Pilots go on a routine of eat, sleep, fly

Missions demand pin-point accuracy, long flight times

War On Terrorism

The Response

October 14, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ABOARD THE USS CARL VINSON - Resuming bombing missions over Afghanistan yesterday after a one-day break, some of the pilots launching off this aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea reflected on the experience of war.

"The big thing we've learned in a week is the president told us this was going to be a long, drawn-out process," said Capt. T.C. Bennett, the Air Wing commander. "That is indeed going to be true because of the pin-point accuracy that we're demanding. People are settled into that."

Bennett reiterated that avoiding civilian casualties was a primary goal. His instructions to his pilots remained unchanged: "It is taboo to be dropping on something you don't need to be dropping on. That hasn't happened."

The Vinson's pilots have gotten into a routine of sleep, eat and fly, with meetings and paperwork taking up the rest of their time. Their flights are unusually long - about 6 1/2 hours round trip - as the strike jets navigate north into Pakistan and then west to Afghanistan, refueling en route.

Yesterday, two F/A-18 Hornets used laser-guided 1,000-pound bombs to strike planes sitting on an airfield in Afghanistan.

A pilot said they were "real aircraft at a real airfield," and described seeing secondary explosions.

"All these things we're hitting are assets that we're removing from the other side," said a second pilot, named Buzz. "It's a piece of property they no longer have - a tool they no longer have."

Despite encountering no resistance from the ground, the pilots maintained that no mission was routine when flying off a carrier. "It's a long time sitting in that cockpit," Bennett said. "I think that's something the guys are experiencing. ... That's an awful long time to sit cramped up in that airplane, sucking on an oxygen mask."

Still, there is something of a routine taking hold.

Buzz ate corn flakes for breakfast, flew a mission on which he helped destroy jets on the ground and returned in time for a ship-wide pizza snack.

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