'Born to Fly,' by Lt. Shane Osborn

The "guys in the back" were the electronic warfare operators (EWOPS), cryptologic technicians, reconnaissance equipment specialists, and the special operators supervised by special evaluator Lieutenant marcia Sonon. Lieutenant Junior Grade Johnny Comerford, the senior evaluator (SEVAL), had overall responsibility for these reconnaissance personnel. In total, eighteen people worked at in-line computerized consoles set along the sides of the cabin, the long, narrow "tube" that was broken up by the head (toilet), the small galley and its cramped booth that looked like something out of a 1950's diner, and a stacked pair of curtained bunks for the off-duty pilot and FE who could grab some sleep on long missions.

Adequate rest was actually a critical safety factor for our flight crews. Once the reconnaissance crew had checked out their sensors after takeoff, they could lean back in their seats and nod off on the long, slow cruise to our reconnaissance track. But even on autopilot, two pilots and one FE had to stay awake and alert for hours on end because we flew Visual Flight Rules-Due Regard, which meant that unlike civilian airliners, we had to rely on ourselves, not on ground controllers, for our safe separation from other aircraft.

I climbed the folding ladder to the main cabin entrance on the portside aft, and Senior Mellos secured the hatch. Now I was engulfed in the familiar scent of the airplane: warm electronics, a slight whiff of jet exhaust from the Auxiliary Power Unit in the nose, and hot coffee in the insulated mugs some of the crew carried on board. A few of the people looked sleepy. Today had been a "three-for-five", and 0300 for an 0500 takeoff, which meant most of us had gotten up at two, rushed through the shower, and managed to grab a quick breakfast in our rooms before heading off for separate briefings depending on our specialities.

Now we had all reassembled in the cabin so that I could give the final "planeside" brief. Even though we'd all been through this together as a crew a dozen times on this Det alone, I again reviewed the procedures for ground and air emergencies, which might include the need to bail out or ditch the plane at sea. On entering the cabin, the crew members had taken a grease pencil and printed their names on their position line of the plastic ditching placard on the head door. Each line marked the number and storage rack of that position's parachute. Also stowed aboard the aircraft were our SV-2's, a one-piece combination survival vest-Life Preserver Unit (LPU), and custom-fitted flight helmets. We all carried our own Nomex fir-resistant aviator gloves.

I completed briefing the ditching procedures by pointing to the two big life rafts stowed in the orange rubber soft packs near each over-wing emergency exit hatch. Now Johnny Comerford, the SEVAL, briefed the crew on bailout procedures. He was the jump master who would supervise the distribution of parachutes, make sure everyone was lined up correctly, holding the overhead grab rail, and then see them out the hatch of the main cabin door at one-second intervals.

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