Have you ever heard of Red Flag, the Air Force wargames played in the Nevada Desert? Well, Cope Thunder was pretty much the same thing, but for those U.S. squadrons based in the Far East (such as Japan, Korea, Okinawa and the Philippines). We'd all meet at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, for about a week's worth of fun & games. And it usually was a pretty good time, but extremely HOT and MUGGY. No matter how much you ate and drank while you were there, you were always guaranteed to return home a few pounds lighter, 'cause you'd sweat it all out.
Cope Thunder provided you with invaluable wartime training. We would takeoff out of Clark, heading out to the play area to accomplish our mission (which in our case was usually to photograph some pre-determined targets). It wasn't as easy as it sounds, though, because there were "Aggressor" jets out there waiting to pounce on you, trying to "shoot you down" before and after you get to your target. We were an especially tempting target for the Aggressors, since we had no means of self defense except to "run away". There were also electronic warfare sites set up, simulating enemy missiles, so we were constantly jerking the aircraft this way and that, trying to break any lock they may have on us. This may not seem fun to a lot of folks, but it felt good coming back to the base after a successful mission; but not so good returning, knowing you had been blasted out of the sky. But that's why we we were training...so we'd be better prepared if we had to do it for real.
But it wasn't all work. Right next to Clark was a town called Angeles City, where you could pretty much get whatever you wanted. It was also a shopper's paradise, with all kinds of stuff to buy for very reasonable prices. You got around from place to place via "Jeepneys", which are brightly colored jeeps set up to transport folks from one place to another. Riding in them was an experience. I think I had more brushes with death riding in Jeepneys than I did flying jets. And with the Philippines being such a hot place, I always liked to stop somewhere for a cold beer. My favorite watering hole was a place called "Chick's", because it seemed to have the coldest beer in town. But the place that sticks in my mind the most is a place called "The Monkey Bar". You would sit on stools, watching some monkeys behind the glass watching you. Don't know why that sticks in my mind so much, but it does. And my favorite food there was lumpia, with the Chili Pot restaurant serving the best. Now, I'm not much for trying foreign food at the different countries that I've been to (especially Asian countries), but lumpia was different. It's similar to an eggroll, but much more tasty. I highly recommend it.
I guess some of my most frightening flying experiences happened during Cope Thunders. On one mission, we had finished our taking pictures of our target, and had climbed up to go air refuel out over the water. Suddenly, we got jumped by one of the aggressors. We put our airplane through it's paces as best we could at that altitude (about 30,000 ft), and ended heading toward the water going over 1 and a half times the speed of sound. Right then, the pilot told me he couldn't pull the aircraft out of the dive, and to be prepared to eject. Well, that got my attention, but it was all for nothing, because he managed to slow the aircraft down, and it started responding again. Really didn't have time to be scared until after we were back on the ground and I had time to think about it. If we had tried to eject at that speed, we'd have probably been torn apart by the force of us hitting the outside air once we cleared the jet. However, I guess our chances were still better by ejecting than those of hitting the water at that speed. On another mission, with a different pilot, we were flying in a valley that ended a little more abruptly than we planned, and we weren't absolutely positive we'd be able to climb over the mountain ridge in front of us in time. But kicking in the afterburners gave us the boost we needed, so no sweat. And then there was that bad bowl of chili at the Chili Pot....
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