Project Ocean Vision - Marine Conservation
Vox Clamantis in Deserto

  Links to chapters:

Tyndall AFB, Florida, flying the F15 Eagle

Courtney's Journal - Man's Flight Through Life is Sustained by the Power of his Learning

On this page: Tyndall AFB, F-15 Eagle, 95th TFTS, Hoover Dam, BSE, Life in the USA, Coming Home.

Breakfast in America - Flying the Eagle

Skip this section

So, there I was at Chivenor one Wednesday afternoon, minding my own business, when I received a phone call from my poster inquiring of me if I would like to go to Luke. I explained, carefully and politely that I didn't know of an RAF Luke and did he mean Leuchars - sounds similar, easy mistake to make, etc.

'No, Luke'.

I further explained that the only Luke I knew was the one in Arizona where the weather is fabulous, the cost of living highly favourable, the lifestyle superb and the United States Air Force fly F-15 Eagle fighter jets. Apparently, this was the Luke to which he was referring and he further wished to inquire if I would be willing to go there.


'Well, you don't have to make a decision right away. Take some time to think about it.'

'Okay, I've thought about it, I'll go.'

'I'll tell you what, why not think it over, and you can give me your answer in the morning.'

'Look, I said 'YES', I'll go. Which part of the word 'yes' don't you understand?'

'Talk to you tomorrow, then.'

Clearly, some people just won't take yes for an answer. Well, he did eventually. And so began a new adventure. By the time I moved to the States (June 1988), I was just 30, my daughter, Sophie, 4 and my son, Chris, barely 2. These were indeed halcyon days; three excellent years at Chivenor and now this exciting new adventure - sun, great flying, the best fighter in the World, Californian wine, a whole continent to explore and a new culture to enjoy. Onward, then, to the NSM. Why 'NSM'? Continue, gentle reader, and you shall comprehend.

F-15 Eagle
F-15 Eagle



Oh, just one minor modification to the plan - secundum artem. I didn't actually end up going to Luke after all. In another one of those bizare interactions that I seem to have with the establishment, I discovered that my life had been replanned for me.

Upon arrival in the States, I reported to the British Embassy in Washington DC to sort out several tonnes of admin. A nice young lady greated me and asked to see my onward airline tickets to Phoenix, Arozona. I handed them to her and she put them in her 'pending tray' (the largest of the three traditional recepticals) and handed me new tickets to 'PFN', apparently an airport called Fannin Field.

"Is that close to Phoenix?"

"No, it's in Panama City"

"Why do I want tickets to Panama?"

"No," she smiled, "Not Panama, Florida."


Her hitherto genial face took on the look of someone that was now in danger of being late for an early finish and a lunchtime barbecue.

"Didn't you know? You're going to Tyndall?"

Ah, well, that was fine except all my worldly goods were now somewhere between Chivenor and Phoenix. Apparently, until one minute earlier everyone in the Eglish-speaking world knew about the change of destination except me and my removals company.

So I set off to Tyndall AFB near Panama City, Florida, which, as it turned out, was yet another bonus. Arizona has a wonderful beach, but the tide goes out a sod of a long way. It's fine if you like desert, which I do, but Florida is... well, it's Florida. It's wonderful. And so I arrived at Fannin Field (now Panama City–Bay County International Airport.

My new squadron boss and his wife were there to meet me (seems they'd know I was coming for several weeks), as were the other exchange officers who were based at Tyndall. The first days were spent organizing a place to live, car, phone, driving test, driving licence, bank account, ID card, furniture and a cocktail cabinet stocked in a manner befitting a British officer living in the colonies. Eventually I was settled at 403 South Star Avenue in Callaway, a suburb of Panama City. I had a lovely house with a pool, double garage, air conditioning and, as I mentioned, a huge drinks cabinet.

Tyndall was the home to the 325th Fighter Wing. This included the 1st, 2nd and 95th Tactical Fighter Training Squadrons (TFTS) all equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle - more about that in a moment. I joined the 95th TFTS, which was a Replacement Training Unit (RTU). In RAF parlance, this is an OCU, training new pilots to fly and operate the F-15. I was to be an Instructor Pilot (IP), which is an all-encompassing category of instructor, required to teach everything from trip one in the F-15 through instrument flying, intercepts, combat, flight refuelling, low level ops and night flying to air-to-air gunnery and multi-aircraft tactics. This was a really refreshing outlook to me as, in the RAF, we have specialists (QFIs, IREs, QWIs, etc) to teach many of these phases. The USAF philosophy was that if you can do it, you can teach it, although one is required to prove it first.

Here's the F-15 Eagle Cockpit - a step forward from the old F-4, but the F-15 is out of the same stable. On the picture below/left click the main instrument panel or the left or right consoles for technical diagrams.

F-15 Eagle cockpit F-15 Eagle - Main Instrument Panel F-15 Eagle, Left Console F-15 Eagle, Right Console   F-15 Eagle

McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle

95th TFTS, Tyndall AFB Florida
95th TFTS, Tyndall AFB Florida

F-15 IFF Box

F-15 Fuel Gauge

M61 20mm Vulcan Cannon, F-15 The business end of the F-15 gun


APG63 Radar, F-15
Big radar, big jet.
The APG63 radar, F-15A.

F-15 Fuel Panel

F-15 In Flight Refuelling
F-15 In Flight Refuelling (flying boom, not probe and drogue)

I had to undergo two phases of training before taking up my job as an instructor. Considering that all the other IPs on the Squadron would be experienced F-15 pilots, I had to work hard to make sure that I was up to speed. As usual, my conversion course started with ground school or 'academics' as they would have it. But this was to be no ground school like I had seen before. It was intensive, slick and extremely professional. It was staffed by McDonnell Douglas Training Systems Inc. (MDTSI) and it set the standard for the rest of my tour. In fact, it was to teach me a new measure of professionalism in flying and all related matters.

The flying instructors on the 95th were of the same high standard; vastly motivated and dedicated to their business. I have never made any secret of the fact that this was the most professional bunch of people I had ever worked with. Yes, I know I'm gushing with enthusiasm like a Hollywood Oscar winner, but it's all true. And anyway, if you think I'm going on about the people, wait 'til I get onto the jet! Now that was something! 'Mac Air' had learnt a thing or two about building fighters since they put together the first F4 in their factory in St. Louis.

F-15 Eagle F-15 Eagle Engine Nozzles

The Eagle looks good and flies like a fighter should. It had power in every sense: big motors (Pratt & Witney F100-PW-100s at the time, but even these were later upgraded), a superb radar (APG 63) and the weapons system and weapons to take on all comers. The F-15 has an internally mounted 20mm Gatling gun (6,000 rounds per minute) and can carry AIM7M Sparrow, AIM9L/M Sidewinder and AIM120 AMRAAM. The F-15's manoeuvrability is derived from low wing loading with a high thrust-to-weight ratio enabling the aircraft to turn tightly without decelerating. The F-15 can climb to 30,000 ft (10,000 m) in around 60 seconds. The weapons system, TEWS, flight control system, navigation and comms were all designed to be safely and effectively operated and employed by one person, hence this is a single seat fighter.

This is a big aircraft, especially for an agile fighter. Its wingspan is 13 metres (42.8 feet). And the reason for this is to fit all the awesome kit inside it, such as the gun, the big engines and, critically, the APG63 radar. If you can remember back to Chapter 5, I introduced you to the Radar Range Equation. In case you forgot (as if!):

Radar Range Equation


Rmax = maximum range

Pt = Transmitter power

G = Antenna gain

λ = Radar frequency

σ = Target radar cross section

Smin = Minimum detectable signal strength


Again, don't worry about it, I'm not going to make you understand it. I'm going to use it to touch on why the F-15 is so huge. Simply put, we want to make Rmax as big as possible. That way we can see the bad guys before they can see us and we can get a missile in the air as early as possible. But there are limits to how much we can change most of the other variables in the equation. We can only produce so much power in an airborne radar. A fighter radar really has to work in the frequency band 8-12GHz. The target's radar cross section (how big it looks on radar) is nothing to do with us. How small a signal we can detect is down to noise and technology (this radar was developed in the early 70s). So the only thing left that we can really mess with is antenna gain and this is good because its effect is squared (because it affects both transmitted and received signals). The best way to make a massive improvement to gain is to make the radar antenna as big as possible. Once the antenna size was determined, Mac Air had to design the F-15 fuselage to accommodate it and the rest of the aircraft grew around that. It is also true to say that wing area and engine size has a lot to do with this. Try to keep this in mind when we move onto the next aircraft in my story later on.

As well as the APG 63 radar, the avionics systems include a head-up display (HUD), inertial navigation system (INS), Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) and Instrument Landing System (ILS), identification, friend or foe (IFF), electronic countermeasures suite (TEWS) and overload warning system (OWS). The head-up display projects all essential flight and tactical information, providing the pilot information necessary to track and destroy an enemy aircraft without having to look down at cockpit instruments.

The APG-63 pulse-Doppler radar system can look up at high-flying targets and down at low-flying targets without being confused by ground clutter. It can detect and track aircraft and small high-speed targets at distances beyond visual range (BVR) out to 120 nautical miles. The radar feeds target information into the central computer for effective weapons delivery. The capability of locking onto targets as far as 50 nautical miles (90 km) with an AIM-120 AMRAAM missile enables true BVR target engagement. For close-in dogfights, the radar can be commanded to acquire targets automatically. The F-15's electronic warfare system provides both threat warning and automatic countermeasures against selected threats.

Suffice to say that I was impressed and I'll have to go a long way to find another aircraft like it.

Flt Lt Paul Courtnage, 95th TFTS, Tyndall AFB Florida Flt Lt Paul Courtnage, 95th TFTS, Tyndall AFB Florida.

A funny thing happened to me. During my short conversion course I was called upon to go and meet a big gas station in the sky and take a few thousand pounds of Uncle Sam's finest jet fuel.

"Courtney, you've done a lot of tanking in the Phantom, haven't you?"


"OK, well you're not required to do the dual sortie, just the phase brief."

"OK." How hard can it be?

Getting astern the 135 was easy. The director lights were little use, because of bright sun and the fact that they're set up for really big bombers, not big fighters. I found the right position and was 'plugged' by the boomer. Fuel transferred, I hit the disconnect button to no avail. After several unsuccessful attempt, I eventually opted for a 'brute force disconnect', simply move down and back until the boom unplugs. No problem.

Good sortie, nice rtb, coffee and into the debrief.

"Tanking looked OK, why the need for the brute force disconnect, Courtney?"

"The normal disconnect didn't work so I just backed off."

"Is that the first time you've had to do that?"

"No, with the probe and drogue in our F4s we always do it like that."

"WHAT? You've never used the boom before?"

To balance the books, I flew the AAR dual sortie after the solo

95th TFTS, Tyndall AFB Florida
95th TFTS, Tyndall AFB Florida
Mr Bones


The squadron's emblem features Mr Bones the skeleton (see left). In the crew room he lies in state, a mere cadaver to outsiders, an icon to us 'Boneheads'. The motto was 'Death with Finesse'; I'll drink to that. Mr Bones would accompany us to all our major events: squadron dinners, parties, parades and graduations. He would always dress appropriately for the season or occasion. At parades or military functions he would appear attired in his flight suit, adorned with his colonel's rank. In the summer, he would don his bathing shorts, beach towel and baseball cap. Thanksgiving (Turkey Day) would find him in traditional Pilgrim Fathers' costume. He was a stylish, handsome devil.

Colonel's rank insignia (USAF)

One of the many 'burdens' of the job was the travel (it's a dirty job but someone's got to do it!). We were required to make frequent 'cross-countries', which were a great way to see a lot of the States fairly quickly. My two favourite locations became New Orleans, the party town, and Las Vegas, blatant statement of unabashed capitalist pleasure. I'll return to these topics in a moment. In the meanwhile, I would like, briefly, to mention my favourite landmark, the Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam

Skip this section

I visited this fantastic piece of engineering a few times while living in the States (and more times since). For me it embodies the spirit of an age when great projects such as this could be undertaken against all odds; not the least being the fact that nothing like it had ever been done before, nobody really knew what or how long it would take or, in reality, if it could actually be done. 726 feet tall and holding back 35,200 million cubic metres of water, its construction was authorised in 1928. Variously called the Boulder Dam, Boulder Canyon Dam and (in honour of President Herbert Hoover) the Hoover Dam, construction began in 1931 and the last concrete poured in 1935, 2 years ahead of schedule - how many projects of this scale manage that today?

The first electric generator at the Hoover Dam began commercial operation in 1935, but it was not for this purpose that the dam was built. The Colorado River had, for centuries, alternately flooded and dried up every year. This cycle of too much and too little limited the river's usefulness and continually threatened land use along its course. In 1905, for example, the river flooded disastrously, changing its course, washing away earth dams and flooding California's Imperial Valley and the Saltan Sea. It continued to flow into the valley for 16 months before it could be returned to its original course. In that time, it destroyed homes and crops; heavily damaged highways, railroads and irrigation systems and increased the size of the Saltan Sea from 22 to 500 square miles: it is still 360 square miles as I write this nine decades later, so the change wasn't fleeting. It was to prevent this kind of disaster that the Colorado River Compact was signed in 1922. This paved the way for the construction of the series of dams, which now control the river.

Of all the Colorado's dams, Hoover must be the most spectacular. If you don't believe me, consider that in 1955 the American Society of Civil Engineers selected it as one of the USA's seven modern civil engineering wonders and in 1985 they designated it a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, so there! It's vital statistics bear this out: it can store 2 years of average Colorado flow, its water irrigates three-quarters of a million acres of land in the USA and a further half million in Mexico, it supplies 14 million people with fresh water and, as a by-product, it generates 4 billion kilowatt-hours of energy, enough for 500,000 homes. Waters that were once muddy are now sparkling clear and have been changed from menace to national resource. If you have an inquiring mind, I strongly recommend that you look into how the project was constructed. I won't go into it in these pages because I have a story to get on with. The whole thing is a marvel.

A cow - a very healthy one, actually.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

Skip this section

While I was in the States, something rather horrid turned up back in Britain, which I should now tell you about. I suppose it’s because we drink all the milk that cows make that means we have to find something else to feed baby cows on. So, for many years, farmers had been feeding their livestock on animal feed made from, among other things, bits of dead animals. Well, it turned out that some of the sheep that went into this feed may have had a disease called Scrapie that attacks the central nervous system. The feed in question was made, in part, from bits of those nervous systems. Guess what. The cows went down with a thing called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and later some people went down with a thing called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), which causes irreparable damage to the cells in the central nervous system. Both of these cause symptoms startlingly similar to those in the sheep with Scrapie and all three (Scrapie, BSE and CJD) are fatal.

Armed with that bit of information, you have to guess (a) what was the link? and (b) what happened to the sales of British beef? Here comes the political own goal. There was heated debate about this during which the government accused the scientists of creating these dangers. Then the scientists revealed that they’d warned the government about BSE (also known as ‘mad cow disease’) years before and that it might be transferable, through the food chain, to humans. Oops! There ensued the usual round of denials, vague statements and damage limitation. The ‘final solution’ was to kill all the cows. Mad cows? I expect they were bloody furious! Anyway, I've not gone into much detail here as the whole thing is terribly complicated - misfolded protein molecules, prions, beta pleated sheets, etc - so I'll leave it to Wikipedia to explain what it's all about. Click the link for more on BSE.

Tianenmen SquareTiananmen Square Protests

Tianenman Square

Skip this section

Also in the news: In June 1989, there was a riot that was, I promise, nothing to do with me. Students and workers demonstrating against Communist rule in China had occupied Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. When the demonstrations continued despite government condemnation, troops of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army began to assemble around the square and, on the morning of 4th June, moved in and opened fire killing several hundred people. The demonstrations continued in spite of several government orders to cease and the declaration of martial law. The suppression of the Tiananmen Square protest was followed by executions, trials, arrests and censorship. There was, of course, an outcry from all corners of the globe, but the Chinese were not a nation to pay much heed to that.

'A government that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a government that is afraid of its people'. - J.F.K.

Paul Courtnage (Courtney) water skiing
Courtney water skiing...

Courtney playing golf
...playing golf. Or something like it...


Life in the States

Skip this section

Back to the States. My main recreation, apart from eating good old, BSE-free, American beef, was water skiing, a pastime that I undertook with my 'ski-buddy', drinking partner, flying companion and fellow Bonehead, Rob 'Smoke' Huguley. Evenings and weekends were hardly complete without a good 'slalom' around the bayous. Defying the alligators, snakes, sharks and occasional jellyfish we'd take to the glassy-smooth waters and carve up a manly wake. Of course, all this was energetic stuff so we would have to spend long hours recharging on the Emerald Coast's beautiful white beaches with some of the USA's finest beer. Then, to round it all off, we'd take a short cruise to one of the marinas in town to visit 'Jo and JR's', a ramshackle restaurant on the water that served the best Cajun Dogs you could ever dream of. It was all summed up in a favourite expression of ours, 'Life's a bitch and then you die'. Clearly, this required some modification to suit the situation and so it became 'Life's a beach and then you fly'. And, of course, I played a game bit like golf.

Courtney's boat, The Fighting Cock
Courtney's boat, The Fighting Cock

The only thing that would stop me enjoying the water was the weather. May to September was hurricane season when everyone would keep a careful eye on the cable TV weather channel. A tropical storm building in the eastern Atlantic today could mean a severe storm or a hurricane next week. Although I was generally very lucky on this score, I did prepare to evacuate a couple of times and I sat-out tropical storm Keith in 1988 and hurricane Hugo in 1989. I only caught the edge of the storm (Hugo went up the East Coast of Florida), but the wind and rain were incredible. I sat outside filming it one night; quite the best lightning I've ever seen! Hugo caused some $10 billion of damage.

It's time to get serious again for a moment and to reflect on the loss of two friends. Sean Murphy was one of my students, a bright young man with a good deal of promise. He was doing well on the course and was well rated. He and his wife, Bev, were well liked by both students and IPs. One 1st May 1989, on a routine training mission in an F-15B (76-0138), he crashed into the Gulf of Mexico 65 miles SE of Tyndall and was killed. He had suffered a physiological effect well known by pilots of high performance fighters, 'G'-induced loss of consciousness (GLOC). Effectively, one of the effects of turning hard, especially at high speed, is to cause the blood in one's body to be forced away from the head and to pool in the lower extremities. The first noticeable symptom of this is the tunnelling and, eventually, loss of vision (greying-out) as the eyes lack the essential oxygen supplied by the blood. More severely, a similar lack of oxygen in the brain causes unconsciousness. These symptoms are recognizable and can be overcome by means of straining to force the blood out of the legs and abdomen and, therefore back into the head. Relaxing the G will also quickly restore normality.

We are built to live at one G. Unfortunately, it is possible to apply enough G to starve the brain completely. However, there is enough oxygen stored in the tissues of the brain to last about seven seconds and so the effects are not immediately apparent. Once this time is exceeded, the subject lapses into unconsciousness so quickly that he or she has insufficient time to take action to protect against it and the recovery time is lengthy. This was what happened to Sean. His instructor, flying in another jet, was able to recognize what had happened as Sean's jet spiralled downward, out of control, at high speed. Sean did recover consciousness, but in his effort to pull out of the ensuing steep dive, he again blacked himself out. His final tragedy occurred shortly before he hit the sea, when his ejection seat failed to operate.

F15 77-0138
F-15B 76-0138 at Tyndall AFB 1989

Phil Irish, 'PI'

Phil Irish, 'PI'


On 26th June 1990, a very close friend of mine, Phil Irish (known as PI), was killed when his Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain (registration N18PA) crashed into woodland shortly after take-off from Panama City Airport. PI was an intellectual, a thoughtful, generous and Christian man. He had flown F-4s and had been an F-15 IP with me on the 95th. He left the Air Force earlier that year, wishing to fly for the Airlines. While he was waiting for a job with one of the major companies, he was building up his hours, flying with a small firm called Panama Aviation. On that fateful morning, just after take-off from Panama City Airport, the engines were starved of fuel by water that had condensed overnight in the fuel tanks and had entered the injectors. What a waste, he'd survived fourteen years of military flying only to be killed in a light twin. What made it even worse was that he and Bev had become very close since Sean's death and PI had done a lot to help her.

Some years later, I found the official accident report. It paints a dark picture of the aviation company. Click here to read the report.

I have here a verse which I think sums up some of those less tangible feelings. It is a beautiful poem written by May E Frye in 1932.

Do not stand at my grave
And weep....
I am not there - I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle rains that fall,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry -
I did not die....

  F-15 Eagle

Sophie Courtnage
Sophie Courtnage driving my boat (very fast)

Chris Courtnage feeding racoons, 1990
Chris Courtnage feeding raccoons. Camping 1990


Courtney and Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States
Courtney & Ronnie
(Ronald Reagan, 40th President of
the United States of America)

F-15 Radar Display

Goodness. That poem gets me every time. But what about this 'NSM' thing? The expression 'NSM' came from my early flying days there. Flying my conversion sorties with 'Gator', a heavily accented southerner of Cajun extraction, he spent nearly as much time translating what the air traffic controllers had just said to me as he did teaching me how to fly the jet. I promised him that I would learn to speak 'murican. From this beginning, I eventually worked out that I was, in fact, living in the 'nited States 'murica - the NSM.

My tour there was supposed to be two years plus training. With six months' worth of courses, most exchange officers could expect about two and a half years. With about six months to go, my poster called me up and asked if I would be prepared to extend in post. I could hardly believe my ears. I managed not to appear too enthusiastic, although I could have kissed him. He offered another three months on account of the fact that he couldn't find anyone to replace me. He explained that he understood that I was 'down-borne' and I asked him to explain what 'down-borne' was. Having been promoted to squadron leader in July 1989, I was now a squadron leader in a flight lieutenant's post and was, therefore, 'down-borne'. He promised that, if I helped him out by agreeing to stay, he would make it up to me on my next posting. I couldn't believe this. He was asking me to stay in paradise and thought I was doing him a favour! Trying my luck a bit, I told him that three months was no good to man nor beast and that he should offer me a decent period that I could use. Say, six months. To my astonishment, he agreed. Excellent!

Now, as if that wasn't lucky enough, a few months later, he called again to beg me to extend some more. Another three months. I started to push for another six but he shut me up with a 'Don't push it Courtney, by the time you get home you'll have had almost three and a half years'. Believe it or not, by this stage of my life I had actually learnt a thing or two. Two of these were recognizing when you've won and knowing when to shut-up. So, being ahead on points already, I settled for what was on offer. Another extension. As it happened, I eventually managed considerably longer in the States; exactly how long remains a closely guarded secret.

After all the fun, the dream was bound to end eventually. Strangely enough, while I was living in the States, I used to have a recurring dream where I'd find myself, inexplicably, back in the UK. I knew I was supposed to be in the States but, to my horror, I wasn't. As is so common in dreams, I could never make anyone understand what was going on or believe that I wasn't supposed to be there and I had no way of getting back. I guess that it all had to do with a deep-seated unwillingness to accept that, sooner or later, I was going to have to come home. And who could blame me? After all, life had been pretty bloody good to me over the last three years or so. Still, the choice was not mine to make; I was, like it or not, homeward bound. Well, I decided that if I had to go, I'd take my time and make the most of it. I'd been told 'Come home now', clearly an instruction open to misinterpretation. After all, you can make words mean what you want, can't you?

I made all the arrangements to ship my belongings back to the UK and then I set off for phase one of my 'wind-down' vacation. I drove over to New Orleans where my friends Smoke and his wife Louanne were living. Smoke was flying for American Airlines by this stage as well as for the 'Coonass Militia' (Louisiana Air National Guard). I had a totally enjoyable fortnight during which I visited the Audubon Zoo, the New Orleans Aquarium and, of course, the French Quarter in town, famed for Bourbon Street, Preservation Hall and The Old Absinthe House. Good friends, amazing jazz and excellent food!

Next, it was back to Panama City to say my farewells and to move out of the house. Having taken care of business, sold my cars, boat (that was a sad day!), a selection of my electrical goods and furniture, I dispatched my remaining estate to Leuchars by sea, which meant I had time to go touring. What better place, I thought, to be homeless than Orlando. So I booked into a hotel and 'did' Sea World, Disney World and the MGM Studios – paradise for Sophie and Chris. From there, I flew up to Washington DC and checked out of the Embassy. I settled my remaining financial matters and then caught the train up to New Jersey to go and stay with Julia and Chip. I probably forgot to mention that Julia and Chip went to live in the NSM following their marriage back in Chapter 2, was it? Chip was into political things, lobbying or supporting the local senator, and they had two grown up children, Jo and Becky.

McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle

I had a thoroughly pleasant and relaxing time with them and it was great to see them again. Time was pressing, though, and I had to take the train back to DC to catch the flight to the UK. It had been a wonderful tour and it was with a heavy heart that I left the 'NSM'. If the truth be known, they almost had to come and get me.

Courtney & Pontiac GrandAm

Courtney & Pontiac GrandAm

37 Magnum

Baggage Reclaim

I was met at home by Mum, Dad, Sandy and Phil. Of course, I still had the last leg to go, so I bought an old but adequately serviceable Volvo estate and cruised up to Leuchars to meet my stuff from the States and move into my new home. I didn't really have anything to do until November so I spent the intervening month or so sorting out the garden and getting to know the guys on the squadron.

Before leaving for the States I had two dogs, Fliss and Jessica. Before I left Chivenor, a good friend of mine and fellow instructor, Jim Gosling, had agreed to look after them for us while I was away. Now that I was back, he was about to leave Chiv to go back to Jaguars at Coltishall. As he was a single man going to a front-line squadron, it was likely that looking after them was going to be difficult (long working days, deployments, etc) and so it suited us both for me to have them back. As you can imagine, it was wonderful to be reunited. Jumping ahead a little to 1993, I decided to take on yet another setter, English this time, just in case I didn't have enough dogs already. His name was Seymour. He was very stupid, large and had disgusting personal habits. He was 99% character and 1% brain.

Jessica, Seymour and Fliss
Jessica, Seymour and Fliss, 1994

The move home had one other interesting aspect. I was very curious to explore the UK's gun control laws as, during my time in the States, I had bought myself a revolver. It was a rather nice Ruger Security Six .357 Magnum, a splendid gun, powerful and accurate when firing .357 ammunition and very controllable when firing .38 rounds (There is actually no such thing as .38 calibre, it is in fact .357 making the less powerful .38 rounds compatible with .357 guns ). I bought it privately at a very reasonable price. When it came time to go home, I decided to bring it back with me. However, I had no idea how to go about it. Numerous phone calls to a plethora of official departments in the UK drew a total blank. Nobody seemed to know what I should do. Eventually, I called the Movements people at Dulles International Airport (from where we would be flying home to the UK). They advised me simply to turn up with it, hand it to the Movements Staff for safe stowage on the flight and to collect it at the other end (RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire). Well, I was game so I gave it a shot (sorry, no pun intended).

I presented it, in a black plastic carrying case, clearly marked with a Delta Airlines Dayglo label that announced 'Unloaded Firearm', to the Movements staff. They batted not an eyelid. Having been through the traveller's time-distortion where hours are suddenly blessed with more than their traditional allocation of minutes and minutes over-stuffed with seconds, some prolonged and boring aeons later I arrived at Brize Norton. Watching for my luggage to arrive at the baggage claim, I was somewhat astonished to see my gun appear on the carousel! Interesting security, I thought. Eventually, an RAF Policeman picked it up and took it to his desk. It had, by then, been round the claim half a dozen times just to see if anyone else would like to adopt it. I strolled over to the security desk and inquired whether the nice policeman had my firearm. 'No, nothing like that'.

'It's in a black carrying case with a label on it.'

'No, sorry.'

'It looks a lot like that one there that you just picked up off the carousel.'

'Oh, is that yours? Here you are then.'

No proof of identity or ownership required. Wacky! I collected my bags and headed for customs. Bear in mind that I have no paperwork for this gun whatsoever; no firearms certificate (licence), not even a receipt. At that point came an announcement stating that customs was now closed and we could all proceed as no further checks were to be carried out. Apparently they had checked the requisite number of people from our flight and were off home for breakfast or something. I must admit that I did briefly consider walking straight through with it. Well, these ideas do enter one's head occasionally. That would have meant that I would have brought an illegal, unregistered firearm into the country that is supposedly famous for its tight gun control laws. Predictably, I did the right thing and detained an unwilling customs official who grudgingly took my gun from me. They stored it for me in their armoury pending my obtaining a firearm certificate.

Once I had moved up to Leuchars, I filled-in an application form at the police station in St. Andrews. A few weeks later my certificate arrived and I was able to retrieve my gun. Strict control? I don't think so. Sooner or later these laws would have to change.

Anyway, I was back in the UK, moving up to Leuchars and I was getting ready to attend the Tornado F3 OCU at Coningsby. So let's say 'bye' to the Eagle. Beautiful girl.

F-15 Eagles, 95th TFTS

F-15 Eagles of the 95th TFTS, Tyndall AFB Florida. Photo courtesy of 95TFTS, 1989.

f-15 Eagle  

F-15 Eagle General Data:

Primary function: Tactical fighter
Contractor: McDonnell Douglas Corp.
Power plant: Two Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-100, 220 or 229 turbofan engines with afterburners
Thrust: (C/D models) 23,450 pounds each engine
Wing span: 42.8 feet (13 metres)
Length: 63.8 feet (19.44 metres)
Height: 18.5 feet (5.6 metres)
Speed: 1,875 mph (Mach 2.5 plus)
Maximum take-off weight: (C/D models) 68,000 pounds (30,844 kilograms)
Ceiling: 65,000 feet (19,812 metres)
Range: 3,450 miles (3,000 nautical miles) ferry range with conformal fuel tanks and three external fuel tanks
Crew: F-15A/C: one. F-15B/D/E: two
Armament: One internally mounted M-61A1 20mm 20-mm, six-barrel cannon with 940 rounds of ammunition plus
                  four AIM-9L/M Sidewinder and four AIM-7F/M Sparrow air-to-air missiles, or
                  eight AIM-120 AMRAAMs, carried externally.
Unit Cost: A/B models - $27.9 million (fiscal 98 constant dollars);C/D models - $29.9 million (fiscal 98 constant dollars)
Date deployed: July 1972

F-15 Eagle; Tyndall video


Paul Courtnage

Previous Chapter                         Next Chapter

Email Courtney           Project Ocean Vision           Top of Page


© Project Ocean Vision 2006 - ΩV

red line

red line

red line

red line

Help for Heroes Marine Conservation Society Red List Help for Heroes

red line

red line

red line

red line

Some of the images and videos in Vox Clamantis in Deserto have been obtained from openly available sources. In such cases it is our policy to make every reasonable effort to contact the copyright holder for permission to display the image or video. It has not been possible to do so in every case. All images and video on this site remain the copyright of their respective owners and no material on these pages has been used for profit or any commercial purpose. Under the conditions of the EU Copyright Directive (2001) if you wish us to remove an image or video for which you are the copyright holder, you may submit a Removal Request and we will investigate your request and take appropriate action. We would very much like to continue to use images and videos wherever possible and are very keen to give full credit to the copyright holders of all images and videos. If you wish to be acknowledged as the owner of an image or video, please submit an Acknowledgement Request.