'Born to Fly,' by Lt. Shane Osborn

ByABC News via logo
November 19, 2001, 3:58 PM

— -- When his reconnaissance plane was hit by a Chinese F-8 fighter plane, Navy Lt. Shane Osborn managed to recover the crippled aircraft. He flew to a safe emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan, where he and his crew were taken into detention by Chinese military forces.

Read an excerpt from his book about the experience, Born to Fly: The Untold Story of the Downed American Reconnaissance Plane.

Kadena Air Base, OkinawaApril 1, 2001, 0430 Hours

I stood on the handstand, staring up at the big gray-and-white airplane. The wings and four turboprop engines of the EP-3E ARIES II reconnaissance aircraft were outlined sharply in the portable floodlights the maintenance people had used in the night to prepare for today's mission. But above the lights, the cold predawn darkness was full of stars. After several days of thunderstorms, during which we'd had to scrub one mission, it looked like we were going to have a perfect day to fly.

By the traditions of the Naval Aviation, the final walk-around inspection of the plane was the responsibility of the Aircraft Commander. I took this task very seriously, even though third pilot Lieutenant Junior Grade Jeffrey Vignery and flight engineer Senior Chief Nick Mellos had already conducted their rigorous walk-around inspections while I had been getting my pre-mission briefing from the intelligence people supporting Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron VQ-1.

As I ran my hand across the fiberglass skin of the forward weather radome in the nose, Senior Chief Mallos emerged from the shadows. He'd been smoking an old sailor's "hot butt" safely away from the fueled aircraft."Hey Senior," I kidded him, "getting in the last precious hit of nicotine?"

"Roger that, sir," he said, returning my grin. "Never know where the next one's coming from."

With his shaved head and graying mustache, Senior Mellos looked like a middle-aged pirate. But his green Navy flight suit covered muscular shoulders and a barrel chest. He'd been in the Navy for twenty-eight years, most of that time flying on one variant or another of the P-3 Orion maritime patrol plane. That was two more years than I'd been alive. Back at VQ-1's home base at Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, Washington, Senior Mellos and I rode our Harleys on off-duty hours. On overseas departments, we partied with the rest of the crew. But on missions, our relationship was strictly professional. It was also based on mutual respect. I relied heavily on Senior Mellos's long experience as a flight engineer to keep me up to speed on the condition of airborne emergency. So when he pronounced this aircraft a solid airplane, with only minor maintenance problems, I felt certain we could make our takeoff time.

We flew our planes hard in VQ-1. Even though we were based along Puget Sound, our operational work was overseas. At any given time, the squadron had planes and crews detached on "Dets" in the Western Pacific, in Bahrain flying missions along the Arabian Gulf or over Kuwait for Operation Southern Watch, which enforced the no-fly zone in Iraq, or conducting counternarcotic surveillance in South America. I had flown from all those sites since joining VQ-1 in April 1999. But this Det to the Far East, which had begun in early March, was my first as a mission commander, a job that required the flying skills of an Electronic Warfare Aircraft Commander (EWAC) with the in-depth knowledge of the squadron's complex surveillance mission.