Hot Newsflash! Here's the cool website for Kerosene Cowboys! Check it out!!
Dr. Randy Arrington is a graduate of UCLA who served 20 years as a Tactical Naval Aviator in the United States Navy, in both an active-duty and reserve capacity. He flew several different aircraft including the A-7 Corsair and A-4 Sky Hawk attack jets off the flight decks of four different aircraft carriers. He has logged over 14,000 hours of flight time, made hundreds of carrier-arrested landings, and was a qualified staff Landing Signal Officer and Instructor Pilot. He was an interceptor pilot for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the Department of Homeland Security for over 21 years and served as Deputy Director of the Air and Marine Operations Branch in San Diego, California.
So not only is he one heck of a pilot, he's also a really good writer. So good that his book "Kerosene Cowboys: Manning The Spare" is being made into a major motion picture! Think Top Gun with a lot more flying action!
I am super lucky to be able to interview Randy!
Were you interested in flying as a kid?
Initially, I wasn’t really interested in flying as a kid, but I do remember drawing a lot of jet airplanes while doodling on a sheet of paper when I was bored at school. It was as if I was attempting to design cool, futuristic looking jets in my drawings.
When did you fall in love with flying and how?
I first fell in love with flying at age 11 when my parents put me on a Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) jet plane from San Francisco to Los Angeles to go visit my grandparents for the summer before fifth grade. In my mind at that age, those pilots wearing the blue uniforms and flying those fast jets were the coolest guys in the world. I imagined that they got to date all of those hot-looking Stewardesses (Flight Attendants) who always wore short skirts and high heels.
How old were you when you first flew?
Were your parents okay with you flying?
My Dad encouraged me to become a Naval Aviator for my career (he was a submarine officer in the Navy). My Mom was afraid I would get hurt flying, so she was against me becoming a professional pilot for my career. Dad’s advice won out.
Why did you choose the Navy?
My Dad was a submarine officer in the Navy. He always told me that “Naval Aviators wear wings made out of gold on their uniform. Air Force pilots wear wings made out of lead on their uniform. Any pilot can land a jet on 15,000 feet of concrete in the middle of Nebraska. Only those Naval Aviators can land a jet on the pitching, heaving, and rolling deck of an aircraft carrier at sea. Those Navy pilots are the best in the world son.” My choice was obvious.
Did you go to Annapolis?
No I went to UCLA. I did have a “Presidential Nomination” to attend the U.S. Naval Academy but decided on UCLA. I was a huge Bruin fan and adored Coach John Wooden and the basketball program at UCLA. Besides, back then Annapolis didn’t have any female students.
When you were flying in the Navy, were you ever deployed in combat?
Yes, and I received an Expeditionary Medal for service during the Iranian Hostage Crisis (USS Ranger).
How was life on the carrier?
Life on an aircraft carrier during those 6 – 9 month extended deployments overseas was lonely and sacrificial. You had to leave your entire life back home behind, in order to go out on the high seas and protect American Liberty around the globe. The food wasn’t all that great. You didn’t get much sleep and tended to take a lot of “Combat Naps” (30 minute naps in your stateroom bunk) during the 24 hour day. Little things took on new meaning like letters from home. I would read the same letters over and over again just to stay in touch with the people I loved back home. But for the Naval Aviators, even though it was lonely and sacrificial, it was very rewarding and the source of tremendous pride. Landing a jet aircraft hurtling at 150 KTS toward the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is an exhilarating experience. It was fun visiting all of those foreign ports on “Liberty Call” with your squadron mates. Lifelong friendships were forged.
How was it flying those planes like the A-7 and A-4?
It’s better than any “E” ticket ride at Disneyland. Sometimes when I was flying an A-7 Corsair, I would spontaneously scream out of sheer joy and elation into the oxygen mask that was strapped tightly to my face. Of course nobody heard but me. And I always felt honored and privileged to be allowed to fly those jets. Dropping bombs on a target is extremely rewarding. Air Combat Maneuvering (“Dog Fight”) flights were the most fun. Every Tactical Naval Aviator looks forward with great anticipation to an ACM hop. “God how I loved it!” We almost got complacent about landing jets on an Aircraft Carrier during the day time. But nobody got complacent at night time. It was scary at night. All sorts of “night noises” and it is VERY DARK…! During night ops, we just wanted to take a trap, get chained down to the flight deck then get out of the aircraft and head to the “dirty shirt” Wardroom for a slider (a greasy hamburger) so we could tell “war stories” to each other.
Which one was your favorite?
The A-7E Corsair. It was the Navy’s “workhorse” tactical jet. The A-7E Corsair could do every mission on an aircraft carrier. No other jet could make the same claim. And the A-7E Corsair pilots were the most versatile and talented of all the Naval Aviators, yet they were unpretentious about their talent (but still semi-arrogant as you might expect from a Naval Aviator).
Do you miss the Navy?
Yes, I miss it each and every day. The flying and the camaraderie is the best in the world. It was a distinct honor and a rare privilege to serve my country in the capacity of Naval Aviator. But it is a young man’s occupation and we all have to move on to our next aviation career.
If you could fly any plane that’s ever been made, which one would it be?
F-4, F-14, F-18, F-22, F-35, F-4U, A-6, A-4, A-7, S-3, DC-3, DC-8, DC-10, MD-11, L-1011, B-747, B-17, (AS YOU CAN SEE I WANT TO FLY ‘EM ALL…!).
Can you share some cool flying experiences?
I was awarded the “Air Medal with the Bronze Star for an action that happened in the Indian Ocean during a deployment on the USS Enterprise. The story goes like this: An S-3A Viking from the USS Independence declared itself to be a “lost aircraft” while flying to the island of Diego Garcia. I was able to get airborne in a jet and locate him. Due to some INS navigational programming errors, he had flown past the island and was still heading in the wrong direction. I got him turned in the right direction then coordinated his rendezvous with an in-flight refueling aircraft. The pilot of the lost jet said that his right engine had quit running from fuel starvation just as he plugged into the refueling basket, but then it immediately started back up. Everybody (four lives) was saved on the S-3A that day. We started calling the lost pilot “Magellan” and his squadron “The Pathfinders” just to tease them a little bit.
Chasing bad guys for Homeland Security
Catching a bad guy!
Have you had any close calls?
Yes of course, all pilots have had or will have close calls, brushes with death (staring down the grim reaper). It is part of the game in aviation. Once over San Antonio, Texas I got into a thunderstorm and it tossed my jet up and down like a feather in a hurricane. At one point I lost 8,000 feet of altitude in about 4 seconds. Saint Elmo’s fire was all around the aircraft. It was scary. I simply and calmly reversed course and flew out of the thunderstorm the same way I came in. Then I could breathe again.
My dad really liked your book “Kerosene Cowboys” but says I can read it when I’m older. He thinks a lot of what Teen Angel did was based on your own life experiences. Is that true?
Yes your dad is very astute. The novel is “faction” not fiction. 98% of the stories actually happened. I did change the names to protect the innocent as well as the guilty people involved in the making of this history. The only thing I made up was the restaurant in San Francisco (“Stalin’s Gulag”) in Chapter 31 of the novel. People still email and call me saying they can’t wait to eat at “Stalin’s Gulag” in the City by the Bay. I made it up. Maybe we should pool our money and actually create a restaurant called “Stalin’s Gulag” in Frisco.
Randy and Cam Gigandet
I read somewhere that in the movie, the characters are based on the ones in the book. My dad wants to know if we’ll see Teen Angel and the other guys in it.
Yes you will see them all but with different names in the movie. Cam Gigandet (Co-Star of the blockbuster hit movie “Twilight”) will star as me in “Kerosene Cowboys.” He will have a different character name (“Butch Masters”) because I dedicated the book and the movie to a squadron mate of mine (Steve Freeman) who died in an aircraft accident in Ketchikan, Alaska on January 26, 2006. Tragically, Steve (“Butch”) ejected “out of the envelope” in an L-39 (Russian Fighter/Trainer jet) and was killed but he saved the lives of many people on the ground that day because he steered his crippled jet away from populated areas. Steve Freeman is a True American Hero and his actions that day reflect great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of a Naval Aviator. I was honored to deliver the eulogy at his funeral in Texas and then again at his Memorial Service onboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway in San Diego California. The words of the eulogy are in Chapter 27 (“Eulogy for a Hybrid Pilot”) of my novel Kerosene Cowboys: Manning the Spare.
Filming in Russia
I want to know all about the movie!
The making of Kerosene Cowboys the major motion picture has been an astounding experience. We filmed on location for six weeks in Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg and Anapa on the Black Sea). We also filmed at NAS Fallon, Nevada (“Top Gun”) and in Reno Nevada. Some of the filming days were quite long (16 hours). I was especially excited about using American F-18 and Russian Sukhoi-27 fighter jets in the movie. All of the cast and crew did a fabulous job under some difficult filming circumstances. The stars were so excited to portray American Naval Aviators and would routinely ask me into the trailers on the movie set to pick my brain about how to realistically portray a Naval Aviator (“How do they behave” “What do they say” “What are they thinking” “How do they fly” “Are these lines of dialogue the real things a Naval Aviator would say” etc). All the actors wanted to be real Naval Aviators.
We are now in the post-production phase of the movie, meaning that all of our principle photography has been “wrapped” (completed). We are currently doing an “assembly cut” (rough, initial edit) on the film footage to see what we have and what we don’t have. Then Mario Van Peebles and myself will decide what additional filming we will need to accomplish, in order to fill in any gaps or augment the footage we already have “in the can” (Hollywood talk for film that’s already been shot). The movie should be out in 2010.
I can't wait to see the movie when it comes out. They did filming in Russia with the Russian Air Force, and also at Top Gun in Fallon NV. The last time a movie was shot there was "Top Gun" and Russia has never allowed a movie like this to be filmed there. I've heard the access the Navy and Russia gave the film crews was amazing.
Very special thanks to Randy Arrington for taking the time to answer all my questions. He's a very busy guy! He also gave me all the pictures here!