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Lessons Learned - Joyride

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January 7, 2013

I have a lot of wonderful memories from going through pilot training at Williams AFB, Ariz., in the early 1960s, but one day stands out as an everlasting lesson in leadership and accountability.

My flight commander in T-37s, Capt. “Rip” Randall, gave me my low-level cross-country navigation check, and when we got back to Willie we had some fuel to burn off, so we shot some touch-and-go landings.

Then Randall demonstrated a little trick that impressed me greatly. He made the full stop landing, and immediately after touchdown, he held the control stick back as far as he could, ran the electric trim to full nose down, and caused a large protective ring on the bottom of the tail to scrape the concrete runway. The resultant shower of sparks was awe-inspiring.

A few days later on a solo sortie, I couldn’t resist trying to duplicate the Ripper’s feat. I succeeded beyond my dreams. By the time I taxied to my parking spot, I had an entourage waiting to greet me, including the squadron operations officer. None of them were clapping or smiling; nobody seemed awed by my prowess. That was 50 years ago, and the ensuing conversation blessedly has left my memory, but I do remember heading for the flight room wondering if I would be given a choice of alternate career fields or just drummed out of the service.

Captain Randall had been flying when I put on my little demonstration, and I sat for what seemed like hours waiting for his return. As soon as he got back, he urgently was summoned by the operations officer. When he returned, he motioned for me to follow him. I felt like I was walking a pirate’s plank as I followed him into his office. He settled into his chair and shuffled a couple of papers for a moment as he seemed to be searching for the words to advise me of my doom.

After another seemingly interminable period, he slowly looked up at this pitiful excuse for a second lieutenant trembling in front of him and said in his trademark southern California surfer drawl, “St. Amant, you’ve been a baaaaad boy,” and looked back down at the papers on his desk. When it became apparent he wasn’t going to look back up while I was in the room, I left.

That was it! Nothing else ever was said. He absorbed completely whatever institutional wrath he was supposed to vent on me. He was a goooood guy, and I had more than one chance to try to live up to his example over the next 25 years.

— Tony St. Amant is a retired Air Force colonel in the Valley-Ridge (Calif.) Chapter. He lives in Chico. Submit your lessons learned by e-mail to profseries@moaa.org or by mail to MOAA Professional Series, 201 N. Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314. Please include "Lessons Learned" in the subject line of your email or letter. All submissions will be considered for publication in the magazine. Published submissions also appear online. 

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