Goodbye to two more Heroes :-(
Phantom and Sharkbait - Godspeed, guys...
23 October 2004 : Hooks Airport, Spring Texas.
It has been a while now since two more of my Heroes passed away. My Father, the greatest Hero of my life was followed in passing by two more fantastic men within a few short years.
Don 'Phantom' Wylie flew with my Father though most of their USAF careers and our families intertwined with four kids each. They were the absolute best when my Father passed away and I hope we were at least half as helpful to them as they were to us. Don's speech at my Father's service still brings tears to my eyes when I just think about it. He died flying....doing what he loved and what he did second-best. First-best he was a father and husband (and hero) that I can only hope to live up to in my life. In flying, he had precious few equals.
Tom 'Sharkbait' Delashaw was another combination of great guy plus fantastic stick. The first 3 or 4 times that Rob and I flew ACES AIR COMBAT against each other, Don flew with me and Tom flew with Rob. The debriefs were a hoot and I wish we had recorded those after we recorded our flights. Tom, Don, and my Father would break in with stories and the debrief would totally end. Rob and I didn't care though, we were hearing stories about 'Thud Ridge', the 'River Rats' and chaff bombing soviet trawlers. Our faces would hurt from the smiling and laughing long after our necks would heal from the high g's we were pulling while trying to not 'lose sight, lose the fight!'. Tom had a long USAF career and was still flying for many groups along with Texas Air Aces and The Starfighters demonstration team when he died.
The Wylie family had a memorial/remembrance/dinner and flyover for our departed souls and it was absolutely wonderful. At the last minute, I got asked to fly in the 2-ship with Dede 'Montana' Fuller. She flies F-16s currently, but is also an AIR ACES combat flyer and AMP instructor pilot. Not being stupid, I jumped at the chance to get in the air. The last time I flew (non-commercial) was back from Oshkosh when Rob and I went this past summer in his aircraft.
We watched some movies and slides of Don and Tom and their lives and rejoiced in the fact that we were all fortunate enough to have our lives touched by them, and some of us lucky ones were touched by both.
'Montana' and I about to go. She is preflighting and I am stepping in to get buckled up. After flying with her and seeing how smooth and stable she operates while flying 'welded wing', I bet she got the name 'Montana' because she could out-fly your butt all over that big state.
Rick Gillenwaters (an AIR ACES pilot) and his daughter Erin flew the 1-ship. After we egressed we were supposed to have some free time before they called us back in for the pass. I had hoped for a little 1v1 action, but we didn't get to. Next time maybe... ;-)
'Montana' flying welded-wing.
With a clean bird (no garbage hanging), Erin starts our flights climb-out to assigned altitude.
Abbey 'Abs' Shewmake (my niece) and I after the flight. Nice watch :-)
'Abs' and her Mom (Hellen Shewmake, my sister) watch the slide show of Tom and Don. Yeah, it's dark, but I just love the picture.
I am sure the three of them loved it...