I was lucky enough to get to meet and interview two really nice USAF pilots. They came to the Golden West show in a beautiful T-6 Texan II. Captains Ray Dagley and Paul Johnson
Evan: So were you guys into flying as kids?
Ray: Kind of. I started out being interested in aviation. We had a family friend of ours who was a pilot in he'd take me out to go kick some tires every once in a while up in the plane and take me for a ride but my older brother he got into flying before I did. So my parents got him his pilots license and he went on to get his instructor rating and ended up teaching me how to fly. So that's how I got into flying
Paul: I actually never flew in an airplane until I was 18 years old. First time was in a commercial airliner. I always liked aviation. My brother and I would always make model airplanes and try to fly them around but I'd never flown until I was 18 and after that I had a buddy who got his private pilots license and we went flying in little Cherokees and after that I decided this is really expensive. I'm going to try to do this as a career and make it an interest and hobby into a career and that's how I got into aviation. So I had actually finished college by the time I started working on my private pilots license.
Evan: So does that mean that you got your pilots license in the military?
Paul: Sort of that's what got me started. I started out as a navigator so when I did navigator training, they gave me 20 hours flight time in a Cessna 172. And after those 20 hours, I just continued on my own on the side. On weekends and I would go fly down in Pensacola and that's how I earned my private pilots license. So they got me started and I finished the rest, they paid for half and I paid for the other half.
Ray: Yeah, I flew with my brother so that's how I got my private license and then I learned out of a little aerobatic school in Los Angeles so I kept going on with aerobatics and went on and got my instrument rating and then I got picked up by the military. I actually had gotten out of college and worked in a career for a few years and joined the military late in life so I made my hobby my career in my career my hobby.
Evan: Can't get better than that!
Ray: Exactly. Then after pilot training I got a couple additional ratings through pilot training like my single and multi-engine commercial rating. So liked Johnson said, I paid for half and the military paid for the other half.
Evan: So why did you join the military?
Ray: For the love of flying. You know, I wanted to fly and I just couldn't do it on my own and I couldn't afford it. And my hobby became my career and I've loved every minute of it since then.
Paul: I like the aviation but I have the military portion too. I've always wanted to be in the military since I was a kid. I had applied for the Air Force Academy and they said you're going to have a nine year commitment. It will be four years of school in five years afterwards and at that time, I was 17, and that seemed frightening. I thought, “Wow that's a lot a life!” And so I kind opted out of it and as I was going through college and I made friends with a lot of ROTC cadets and I realized I really want to do this, I'm still interested in joining the military, and the let me fly really cool airplanes! So after college I went through Officer Training School, OTS, they called us 13 week wonders and the rest is now happening.
Evan: So why did you choose the Air Force?
Ray: Pretty much for the lifestyle and the better quality living in than the other branches. I figured I didn't want to deploy out on the boat for 6 to 8 months at a time and that way I wouldn't be away from my wife for as long. It ends up you still deploy the military and in the Air Force as well but it just ends up being for 4 to 5 months instead of 6 to 8 months out on the boat. So that and also for the aircraft that the Air Force has. That's just where I wanted to go.
Paul: I actually applied both for the Navy and the Air Force and they both told me, ‘all right will take you’, so I had to make the decision, Air Force or the Navy, and I went back and forth a lot because I actually think the boat sounds interesting, landing on an aircraft carrier, but then when I looked at it, just overall the planes that I wanted to fly, that I was interested in and had always enjoyed as a kid, the Air Force flew. The SR 71 is what really got me interested in flying. You know I went and saw a static display one time of an SR 71 and I was blown away, ‘Wow, this is the coolest airplane in the world”. You know they have the B-2, the F-117, they have fighters, they have bombers, they have attack planes like the A-10, and tankers, and they have cargo. So it was just a much broader array of airplanes to fly in the Air Force so that's what really ended up helping me decide on the Air Force.
Evan: So were either of you ever deployed in combat?
Ray: Yes I was deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. I was flying B-52s so we were out there in support of the war effort.
Paul: I deployed in support of OIF and OEF and I was a WSO, weapons systems officer, on a B-1 bomber, so we were out there for six months flying in and out of country.
Evan: So can you share some cool stories with me? Some cool rootin tootin flying stories
Ray: Cool stories, probably the one that stands out the most in my mind, that means the most to me, is being over in Afghanistan on the B-52 and JTACS, their ground controllers on the ground, call you up and they have troops in contact, which means they're basically in a firefight with the enemy, with the Taliban. And they asked for a show of force, which is we drop down to low altitude, and drop flares onto the Taliban. And we didn't have to drop bombs or anything like that but we'd drop down at low altitude, made a couple of low altitude passes over the top of them, and scared them all off and the guys came back on the radio and said, ‘hey thanks, we can sleep good tonight they're gone’. And I said, ‘hey I'm going to be here for another few hours’. And they said, ‘all right were to start going to sleep and we’ll give you call if we need you. So I just stayed over them for the next few hours to let them sleep. That's probably the most memorable and most gratifying thing I've done.
Paul: My most gratifying flight was also in Afghanistan. It was a very unique crew experience with the B-1. We often had different guest pilots flying with us and we had an old B-1 guy who happened to be the DCFAB deputy combined air forces component commander, the second guy in charge of the air war over in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. And he's a two star general, and he was slated to fly with us that day. So we had three relatively young couldn't crew members and then this two star general. So off we go, flying over into Afghanistan and it was fairly quiet in country. And there had been a major attack the week before, it was a Sunday on the weekend prior. There'd been a large attack on a base in northeastern Afghanistan where nine people were killed and so they were having a ceremony that week for the fallen, and during that ceremony there actually was an attack the Taliban got forces together and started attacking while they were having the ceremony. So we actually ended up working with the JTACS for calling in airstrikes and prevented this attack from taking any more lives.
Evan: Have you had any close calls?
Ray: Just like with any other pilot out there, there is probably been quite a few near midair's but as far as close calls, nothing really that stands out beyond the normal of, ‘Hey, there's another airplane flying straight at me lets maneuver out of the way!’ Probably the scariest moment that I've ever had flying was actually with the student in formation.
Evan: What happened?
Ray: It was probably my third flight ever with a student, as an instructor, and were flying on the wing of another aircraft, we’re in the number two position, and my student gets a little high up out of position, which the high side is the dangerous side, is number two, and he decides to bank up into the lead and puts us on a vector right into the lead aircraft. And as a young instructor, I wasn't ready for it, so I had to take the aircraft and almost asymmetrically over G the aircraft to get it out of harms way from hitting another aircraft. So that was probably the most scared I've ever been, you know even more and above seeing another aircraft flying straight at me and, ‘we got a dodge it.’ So that was probably my scariest moment inside the aircraft. The student did continue on. You know, we expect them to make mistakes, we expect them to try to kill us and we're there as a safety pilot so, he learned from it and I thoroughly debriefed him and he got an unsat overall on the flight, but he continued on and made it through the program.
Paul: The scariest moment I had was back in Afghanistan. We had in the middle of the day 120°, 90% humidity, really terrible take off conditions and we're in the B-1. It was a heavyweight takeoff, full of fuel and weapons, and the were accelerating past 7000 feet or so, our takeoff roll was expected to be around 8000 feet, and here we come up on our takeoff roll. We'd already passed our abort speed, passed our max brake speed, so we're committed to taking off at this point and we just keep watching the runway disappearing in front of us. And so we take off with like a couple hundred feet remaining of the runway and we just weren't producing thrust like we should, we weren't getting the airspeed like we should so we lifted off. We weren’t accelerating, and we weren’t climbing, we were just stagnant, essentially in the ground effect, just waiting to try to build up speed. We went clipping over towers and TACAN towers at 20-30 feet in the B-1 so that's a pretty small clearance but we just were climbing and so we saw buildings coming up. We're all riding right on our ejection handles, waiting to eject, and waiting for the plane to get enough thrust. Eventually went forward and up and got enough airspeed that we started a nice slow climb. Basically we got so much dust and sand, you know from sandstorms and dust storms all the time that it got embedded into the fuel system so we weren't getting the amount of thrust that we should once we put our burners in. So to make a long story short we rode on our ejection handles for maybe two or three minutes while skirting along the ground you know were, ‘like okay, were alive right now, we’re not descending but were not climbing’. You know, but it was a kind of a scary situation.
Evan: Did you turn around and abort the mission?
Paul: Actually we did not we did not abort the mission. If you have a working aircraft and you’re doing a combat mission, you just kinda make it work, so it was scary and it wasn't a good way to start off, but we just pressed. We were able to climb up and it took a long time for us to get the altitude because we weren't producing the thrust we needed to but we were able to accomplish the mission that we needed to accomplish with what we had. It was just a scary way to start.
Ray: If you're going into combat you'll take an aircraft that's not a training capable aircraft into combat. If you can get the mission done and there is people's lives on the ground that depend on it. I've taken aircraft that, like in the B-52, you got movable gear and we didn't know exactly except for the fact that we were taxing straight, the indicator was out so we didn't know where our gear was pointed, so we knew that on landing there was a chance that our gear could be cocked off to the side because we didn't have an indicator that worked to tell us. We also went into combat with the attitude system malfunctions, penetrating weather, because we knew that there were lives on the ground that depended on us being there. So we take more risks when going into combat then what we would ever do in a regular typical daily flight or training mission.
Evan: What are you guys flying now?
Ray: Right now were flying the T-6 Texan II, it’s the primary military trainer. It's the single engine turbo prop, so it's a good plane, it's fun to fly into good training platform.
Evan: So what plane would you just love to fly out of all the planes?
Ray: If I could fly any airplane in the military I'd have to say right now would be the U-2. Every airplane is going to be different but to me that would be a challenge to fly and that's what I'd like to go fly.
Paul: In the current inventory that flies I would want to fly the B-2. I just think it's a very unique plane for aviation. It's just a giant flying wing, just the design and the acoustic designs on the engines, the stealth technology, just a lot of technology and benchmark aviation landmarks in there.
Evan: Thanks guys, that was great!