Google is your friend, and when you look for information about what makes a fighter pilot special, you’re bound to come across some interesting tidbits. Here’s a little dedication to fighter pilots penned by Ford Smartt for the book Red River Valley Fighter Pilots. We think that all of you in the Fighter Sweep community will enjoy the words, in addition to our photos.

“A fighter jock is quite a phenomenon. He likes flying (single seats only), especially gunnery, acrobatics, and cross countries. He has a strange fascination for flying boots, gambling, cigars (the bigger the better), and breaking glasses. He can usually be found in sports cars, at parties, or happy hour. His natural habitat (while on the ground) is the Land of the Bearded Clam, Europe, and/or certain parts of the Orient. He has an affinity for women and booze (especially martinis so dry that the bartender just faces Italy and salutes).

He likes Steve Canyon, to read Snoopy, eat steaks, and tell dirty jokes. His favorite hiding place is in dark cool bars or behind a pair of dark glasses. He is capricious. To amuse himself he may fire practice flares from mobile control, throw empty beer cans down the BOQ corridors, pour drinks down an over-exposed décolleté, or become generally obnoxious. His favorite conversation revolves about a continue chatter concerning flying, booze, or females (the order of priority is apparently irrelevant).

"Stitch," an F-15C Eagle pilot with the 142nd Fighter Wing, Oregon Air National Guard.
“Stitch,” an F-15C Eagle pilot with the 142nd Fighter Wing, Oregon Air National Guard.

He has an aversion for survival training, bomber pilots (or most other pilots, for that matter), mobile control, AO duty and extended alerts. He tolerates ankle biters and house apes (other than his own) and has an overwhelming hatred for bingo. Whenever possible he avoids weather, icy runways, lost communications, flame-outs, and ejections. Water makes him sick (unless frozen and surrounded by scotch) and he would rather face a firing squad than be caught pushing a baby-buggy or carrying an umbrella. At the mention of matrimony, he becomes a catatonic schizophrenic and has a mysterious distaste for wearing a wedding band.

A fighter pilot is a composite. He has the nerves of a robot, the audacity of Dennis the Menace, the lungs of a platoon sergeant, the vitality of an atomic bomb, the imagination of a science fiction writer; he is glib as a diplomat, impervious to suggestion and is a paragon of wisdom with a wealth of unassorted, completely unrelated and irrelevant facts. He wears the biggest watch, has the shortest staying power, and is always trying to get laid on credit. When he tries to make an impression, either his brain turns to mud or he becomes a savage, sadistic jungle creature bent on destroying the world and himself with it.

An F-16C pilot with the 64th Aggressor Squadron starts his jet in preparation for a night training mission during Red Flag.
An F-16C pilot with the 64th Aggressor Squadron starts his jet in preparation for a night training mission during Red Flag.

Who else can cram into one flying suit: checklists, maps, Zeus openers, checklists, a dime novel, knives, guns, flares and snares, nylon cording, a handkerchief, assorted inhalers, aspirin, cigarettes, a flashlight, checklists, pencils, pens, gloves, a deck of cards, coded telephone numbers, a wallet, keys, his horoscope, a talisman, a St. Christopher medallion, checklists, and a chunk of an unknown substance.

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At home with his wife he is docile, sweet, tender, loving, amiable, just a hell of a nice guy to have around the house, straight arrow all the way, exception when they’re fighting, then he becomes a beast who is tyrannical, suspicious, diabolical, and a masochistic sex fiend who just ain’t got no couth (these symptoms may also appear after beer call).

Major Orion "Rhino" Vail, Weapons Officer and F-22A Raptor pilot with the 83 FWS, prepares to fly a Large Force Employment exercise.
Major Orion “Rhino” Vail, Weapons Officer and F-22A Raptor pilot with the 83 FWS, prepares to fly a Large Force Employment exercise.

As a father he is tough, but oh so gentle, kind, just, protective, farsighted, ambitious, and really proud of that young fighter pilot (he’ll never admit it, and it’s never displayed in public, but that goes for the little girl, too).

In the air he is calculating and confident. His voice, gruff and steely cool (an acquired characteristic regardless of how he feels), pierces the garbled waves, barking terse commands. On the hunt he becomes part monster: scans with the eyes of a falcon, has the reactions of a cat, the instincts of a barracuda, the cunning of a fox, and the ability to rotate his head three hundred sixty degrees—on all axes. When approaching the target, mind and metal fuse, spawning a killer-child. Destruction is sure and precise as Euclidian geometry. Steel and fire split the icy atmosphere, swift and merciless; he revels in his private moment of truth.

The crew of a US Navy EA-18G Growler return after a Red Flag training mission at Nellis AFB, Nevada.
The crew of a US Navy EA-18G Growler returns after flying a Red Flag training mission at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

After the mission he is tired, thirsty, dirty, and bedraggled. He walks with his legs crossed to the nearest latrine (or empties out his g-suit). Hair matted with helmet rat snarls and mask scars etched on a red, raw face, he knows he has bid and beaten the grim reaper. And then with the oily odor of JP4 clinging to a salt-encrusted zipper-ripper, he’ll unleash that shiny-eyed smile which says, “Let’s press on to the `O’ Club and inhale a few tall frosty ones; whereupon he miraculously regenerates into a critical mass and a flurry of hands, arms, legs, and body English stuns his alcoholic cohorts with tales of “hairy” deeds.

A fighter jock is magic, a master imposter, Houdini with the top of his blouse unbuttoned. Sometimes he’s old, sometimes young, immature yet sage. He is instant fear and lasting bravery. The original metamorphosis. Hovers between play and business, and can make your date vanish right before your eyes. He is present, past, and future rolled into one. But most of all, he’s got wings, with a throttle in his left hand and the stick in his right—shackled to a million-dollar blowtorch and always ready to get the maximum out of every minute of every hour of every day.”

©Ford Smartt-1976