Sunday, March 11, 2012

In Memorandum

Carroll LeFon
Captain, USN (Ret.)
"Neptunus Lex"

I am still forward deployed to the CZ (another week on this tours of almost 4) so I am coming to this party a little late. But I am just as shocked and dismayed as any who have come before me.

The internet being instantaneous for all practical purposes that including here in the CZ, but my bandwidth being very slow much more like the old 9600 baud days. Strangely, I did see a note about this pretty early on and I did recognize “Whispers” posting on Lex’s site as that of a message that someone had passed on. The” Missing Man” formation being very familiar to anyone working in the Aero-plane business and especially for one as long as I. But while it registered it did not sink in that it was Lex.

Not until I saw one of the eulogy postings did it hit me. Then I was flooded with them, nearly every place I went had a message of condolence a message of how Lex touched them. I have spent a lot of my down time reading comments on that Whisper post. Shaking my head in disbelief that Lex was and truly gone. Taken from us by too many snakes to wrestle in that wee bit of a cockpit.

Like so many others he was my inspiration for blogging as well. And like so many others he mentored me, answering questions and giving me advice from time to time. Never via a comment, always via personal touch with an email.

It is a wonder he found time to write for his own blog he was so busy helping so many fledgling bloggers. His true legacy in the ether that is the Internet is all the many hundreds of voices he helped shape.

I am proud to say that I am Lex.

In the Aviation business there is always this outcome. I have seen it many times before. Even when you don’t know the man or men in person, you know the circumstance. And always in the back of your mind it the idea that it could happen right here, right now and take you.

As an avionics technician and final checker I was many times the final arbitrator of who went flying and who did not. The simple gesture of the outstretched fist with the thump pointing one way or the other either dispatched the aircraft and all the souls onboard into the heavens or kept them there in person, another jet for them on this event or the next. It always weighed on me the fact that one thing out of place out of the millions on the Jet and the millions on the ship end, and well that is why the “Missing Man” formation is so recognizable to a career aviator. Especially the ground pounding ones, when an aircraft never returns well, that is why it is called “Missing Man”.

Aviation is a cruel mistress, sucking you in with tiny installments of almost indescribable pleasure. For years and years she Woo’s you. You taste disaster only on the edges and soon you are so hooked it is your life she wants in return. If you stay long enough, teasing one more sortie, one more cycle, one more journey to the heavens. And then she wants it all back at once. Payment in full.

We may never know what really happened in the end there at Fallon. I keep going to Lex’s place expecting that post from the other side telling in his poetic way the magic of that last flight. How the 0-dark thirty brief while mundane was necessary, how the cold morning affected A404 and how he coached her out of her chocks and up into the surely bounds of earth.

Up and away into the heavens. For surely he would return if he was every really ours for the keeping.

Rest In Peace Skipper.

BT: Jimmy T sends.


Quartermaster said...

I found out the morning after. I went to the Castle to read Day by Day and Armorers headlines, and saw his first, which raised questions, then clicked over to Lex's, saw Whisper's, and saw nothing that answered the question for sure (in denial, I guess). Then I opened my email to find something from Bill Tuttle, who is over in Afghanistan and got the news before I did. During all this, my stomach was sinking, and Bill's email punched me in the gut.

I was staying home because I didn't feel well and didn't get back to bed that day. I had to try to figure out what happened. I swapped emails with several guys who have experience with Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) controllers and precision approach radars (Fallon does not have an ILS or localizer system).

Given the problems Lex had at Mugu and Fallon, it looks like GCA overcorrected (they had him overshooting consistently) and instead of putting him down on 31L, they put him down on the taxiway. It still looks like they had him landing long, which didn't leave him enough time to save himself when he realized he was on the taxiway rather than 31L. The drogue chute either hung up, or didn't have enough time to deploy because he pulled the chord to late.

It looks like he set the tires on fire trying to stop and bled off enough energy to prevent a rupture of the fuel tanks, but not enough to save his life.

Death follows hard on military aviation. Waiting for what seems like a minor screw up. All too often what looks like a minor screw up is actually screwing the pooch. In this case, it look the bear got GCA, but Lex paid the bill.

This is not saying GCA is a bunch of evil incompetents. Naval and Air Force aircraft differ in landing performance. The Kfir approaches at about 200 knots, as compared to about 150 for Hornet. That is a large difference, but an important one when you are approach to a carrier landing. Or a GCA approach. GCA had consistent problems with overshooting and landing long with the Kfir.

I met Lex in San Dog back in July, and was looking forward to seeing him again, and meeting the Hobbit and SNo if he to to North Island like he wanted. Alas.

There will be a Lexicon in July when I'm out there, but it will just memories with others of the Lexosphere.

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