'Born to Fly,' by Lt. Shane Osborn

We could all practically recite these instructions by rote, but this was a U.S. Navy aircraft on a demanding mission, and we followed the book in everything we did. In our case , that book was the Naval Air-Training and Operational Procedures Standardization (NATOPS). Everything the flight crew did aboard the EP-3E was covered in that black three-hole binder thick with checklists, schematics of instrument layouts, and wiring diagrams.

After Johnny had reviewed bailout procedure, I briefed the crew on the weather.

"It looks like good weather en route to the track orbit and back to Kadena. Excellent visibility and no reported turbulence at our assigned altitudes. Briefed mission time is just over nine hours today."

We were headed down the coast of Asia to the South China Sea. Once on track, we would fly our reconnaissance track in international air space south of China's Hainan Island and north of the Philippines. Our squadron had been flying such missions in this area in one kind o aircraft or another for decades. Signals intelligence planes from a number of countries, including China, fly similar reconnaissance missions. With the increased military dependency on sophisticated radars and data links, airborne SIGINT forms a vital part of a military commander's resources. So we were not overly apprehensive about the mission, even though someone had joked that it was April Fool's Day.

Born to Fly by Shane Osborn and Malcolm McConnell © 2001. Excerpt courtesy of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc.

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