"I was out of my body, looking down... looking down at the war beneath.
I saw two armies. One of life, the other, death. And they clashed.
I knew they were fighting over me."
A thousand regrets for not having something to record the audio! Dick Rutan, adventurer, inventor, warrior was describing an utterly outrageous experience, one that defied reason. And my hand's ability to keep up. Damnit!
"And this was in the Voyager!?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes. One of our training flights."
"You were...breaking down..?"
"Yes." Dick's reply was crisp, abrupt; a statement of fact. But there wasn't any shame in the apparent loss of control. Instead, Dick spoke with the analytical detachment of a scientist. I knew then that this was a guy who had learned to keep his cool even when things got insanely hot.
"(They were) Gremlins. The Voyager was not a safe aircraft and it tested our limits of endurance. I was tired, hadn't slept for 30 hours and hallucinating, seeing Gremlins. I had to learn how to manage those stresses.
I can tell you this, if we hadn't trained and learned like we did, there would have been no Voyager mission."
And that's what my first conversation with Dick Rutan was like.
In December of 1986, Dick and fellow Voyager pilot Jeana Yeager flew the spindly Rutan Voyager on a non-stop flight around the world. Though I vaguely remember the headline-making moment, it had little significance to me until this year's commission. In my youth, my distraction of the moment, I'd just figured a team of airplane nuts got together to set a record.
...when the project came along to do Dick Rutan's Vietnam F-100F and Voyager, I was gobsmacked within the first 15 minutes of research. The round-the-world record was no lark. Instead, it was the culmination of five years of science, engineering and forced mastery of the black art of "Human Factors" - the study of how humans interact with the systems they create.
Ok, have another look at "837" above— it was one of the F-100's Dick flew as a "MISTY" Forward Air Controller (FAC) in Vietnam. It bears a clue into what it took to mint the mind that could, on one hand, hallucinate in the cockpit of an experimental aircraft and on the other, retain the rational presence pull his faculties back into sanity without losing control in the process.
MISTY was the callsign for the FACs who loitered their F-100Fs above the North Vietnam countryside spotting targets for the whip crack of an air strike. But while the air strike came and went, the MISTYs stuck around snooping out the next target. This nearly constant battle-field presence cost them; MISTY's suffered a stunning 23% loss rate.
I can only imagine that, 20 years later, while trying to tame his exhausted faculties, the Vietnam jungle reached out from beyond sanity and tempted him with doom. How & why he overcame the trouble is mine to discover because in a couple weeks, I get to spend more time with Dick. In fact, I'm taping him for my "Old Guys and Their Airplanes" project (yes, I'll post it). It'll be ready (probably) by the end of November.
I realize there are readers 'out there' that are like me and would really appreciate the chance to meet the man but the opportunity isn't likely to present itself. So. If you'd like to ask Dick Rutan a question, here's the next best thing: Email me (click here). If your question is chosen, you'll get a print showing both the 100 and the Voyager and I'll also ask Dick to sign it for you, too.
And, make it a good one, too. I suspect he likes challenges.
PS - get your question in before October 3, 2013.