Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Series I - Vol 6

CARRIBEAN PHANTOMS

My name is Daniel Dunn and I own Aargus Air Charter, based in Grand Rapids, MI This is an new segment in an on going series of stories from my 38 years of flying that I hope you will find interesting.

Early in my career, during the late 70's, I did a lot of charter flying in the Caribbean out of Key Largo. A beautiful place and very "country" at the time. The old style double T telephone poles with sagging lines and a tightly knit local population where everybody knew most everybody else. I had a had house with canal access to the ocean side and a small 19' Robollo mono-hull with a 200 horse Merc on the back. Spent many pleasant days out on Molassis Reef.

In the summer of 1978, I had taken some friends over to Nassau, Bahamas in my single engine Piper Arrow to enjoy a weekend on the island's at the Casino. On Sunday about 3:00pm we departed the island in a single engine Piper Arrow headed back to Key Largo, our home airport. The airplane holds 4 persons and we were full. The sky was very blue and had loosely organized lines of billowing cumulus clouds most of the way making for a very scenic flight.

When approaching the US coastline from outside US airspace, which we were that day, there is an invisible perimeter line called the Air Defense Identification Zone, more commonly know as the "ADIZ". Every airplane entering the US from anywhere outside much pass over this line and must have filed a flight plan telling controllers who they are, what type of aircraft they will be flying, estimated time of ADIZ penetration, and where it will occur. This is there I way of identifying aircraft that may not be authorized and possibly up to something unsavory like smuggling drugs or worse. A call to local air controllers is generally made just prior to entering the zone to establish two way contact to further ensure that they know who you are.

On approaching the Zone and after making the mandatory call to ATC, I settled in for the last half hour of the flight. Minutes past and as I was studying my map with my head down, I sensed something in my peripheral. I looked up and to the left and was shocked to see and unmarked F4 Phantom military jet, just hanging the about 50 feet off my wing. He had after burners on to enable him to go slow enough to stay on position off my wing in a very nose up configuration. The pilot had a black visor helmet on and he did not attempt to look my way or signal in any way. He stayed that way for a good three minutes and just and quick as he came he peeled off in a steep descent to get his speed back. I watched him fade t the left. Suddenly from the right seat, where one of may passengers I heard a loud Woahhhh. To our right hung a second F4 in the same configuration, again with no marking whatsoever. It was not the first one because I could still see him exiting down to my left. As with the first, the pilot did not look our way. This was repeated again on the left with the first plane and a final time on the right with the second. And then they were just gone.

My next move was to contact Homestead Air Force base, about 50 miles away to ask if they had activity in my area, they said they did not. Once back on the ground I though the situation trough. We were only 75 miles form Cuba, but the aircraft could not have been from there because they were F4s. Cubans operated Russian Meg aircraft. My conclusion was that these aircraft were most likely part of some US based, convert operation. On seeing our small aircraft, they decided to have a little fun or perhaps just practice intercepts. That was definitely one of those "so glad to be back on the ground" moments for me. It could have very easily gone the other way. The Lord was truly riding the right seat that afternoon. There area were in lies directly inside the infamous Bermuda Triangle where usual things can happen. This was one of those things, but fortunate for us, it came to an uneventful conclusion.

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