By the People… Teaching students dive bombing demands high concentration
By By Craig Ziemba/Special to The Star
April 4, 2001
Craig Ziemba lives in Meridian and works at Naval Air Station Meridian and Key Field's Air National Guard base. He wrote a cover story for the recent "Profile 2001: By the People" edition. Ziemba has written a book based on his journals, portions of which will be published in The Meridian Star in coming weeks.
One of the great things about weapons detachments to El Centro, Calif., is the intense competition between instructors for the reputation as the best bomber in the squadron. We keep track of all of our bombing hits and post them on the board in the Ready Room for all instructors and students to see and comment on, if necessary. The instructor or student dropping the worst bomb of the day is awarded a pink Mark-76 (25 pound practice bomb) to carry around until the end of the next day for the enjoyment of the rest of us, who sign it with all manner of insulting comments. For example, one of our French exchange students earned it yesterday, and someone wrote, "I thought you guys only dropped rifles." The student wrote in response, "Any bomb on American soil is a good bomb." You get the idea.
I started the day with two flights leading solo students to our targets in the desert. While dropping my own bombs, I scored the hits for all four jets, made sure the range was clear before clearing the students hot with their machine guns, and tried to keep them from running into each other. Managing a flight of solo students demands a higher level of concentration than is normally necessary, even in this business. Strangely enough, though, I usually find that the more intense the workload, the better my bombing scores are. Manual dive bombing is a very gratifying discipline because after working your tail off flying dive angle, airspeed and tracking the target while calculating winds (all this while hurling yourself at the ground at 500 miles per hour), you can watch the bomb hit the target in your mirrors and know you've done it right. Few things in life are truly objective. This is one of them. It also gives me a great deal of satisfaction to see how rapidly the students go from dropping their first bomb to giving us instructors a run for our money in a couple of weeks.
On my third hop today, I was in a student's trunk (backseat) for his safe for solo checkride. He wasn't able to juggle dropping his bombs, keeping sight of the other jets in the pattern, and pulling out of the dive in time to keep from hitting the ground. I had to give him a down (failing grade) that was the last nail in his coffin. The board decided to attrite him. It stinks to end his career, but I know in my heart I made the right call. Not every pilot is cut out for this.
My final flight of the day was with a student who had been having some difficulty concentrating on landings after dropping bombs. We spent a hot, sweaty hour in the landing pattern, but I think we got the kinks worked out. I would have flown a fifth time if I could, but we had a squadron dinner planned at the Desert Rose, so after a quick run, I jumped into a van headed to town.
After dinner, we all went to the go cart track and had a whale of a time smashing into each other. I got banned for unnecessary roughness and excessive celebration after I T-boned a student and sent him off the track, through some hay bales, and into the infield. The rest of the guys watching in the bleachers laughed themselves hoarse while I pleaded innocence with the unamused go-cart staff. A moment later our executive officer rolled his go-cart over after an "accident" with another student, and we all were asked to leave. Boys will be boys…
The trip home tonight included a detour through the border town of Seeley. Seeley is famous in Naval Aviation for incredible Mexican breakfast burritos and the Seeley Bumps. The crossroads of this one-horse town are at the bottom of a small hill and for some reason, the intersecting roads are built with a ridiculously high crown in the middle making a dip followed by two horrendous bumps. When I was a naive young pilot, I was driving a van full of guys home one night when my bombardier in the right seat said, "Take this left. Now floor it!" Like a nugget (new guy), I did as I was told and we were accelerating through 45 miles an hour when we hit the intersection. All of a sudden the road dropped out from underneath me and then came back up again as we went sailing over the first bump. Ten guys were whooping and hollering as we got airborne for a moment and then came crashing down on the second bump, losing two hubcaps and bringing on a second round of cheers. That was the last time I listened to him in a car.
Do other professionals behave like this on business trips? I have a hard time imagining IBM executives or Merrill Lynch brokers on go-carts. Their loss.