Fighter Pilot Lessons for Life: No Touch Touch However Slight
No Touch Touch However Slight
The ready room brief covered the ROEs--Rules Of Engagement. Pilots needed the rules and expectations for any hop to take away unpredictability so they could come back in their plane and without looking bad at the field. The rules were like a good wingman, the rules helped the pilot know ahead of time what the other aviator would do in any given situation.
One of the rules for pilots was ‘right to right’--in any potential nose to nose collision, each plane was to turn right, veering away from disaster. Jet fighters went very fast. How fast? Well, if an aviator told you the maximum speed, he’d have to kill you. However, fighters routinely flew toward each other at one thousand knots--1150 mph--of closure. Without prior discussion, a pilot had a fifty-fifty chance of turning the wrong way in a head-on confrontation. Bad odds for planes. Worse for aviators.
Another rule came about as a result of one aviator’s excellence at finding the bogey. Randy Brinkey out of Beaufort, South Carolina on an ACM--air combat maneuver--centered the radar dot within a mile of the intercept, pointing his plane at the same piece of sky as the bogey and maintaining the collision bearing. A mile at a thousand to twelve hundred knots of closure left little time to avoid a midair collision. The pilot found the bogey all right--very quickly and close enough to touch. Oops! One imperative in ACM and formation flying: ‘no touch touch--however slight’. It takes very little contact to make parts of planes fall off--often with catastrophic results. The F-16 lost most of a wing, the pilot ejecting safely. The F-4 ended up damaged, but flyable. The result? A new ROE that forbade centering the dot within a mile of the opponent.
My husband Andy and I argue. We yell. We slam doors and fume. We argue about doing the chores; about who gets to watch what on TV and when--in fact we used to argue about who got to hold the TV control until we got two controls; we argue about having company over or whether we will go to somebody's house for the Super Bowl. What we don't argue about are important things. I never say anything that belittles him, he never brings up my worst fears and pokes at them. I know he worries about being old. I love his greying hair. He knows I worry about my looks, my weight. He tells me I'm beautiful and sexy. I tell him how lucky I am to have him in my life. He tells me I'm the best thing that ever happened to him. And we mean it.
A couple we knew would get angry about the same kinds of things Andy and I get mad about, but their arguments would escalate to her telling him how stupid he was and how he didn't even know how to use proper English (she had a college degree, he was a farm boy with a GED), he would tell her he regretted ever marrying her because she was a "witch with a b" and he wanted a divorce. He'd say she was a sack of nothing in bed. She'd call his manhood into question. You get the idea. They are no longer married.
Next time you are walking straight toward someone at the grocery aisle--go right. In arguments with people you care about, avoid centering the dot on their vulnerabilities. There are places you shouldn’t go when arguing with a spouse, a friend, a business partner--if it is tender, don’t touch. Some touches can’t be taken back--they break off the wingman’s wing and they crash and burn. Sometimes the touch-touch breaks off a control surface on your own aircraft.
Author of Wing Wife: How To Be Married To a Marine Fighter Pilot