Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Dancing with a dragon: A pilot’s tale

By Staff Sgt. Kentavist P. Brackin, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs / Published January 05, 2016

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Gliding more than 13 miles above the Earth’s surface, the U-2S reconnaissance aircraft, also nicknamed Dragon Lady, flies unnoticed and silent to all but a select few.

The U-2S is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude, reconnaissance, and surveillance aircraft capable of providing signals, imagery, electronic measurements, and signature intelligence to U.S. and coalition forces.

Despite the variety of manned and unmanned aircraft that have been proposed to take over the U-2S ISR role in the 60 years since its activation, it still remains a primary reconnaissance aircraft for the Air Force because of the men and women at the controls.

The preflight preparations for a U-2S pilot starts the night before with dinner and a good night’s rest.

“You don’t want go out and try something for the first time the night before a 10-hour sortie and not know how your body will react to it,” said Capt. Jacob, a 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron U-2S pilot. “I usually wake up an hour before I have to be at the squadron to get a good a breakfast with lots of protein to fill up my stomach.”

Once at the squadron, pilots begin the process of suiting up before stepping out to fly what is known as the most difficult aircraft to land in the Air Force.

“Some days you’ll go up and she’ll be perfectly well-behaved and she’ll be just like dancing with a lady,” Jacob said. “It’s going to be smooth and everything just goes great and it’s the best flight of your life, but then there are those days when (she’s) not a lady, she is a dragon, and you’re just trying to hold on while she tries to kill you.

“A lot of it has to do with visibility,” he said.

Normally, when a pilot lands an aircraft they have what’s referred to as a “ground rush” in their peripheral vision. As they’re flying along, the ground and runway comes into their peripheral vision, signaling when they should prepare to land.

For U-2S pilots, their peripheral vision is severely limited by the full-pressure suit helmets worn during their flights. The helmet’s vision impairment is similar to a diving mask, not allowing for spotting objects to the left, right, up or down -- only straight ahead.

“You can tell you’re on the runway, but you can’t tell how high off the runway you are and that’s where the mobile comes in,” Jacob said.

Mobile chase car drivers act as a second pair of eyes and ears for U-2 pilots during their launch and landings, making up for the pilot’s limited movement and vision. Once an aircraft nears the runway, chase cars speed off in pursuit close behind it, radioing adjustments to pilot until they are inches from the ground.

“Ultimately, what we’re doing is helping the pilot land safely, which protects not only them, but the assets as well,” said Capt. Stephen, a 99th ERS operations officer and U-2S pilot. “It’s a big balance of observing what the pilot is doing and providing real-time corrections so they can land as well as they possibly can and as safe as they possibly can.”

Upon landing, pilots attempt to balance the aircraft’s 105-foot wingspan while slowing it down to a halt.

It can be difficult because the aircraft’s landing gear set is similar to a bicycle’s, with no support for its long wings, while most planes have three sets of landing gear, according to Jacob.

At any one time there are hundreds of people supporting U-2S operations, from the maintainers on the ground to the intelligence personnel who analyze the information, which is gathered and disseminated by U-2S pilots during combat sorties, Stephen said.

U-2S pilots also clarified what is the most difficult challenge they face when piloting the aircraft.

“Most people think landing the U-2 is the hardest part,” Jacob said. “It might physically be the hardest part, but the hardest part overall is really being mentally ready to fly it.”

The average length of a U-2S pilot’s combat sortie is approximately 10 hours, thousands of feet above the Earth, and with pilots unable to move more than an inch up or down in their seat, without hitting their head on the canopy.

The uncomfortable solo flights are something potential U-2S pilots must mentally be ready to encounter, Jacob said.

“You really have to ask yourself if you’re comfortable being uncomfortable,” he said. “My advice for anyone considering becoming a U-2 pilot would be to apply and do the interview, or put yourself in a chair, stick that chair in a broom closet and turn off the lights and sit there for a couple hours. If you’re still happy, then apply.”

Despite flying solo for up to 10 hours and attempting to land, tired and hungry with limited visibility, Jacob and other pilots of the 99th ERS said they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.

“I’ve got the coolest job in the Air Force. Other people may say they have coolest job, but those people are lying,” Jacob said. “The days I’m flying, I’m the highest person on Earth other than the International Space Station, and I can see the curvature of the Earth. The days I’m not, I get to drive a chase car down the runway with no speed limit. Who has a better job than that?”

Face of Defense: Childhood Adversity Tests Airman’s Resilience

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Jake Carter 99th Air Base Wing

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev., January 6, 2016 — The alarm rings. Yelling comes from the nearby hallway. As footsteps get closer, Vickie Tippitt knows she is in a world of trouble.

Her grandmother bursts through the door with a lariat in hand, and Tippitt feels her grandmother’s wrath.

That was the life of one woman until she finally found her calling in the Air Force.

Tippitt, now a master sergeant and member of the 926th Force Support Squadron and the Nellis Air Force Base Yellow Ribbon representative, said life wasn't always easy growing up in Fort Worth, Texas.

For a while her childhood was a good one, she said. “Once I turned 7, that's when a lot of things changed for me," Tippitt said. "That's when my mother and father decided to separate. There was a lot of fighting, and my dad was very, very abusive to my mother. Then we moved to Arlington, Texas, into an apartment where it was my mother, four siblings and me. That's when everything was just really confusing."

Tippitt's mother worked the night shift every day and still holds the same job today. Tippitt and her siblings were often alone, before her grandmother came for them.

Stolen, Then Abandoned

"All of sudden, I could remember being whisked away from school one day by my grandmother and when we left with her we never got to come back," she said. "She took us to this house in Fort Worth. ... We were in this house for at least a month or two, where all of us kids were alone. We had no lights, no gas, there was nothing really. We had to eat lemon cake mix."

With Tippitt's grandmother scarcely around, the house became a wreck.

"At that age, you do whatever you want. If there is no gas and no water, you are outside going to the bathroom, using the neighbor's water. One time, my brother set the mattress on fire because he was upset," she said. "More than anything, I remember my grandmother finally coming back to the house after being away for a while and she was very upset. She put us all in a row and beat the hell out of us with a very thick rope that they use to lasso horses or cows."

After that, Tippitt and the rest of her siblings moved from place to place.

"We moved to some apartments, and the abuse continued. Mean things were said and done. Then we moved from the apartments to the Butler housing projects," Tippitt said. "It was a chaotic home. I will say that there were a lot of drugs, alcohol, a lot of partying and drug addicts. There was always someone in the home."

With the house always full of people, Tippitt was counted on to clean up and serve guests while they were there.

"When people came to the house, I always had to keep the house clean, wash the dishes, and basically be a servant to anyone that was there," she said. "If it wasn't done, I would get the hell beat out of me and also I wasn't able to go to school. School for me was a great place to go."

Tippitt and her sister were often subjected to sexual passes made by the male guests.

"There were several nights where men would try to come into me and my sister's room and they would try to talk us into being with them or touching them," she said. "I'm blessed that I never got molested. It was like that from 7 to 15 years old."

Escaping the Abuse

When Tippitt was 15, she would sneak out of the house with her sister and see her mom to escape the harsh environment in which they lived in.

"I finally ran away when I was 15 years old. We piled our clothes into trash bags and threw them out of our window. When it was time to go to school, we were standing at the bus stop with our trash bags waiting to run away to our mom," she said.

After her escape, she worked as a lifeguard in the summer and then, on a whim, she decided to check out an Air Force recruiter's office.

"I was a lifeguard and I was going for lunch one particular day, so I decided to go to the mall to go shopping and I went to a different area of the mall near the back where I noticed there were all these different recruiting agencies," Tippitt said. "They had Navy, Army and then I saw Air Force and I knew when summertime was over I had no idea what I would be doing. So I decided to go into the Air Force recruiting office and as soon as I walked in I told the recruiter I wanted to join the Air Force."

After joining, Tippitt found out how her grandmother had been able to take her and her siblings away from her mother.

"My grandmother called the welfare office and had informed them that my mother had died. She told them that she wanted full guardianship of all of us kids. They told her she needed to produce a death certificate," Tippitt said. "At one point, she used to be a mortician and that fell into her profession. However, she wasn't able to produce a certificate and called back saying that she thought she was dead because she was a drug addict. They believed her and she took full guardianship. My mother spent time in jail for it, and she never did drugs."

Tippitt is part of a new Storytellers program at Nellis Air Force Base and hopes to connect with other Airmen who have experienced similar struggles.

"When airmen hear these stories, it's going to transform lives," said Air Force Lt. Col. Dwayne Jones, the 99th Air Base Wing chaplain. "We are going to hear that there is hope. We can be resilient in difficult times. If life dealt you a bad hand, there is always an opportunity for a new beginning."

Now that Tippitt has fully left her past behind, she looks back in astonishment.
"I never thought I would be smart enough or courageous enough to leave that type of environment," Tippitt said. "Today, I don't consider myself a victim, I just consider myself being able to take care of myself."

Carter, South Korean Defense Minister Discuss North Korean Nuke Test

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, January 6, 2016 — Defense Secretary Ash Carter and South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo spoke by phone today to discuss potential responses by the alliance to the apparent nuclear test conducted by North Korea yesterday, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said.

In a Defense Department statement, Cook said that the two leaders “agreed that any such test would be an unacceptable and irresponsible provocation and is both a flagrant violation of international law and a threat to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the entire Asia-Pacific region.”

During the call, the defense secretary reaffirmed the United States’ ironclad commitment to South Korea’s defense, he said, adding that “this commitment includes all aspects of the United States' extended deterrence.”

In turn, Cook said, Han emphasized the strength of the U.S.-South Korea alliance “and its vital role in assuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and across the Asia-Pacific.”

The two leaders agreed that North Korea's provocations should have consequences, he said.

Carter and Han “reaffirmed that the international community does not and will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state, and pledged that both sides would coordinate appropriate alliance responses to these provocations,” Cook said. “They also agreed to the importance of close coordination with the international community and regional partners in condemning this action.”
U.S. Forces Korea, Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti provided a situational update to the defense secretary before the call, Cook noted.