I love to fly. Like many things in life there is a tenuous chain of events that lead me to flying…and to my wife, my love, my front-seater, and the mother of our children — Tracy.
In 1968 I was in high school. A junior. I had just started wearing glasses to see distances whereas my two older brothers had worn glasses most of their lives. (Interestingly, none of my younger siblings wore glasses at all — eyes get better with each kid?) My counselor (Mr. Victor Long, whom I visit to this day and ride bikes and play racquetball with occasionally — he can easily outride me and usually beats me in racquetball) asked me if I ever thought about going to the USAF Academy after graduation from high school. As I recall my reaction was something like “The Air Force what?” I applied, was accepted, and in June 1969 walked up the “Bring Me Men…” ramp along with 1400 other members of the Class of 73. I later learned that I was competing for one of about 300 NPQ (“not pilot qualified”) slots, so getting in was tighter than I realized.
Late in my junior year at the Academy I was walking back to the dormitory with fellow cadet, John Eisenhart. (In the 80s I returned the favor and helped John get a job at IBM when Air Florida folded. IBM didn’t hold him; he got a job with Continental a few years later.) He asked me what I was going to do after graduation. Since I was not pilot qualified due to my glasses I was planning on taking an engineering job somewhere in the USAF. (I majored in electrical engineering — a decision I made based on some guidance from my mother back when I was in high school — a decision I have never regretted. EE was one of the “hardest” majors at the Academy. I thrived on it and all of the academics at the Academy…well, most. I didn’t do so well in economics or political science.) He told me about a program, approved by the Air Force, to evaluate a technique for improving vision — orthokeratology. Basically, you wear contact lenses — “hard” contacts — that are flatter than the curvature of your cornea. Overtime and with series of flatter and flatter lenses, your cornea is reshaped — flattened. Ever so slightly, but enough to alter the focal point of your eye back on to the retina thus improving your vision. (Or something like that.) Within a few months I was seeing 20/20. On about April 1, 1973 (senior year), we had to take our contacts out and leave them out. (As cadets we lived by the Honor Code: “I will not lie, steal, or cheat, or tolerate anyone among us who does.” Though there have been numerous “honor scandals” at the Air Force Academy, the huge majority of the 30,000+ graduates of the Academy all abided by this code to the letter. It guides me today in my daily life though I must admit I am not as fervent in following the code as I was at the Academy.) I did not put my contacts in after April 1 in an effort to keep my 20/20 vision and have never worn them since.
Three months later on the first day of pilot training, the 50 or so members of my class were gathered around a large rectangle of folding tables in the ballroom of the officers’ club at Williams Air Force Base for in-processing. That morning, one of the presenters asked us if we had had a physical within the last six months. I had been through the ringer prior to graduation just three months before so didn’t have to raise my hand. Those that hadn’t included a classmate of mine from the Academy. He, like me, was wearing glasses for distance vision that day. The exam included an eye test; he didn’t pass this time and he was shipped off to navigator training. I got to stick around and complete Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) in October 1974 and got my Air Force Wings. To this day, I wear my wings on my flight suit and my flight jacket. I am truly honored to have had the opportunity to attend the Academy and go to pilot training. They were defining moments in my life.