"Colonel Arriaga and Iberian Air"
Category: "Air Force"
When I was stationed with NATO at Ramstein Air Base near Kaiserslautern, Germany, T-33s, a small, two seated tandem jet trainer was available for jet fighter qualified pilots to fly in order to maintain proficiency. We could go anywhere in Western Europe that had 5,000 feet of runway, jet fuel, low pressure oxygen and was an airdrome of entry [had customs].
My favorite person with which to fly was Colonel Seb Arriaga. Col. Arriaga and I both spent a lot of time in Boise, Idaho, so we got along famously. Especially since bases would roll out the red carpet for full colonels - and Canadians, who closed their bases on the weekend, would open them for a full colonel coming in.
Col. Arriaga and I had taken off from Torrejon Air Base, near Madrid, Spain and flew down to Moron, Spain to shoot some approaches. It was raining and the final approach controller would lose us on short final. Immediately after losing us, the runway would appear out of the murk and had we not already pushed up the power, we could have landed. This happened several times – until we saw by the fuel gauge, we were getting pretty low on gas.
We headed back to Torrejon and the Air Traffic Flight Controller had us level, in the clouds, at 25,000 feet. I was in the front seat, working the E-6B computer and figured out we had just enough fuel not to make Torrejon. I took control of the airplane, pushed up the power and started to climb as jets burn less fuel at higher altitudes. I said, “Colonel, we're not going to make it, I'm climbing to 35,000 feet.”
Colonel Arriaga took back the controls, pushed the nosed over and said, “no Les, they have us here for some reason.” Just then, directly above us, a red, white and black Iberian Airlines 707 roared just over our heads in the opposite direction.
“Holy shit!! I screamed, how did we miss him?”
“Miss who?” Asked Colonel Arriaga.
“Cleared to flight level 350 [35,000 feet]” said the traffic controller.
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