Logbook Stories

from my "Standard Pilot Master Log"


Was I Intercepted by Phantoms?

June 5, 1975

The flight school at which I did my professional pilot training was noted for being "fiscally conservative". So why have a local paint shop repaint a Cessna 150 training aircraft when a shop in Pecos, Texas would do it for less? And why send an employee down to Pecos to pick it up and fly it back when a commercial course student needed some solo cross-country flight time? They chose me to "kill two birds" with one flight. Get the airplane back to home base and bill the student for the flight time. Which actually was a good thing for me. Why fly around to boring high plains airports you've already been to when you can fly a long cross country across parts of the map you've never overflown before, and takeoff and land at airports you've never been to before? A much more interesting challenge!!

So they sent me down on the airlines, and the paint shop people picked me up and delivered me to my motel for the night. Colorado might be dry country, but Southwest Texas is another whole story. Sand everywhere. The next day, the paint shop rolled out the newly-repainted C-150, I checked my weather, finalized my flight planning, preflighted the airplane, and filed my VFR flight plan. Then departed Pecos for my first fuel stop at Clovis, New Mexico. Flying across Texas, New Mexico, Texas again, and a little slice of the Oklahoma panhandle brought me over my destination state of Colorado. My course to home base took me east of Colorado Springs and just a little bit east of the Air Force Academy campus.

Looking out the left-hand cockpit window gave me a grand view of the Academy from 10,500 feet. Maybe I spent a little too much time looking out that window. Finally, just to quickly scan for traffic, I glanced out the right-hand window. To behold two F-4 Phantoms, in echelon formation, slowly passing me by off my right about two hundred feet below and maybe a thousand feet, or less, laterally to my right. Now, a Cessna 150's cruise speed is already slower than an F-4 Phantom can fly without falling out of the sky, so I'm pretty sure this was intentional, not happenstance. They just don't fly around willy nilly at just above stalling speed with flaps down unless they're doing it on purpose.

Yes, there's all kinds of military airspace over Texas and Colorado, and part of my preflight briefing involved finding out if any of the airspace I was going to fly through was "hot" or restricted in any way to VFR traffic. I wasn't flying through any restricted airspace, to the best of my knowledge. Which leaves me wondering - to this day - were these guys dispatched to check me out because I was flying near airspace over the Air Force Academy? Or maybe they were already on a training mission and just vectored over to check me out? Maybe to do a practice intercept? Pretty easy target, if so. They passed me by on the right, accelerated and disappeared into the distance. The moment was over, and I never heard anything at all about it. I wasn't on flight-following and I wasn't talking to ATC. It remains a mystery.



References for Non-Pilots: