what, committed suicide last year after so many years fighting this depression. Always wondered if that wouldn't have healed something that he'd never gotten over.

flite112 karma

Of course no one can truly know.

However those that I know who have returned - although some had tremendous misgivings about doing so - found the experience cathartic and very healing for them. It put things back in order for them.

Later EDIT: I should add that I recently encountered online a former enemy. He was a North Vietnamese fighter pilot. Had we ever met in the skies over North Vietnam, we both would do our best to try to kill each other.

Today this MiG 21 driver and former enemy is one of my friends on FaceBook. Go figure!


KazakhZilla1 karma

Did you have many interaction with South Vietnamese troops?

flite112 karma

Not really. I was rarely "in-country." Most of the time I was on the aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin, or flying. However I did fly a number of close air support missions for South Vietnamese troops fighting on the ground.

cp51841 karma

What was life like on a carrier? How was your room/bunk? How was the food?


flite113 karma

Life on an aircraft carrier at sea, and especially during flight operations is an incredible experience. But it is often difficult. Flight operations went 12 hours on, then 12 hours off, usually six days a week. There was always lots of noise from a multitude of sources. It was crowded with nearly 5,000 men on board. It was often very hot. Sometimes we went on “water hours” where all the water was used for the steam catapults, and we couldn’t shower.

The food was excellent! However sometimes it was difficult to have fresh vegetables. Often the lettuce served was brown.

As an officer my quarters were much better than the enlisted man’s. Initially as a junior officer, I shared a bunkroom with 7 other guys. Later, I moved to a 4-man bunkroom. But it was right under the catapult, so it was loud and shook when the cat fired. When planes weren’t flying, the plane captains would bang chains and chocks on the flight deck, just over our heads in the bunkroom while they went about their normal duties. But we quickly learned to sleep through all that.

It was all quite an experience.

GhostDigi1 karma

What can you tell us about U.F.O.'s?

flite111 karma

I wish I could, but I know very little about unidentified flying objects. Sorry.

pkarnet-2 karma

Were all those bombs necessary ?

flite1110 karma