Thrill of a Lifetime (continued, page 7)
by Jack Lythgoe

MiG-29 landing
I am landing this sucker! Where's the chute release?
Photo: Personal Collection of Jack Lythgoe.

Again, no instructions.  I knew they were not going to let a neophyte land a $38 to $40 million jet fighter, as Allstate would not handle that loss, for sure.  But I was willing to hang onto it as long as he would let me.

Once again, a total dearth of instructions of any kind.  We dropped down into the downwind leg and everything felt like I knew what I was doing.  The landing gear were down and locked as we turned toward base.  A little more flaps, good rate of descent, starting in on final now.

There goes the outer marker beacon...My God, he is going to let me land this thing after all! I throttled back just a tad more, and nosed up a bit, heading right down the middle.

Where was the chute release?  I could not find the release for the chute which was supposed to be deployed immediately upon touch down.  Inner marker now...where is the release?

Then, just as I started to flare, only two or three seconds before actual touchdown, I heard "My control, Chock!"  And I sighed a deep sigh of relief as I glanced into the mirror and saw the chute deployed at touchdown.  Nervous?  No.  Relieved?  You had better bet.  The realization that I could have actually landed a plane that sophisticated gave me a high such as few men ever experience, and the entire flight was so extremely remarkable that it is definitely one of the biggest thrills of my life, if not number one.

I was a little light-headed and pale when I dismounted from the plane.  Ingrid, part of our international entourage, ran up and gave me a kiss on the cheek and told me what a fantastic pilot I was at 70 years of age, and that her mother (still in her sixties) would not even go out for a ride with her.

MiG-29 landing
Just for the scenic beauty ...
Photo: Personal Collection of Jack Lythgoe.

Tom, the leader of the group mentioned that I looked a little pale.  I told him he would be pale too if they had strapped him in as tightly as I had been (enough to impede breathing) and then done six and a half G's or more.  He looked shocked and told me they would never let me pull that many G's. I suggested he check the G meter (which holds the highest reading you register during your flight). He climbed up the ladder to the cockpit and then hollered down, "My God, Jack, you pulled better than seven!" (I suspect the G reading was on the last turn I performed, as I was a bit annoyed about all of the loopas. I guess I may have been trying to assert my masculinity, or prove I was not "over the hill" yet!)

After sitting in front of the ready room for a few minutes, watching the last flight go up, my color and my usual positive attitude came back, my stomach once again climbed back up into its normal position and my admiration grew incomparably for those who did this sort of thing (and much more) every day as their normal, everyday routine. I had experienced something that few other than those who are professionals will ever have opportunity to experience -- an event I shall remember as long as I live!

That night we wound up our fantastic adventure with a delightful banquet, with all of the officers and pilots of the 3rd Fighter Squadron from the commanding general on down. The evening included superb food, vodka, beer, wine, singing, dancing and special awards from Col. Orsos for each participant to hang on the office wall and urge you to return and do it all over again as soon as possible.

1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7