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JP-8 (Jet Fuel)…and why it means so much

Yes, I made it!  The Grand Canyon is simply too wonderful to describe.  More as the days go on.

Jim Roper ’68 responded to my line about sprinkle a little JP-8 on my grave.  Jim’s not only a fine fighter pilot and great friend, he’s also some kind of writer.  I could never have summed it up like this…

 

"The last gathering of Wabash alum that I attended in 2005 in Washington DC was a baseball game featuring the brand new Nationals versus the Cardinals. My son announced his peanut allergy in the second inning when he emptied his stomach contents in a sudden, explosive spray. (I was later assured no Wabash folks were hit.) Greg Castanias recalled being at that event, and he passed me a story of being on the receiving end of a similar blast at a rock concert he really didn’t want to attend anyway. Thus originated my recall of the many times I was puked on.

 In 1972 my third assignment in the Air Force was as an Instructor Pilot in Selma, Alabama, flying the T-37—we called it the Tweet—a small but noisy jet trainer. Air sickness was fairly common among new students, but they had to first remove the oxygen mask covering their mouths. The communications cord ran up the left side of the mask, so the only side set up to break free quickly was on the right. Releasing that bayonet clip was automatically accompanied by a turn of the head—to the right.  And sitting to the right of the T-37 student pilot was his instructor. I’d estimate that ninety-five percent of barfing students expressed major spillage on the left shoulder of his instructor.

Now for the picture. It’s July in Alabama (partly cloudy, hot and humid, 95 degrees). The ramp holds a hundred airplanes, a third of them screaming at any one time—really shrieking at idle power.  When one pair of Tweet engines fade, two new ones spin up to take their places in the chorus. Three or four instructors with their students walk to or from their assigned jets.  Instructors with pre-solo students show the tell-tale damp left shoulder on the maize cotton flight suit. A large dark circle for sure, sometimes dotted with chunks. Hours of perspiration appear as salt rings around the armpits and in an oval on the back of the uniform. Boots that sparkled at six a. m., now bleed white salt from a long day of ceaseless activity. But they smile. They all smile. A bad day flying is better that most folks’ good days.

Above and through it all is the smell of partially digested jet fuel—JP-8 we called it. That aroma—some would call toxic—was universal for Air Force pilots, even in cold climes with jets of all sizes. Real bullets in the air or just a training syllabus, JP-8 was there. High noon or pre-dawn, it was a comfortable smell for pilots. It told us we were exactly where we wanted to be, about to strap on a monstrous bird of prey and do things mere mortals could only imagine. A symbol of a dream realized.

Across twenty or more of my best years, burnt JP-8 swirls through that love affair with the sky. Remembering new cockpits and sweet returns to an old one all bring back that magic aroma. Ain’t nothin’ like it on this earth!"

Amen!  Grunge