When I was in the active Air Force, from March 1967 through March 1971, I worked on various kinds of computers and radios, among other things, but never got out of the workshop or near aircraft except as a passenger. I got to look at aircraft from distance, and that was pretty much that. I also didn't get to associate with people who flew.

When I joined an active Air Force Reserve fighter group, that changed. I'm here to tell you, it changed in spades. I got my hands on F-105 aircraft of various models, and got to meet the airplane drivers.

Sometimes things didn't work right, and Interesting Things Happened. The avionics shop NCOIC told me about a wiring harness problem with one aircraft that spun up the Gatling gun and fired about 5 seconds of badness across the perimeter road. It was very fortunate that the aircraft happened to be aimed at the rifle range backstop, which got chewed up pretty hard, and that the rounds all passed over the vehicles in the line of fire.

My brother talked about the time a Walleye missile launched as the result of a wiring harness short, flew a few miles, and went through three cars parked end-to-end on a street in downtown Tampa.

Sometimes it was human error, as in the techreps who argued over how the ejection seat selector switches worked in an F-4 Phantom. One of them proved the other wrong by blowing his seat into the roof of the hangar the plane was in.

But the one I liked best had to do with a failure in the afterburner. It is important to keep firmly in mind that the F-105 is a heavy beast. It is called "the lead sled" for very good reason. Rapping your knuckles on it is very much as if you were rapping your knuckles on a large anvil. I think it has to do with the titanium it's made from -- between 1/4" and 1/2" thick, most places, the airframe guys told me.

To get the F-105 off the ground, you need afterburner. Period. Without that afterburner, you're going to skim the brush until you decide to give up and chop the throttle.

That's what happened to one of our airplane drivers, one fine Sunday morning. He turned onto the active runway, got takeoff clearance, spooled the turbine up, got moving, and moved the throttle into AB about the time he passed the abort point: not enough runway was left to shut it down and stay on the black stuff inside the fence.

He was moving at a really good clip as he crossed Southeast 74th Street in Oklahoma City at hood level, right in front of Pa and Ma Kettle in their 1947 Chevy pickup in red primer. They stopped and waited. A few minutes later, here came our F-105 driver, parachute over his shoulder, shouting "What a ride! What a _RIDE_!" Pa and Ma Kettle gave him a ride to the gate, where he was picked up and taken to the base hospital for a checkup.

A crane put the aircraft on a truck, and it got hauled ignominiously back for inspection and repairs. There was an unbelievable amount of paperwork involved. I think that aircraft never flew quite straight again, either.

Note: A lot of these guys were Wild Weasel pilots and GIBs in Vietnam. I'll stand a drink for any of 'em.