One summer as a cadet, future Air Force pilot Jay Waitte rode missions on a B-52 and KC-135. He decided to stick with fighters.
When you graduate from the Air Force Academy, you are commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. But before you graduate, they used to call the senior (First-Class) cadets “3rd Lieutenants.”
The Air Force used to send us 3rd Lieutenants to bases worldwide during one of the three-week sessions of our Senior Summer to gain further orientation and experience. In the early 1970s, this was a required activity; I’m not sure it is today.
I spent my three weeks at Westover AFB to see how it operated. At the time, Westover was part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and hosted the 99th Bombardment Wing (B-52 Stratofortresses) and the 99th Air Refueling Squadron (KC-135 Stratotankers).
I could have chosen any base, but I chose Westover because it was close to home. Westover AFB is near Springfield in western Massachusetts, about an hour and a half commute. So, I could drive my Corvette home to Norwich, Connecticut, each night and see my fiancé, Kate.
Once in a great while I stayed on the base overnight if some duty required it. But most of the time, I commuted. The Air Force didn’t mind, just as long as I did my job getting orientated.
That was another wonderful summer.
A typical day on the base started at 0735 hours (7:35 am), but there was nothing for me to do a lot of the time, so I went home.
They had an active duty 1st Lieutenant in charge of me. Sometimes he would give me a tour of the different operations, such as maintenance, weaponry, and so on. Then, when we were done at 1000 hours, he’d say, “You're released,” and off I went.
I also performed a few odd administrative jobs. I don't remember the actual particulars of what was involved because I really didn't care.
At the time, there were three or four other 3rd Lieutenants at Westover. In addition, the base Director of Operation had a son, a cadet one year behind me, who also spent those three weeks at the base.
I was on two missions. One was a training mission on a B-52 Stratofortress.
We were briefed the day before the mission. They talked about where we were going, where we were dropping our training bombs, and where we were meeting up with the tankers and getting gas. The briefing lasted four hours.
The next morning, we flew from Westover all the way to California, then back to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, where we dropped our training bombs, then back to Westover. We re-fueled somewhere along the way. It was a 12-hour flight, and it re-confirmed the fact that I didn't want to do that for a living.
The second mission was on a KC-135 Stratotanker, the type of refueling jet we had used for the B-52 mission. They let me operate the boom that attaches a fuel line to the other jet.
I laid on a couch in the back of the jet. There’s a stick that controls the boom. They gave me a quick instruction as to what they wanted to happen. And I did it. Cadets are very good at that sort of thing. That's why we bring it so well.
Anyway, here I am, sitting on a couple hundred thousand gallons of gas. What if it blows up? I thought: I don’t want to do that, either! I decided that I wanted to be a fighter pilot for sure.
Sometimes, the other 3rd Lieutenants wanted to go to the officer's club or something like that after work. But I had much better plans in Connecticut. However, I once did go to a party for the 3rd Lieutenants hosted by the base.
The underclass cadet I mentioned earlier had his girlfriend at the party. He asked me if he could borrow my Corvette. Well, his father, remember, was the boss. The Director of Operations. That's why I said: Go on, fine, you can take it for a ride. And that cadet took my Corvette and drove it up and down the runway at something like 120 miles an hour.
Quick Trivia: that Westover runway is the longest runway in the northeastern US. It was rated for emergency Space Shuttle landings.
Everywhere I went, there was always some kind of party.