Monday, June 11, 2007

On being a wingman

This is from a blog named Neptunis Lex, and the series of posts I extracted this from is, like the rest of the blog, well worth your time:

There was a point in his speech to us when Stratton talked about the qualities he wanted in a “good wingman” - I forget exactly those he enumerated, because he summarized them thus: “If I ever find myself coming out of the weather and about to run into a mountain, the last thing I want to see as I blow up is my wingman augering in right beside me.”

I have to admit that as a young man, it seemed a bizarre image. Wouldn’t it have been better I thought, if maybe the last thing would have been the wingman hollering, “Pull up!”?

I didn’t understand - there was still so much for me to learn.

Although our language would always be different, in time I came to appreciate what the good captain was saying about a good wingman - and it seems such faint praise to label someone a “good wingman,” doesn’t it? To the uninitiated it seems almost a left-hand compliment, as though being a good wingman meant that one was personally incapable of leading.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

A man who flies the jet well may be known as a “good stick,” but this will be thought little more than the grace that God has given him. He may be a called a “good ball flyer” for his skill landing aboard ship, but that is a merely technical skill, admirable enough in its own way, but not particularly special - as at any skill, some will always be better and others worse. To be known as a “good wingman” however is another thing entirely.

A good wingman is a pearl beyond price.

A good wingman is intelligent and disciplined, in the air and on the ground. He knows his machine and the mission he’s fragged for because he’s prepared himself - he doesn’t need to be spoon fed. He knows that it is the lead’s responsibility to develop the plan, and the wingman’s responsibility to support it, so he listens carefully in the brief, and he visualizes the lead’s guidance - he can see it all coming together. If there’s a part he doesn’t get, he’ll ask right there and then, knowing that once he’s in the air, with bandits airborne, the target approaching, the radar warning receiver warbling in his headset, the blood singing in his veins and smoke trails reaching out and weaving through the cobalt blue skies, the time for questions is irretrievably past.

He knows that once he walks out of the ready room and stepped towards the flight deck he has officially passed the GICOT - the “good idea cut-off time.” From that point on he will fly the brief as it was delivered - he will be predictable, for his lead will have much to concern himself with and cannot afford for his wingman to be part of those concerns.

If events unfold in such a way that the brief is proved to be in some way insufficient, he’ll listen up for the lead to call audibles and only then offer suggestions if none are forthcoming. If the lead doesn’t respond or isn’t capable, the wingman will fly wing satisfied, if not entirely content, in the knowledge that perhaps it was a good day to die. Which is what I think CAPT Stratton was saying, back in the fall of 1978.

But these are only pre-requisites - necessary, but not sufficient.

To be a truly good wingman, one cannot merely be a good follower - one must place oneself inside the lead’s cockpit. Understand what he understands, know what it is he’s thinking, predict what he will do even before he asks it. Because a good wingman will, like a computer that plays chess, analyze every possible move, rank and order them according to probability and - knowing the mission, knowing the brief, knowing the lead - anticipate his desires. When the order does comes - whenever and whatever it is, briefed or unbriefed - a good wingman will execute as quickly and indeed joyfully as though the lead had done it for him.

It is very hard to be a good wingman, and an honor to be known as one.

My basis of experience is admittedly infinitesimal after only two efforts at wingmannery, so I may not be qualied to say that this is the coolest and best description of what it means to be a wingman ever written, but still... it rocks!

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