For me, being stationed on Okinawa was a lot of fun. My wife hated it, because she was stuck on a little island (Okinawa isn't all that big) most of the time, but since I flew, I was able to see all the beautiful and strange sights the Ryukyu islands had to offer. The water was a gorgeous blue/green, and there was a volcano and and island which was pretty much a smoking sulpher pit within our range that we visited (by air) frequently.
One of my favorite diversions, after flying a training mission and we had some leftover fuel, was ship hunting. Our aircraft (the RF-4C) was equipped with an air-to-ground radar, which made ship hunting fun, 'cause I'd find them on the radar first, and then we'd "sneak" up on them. We weren't particularly low (1000 feet), but knowing how loud our jet is to folks on the ground, I'm sure we surprised a few folks when we went streaking by their boat. And of course, we did this in the interest of "training"...
Well, one day I got to put that training to good use. If you look on a map, you'll see that Okinawa is surrounded by water for miles and miles. We got word one morning that a portion of the Russian Fleet (they were still semi-bad guys back then, in the mid 1980's) was going to be passing by, not too far away, and our folks wanted some photos. As luck would have it, I got selected for the mission. The plan was to send one 1 RF-4C (with 4 F-15s as bodyguards, since the RF-4C carries no weapons) out to the fleet and get the pictures, but the powers-to-be wanted it to be a semi-surprise. So we had one jet go out and fly real high, to feed the rest of us (via secure radio) coordinates of the fleet, while we took off and skimmed the water (to stay below the Russian's radar coverage) heading out towards the ships.
Our INS (Inertial Navigation System) pointed us towards the coordinates, and we blindly followed that pointer until we were about 10 miles from the fleet. At that time, I turned on my radar, found the ships, popped us so they could see us (to show them we weren't a threat), and proceeded to make numerous passes using the aircraft's cameras to take the pictures. Before I knew it, we had finished what we set out to do, and headed home.
I don't know if we surprised the Russians or not, but since I had never been so close to bad guys before, this flight ranked way up there in heart-thumping missions. As for most of the other heart-thumping missions I've been on, I can't tell you about them. If I did, I'd have to kill you...(grin)
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