Veteran Salute: Always thinking 6 miles ahead of the aircraft

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Wichita East graduate went on to K-State and joined the ROTC program.

When Woody Swain headed to pilot training, he said peace talks were happening, but the Vietnam war was still on.

Swain says during his service he fell into the right place at the right time.

He encourages others to join the military, since he said it gives you a good feeling, and it’s also a great way to gain new skills.

The skills Swain gained, took him to new heights.

“There’s my name,” Air Force Pilot Lt. Woody Swain said.

Swain is proud of his model of the F-4 phantom.

He said Phillipinos were very talented at carving and made the aircraft model, off base.

Thanks to his skills and smarts, he got to choose what he described as what was the leading fighter aircraft in the Air Force, at the time.

“Bomber, air-to-air fighter, nuclear delivery, so it was a fun airplane to fly,” Swain said.

He spent most of his time flying at great speeds.

“Speed is really relative to things that are close to you,” Swain said.

He said they would typically fly 350-500 mph, but the plane could take it up to 1500!

“One of the first things they told you was you need to be thinking about six miles ahead of the aircraft,” Swain said.

He said pilots have a very special relationship with their Weapons System Operators, also known as the Guys in Back, or GIBs.

“You relied on them a lot to get you out of bad situations, or get you into good situations,” Swain said.

He said the crews were serving at a time of peace, but they were always on alert.

“If the U.S. decides they want you to deploy somewhere, or do some kind of combat mission, you are ready,” Swain said.

He said the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron was constantly training for special missions in Thailand.

He said they called themselves the “black widows.”

“Being able to fly a high-performance aircraft, and do a lot of neat stuff with it, that in and of itself would be the highlight,” Swain said.

He also served in the Philippines.

“They had a small tech squadron, called the first test squadron,” Swain said.

He said he enjoyed his time training the next generation of combat air crews.

“They would train air crews in firing radar and heat seeking missiles, at drones, was part of the training,” Swain said.

The pilot said they would fly chase to ensure the missions were safe.

“It’s going fast, and things happen fast, so you’ve got to think ahead and try to anticipate things,” Swain said.

He said that was especially the case as they as they gained certain skills.

“One of the things you had to learn to do was to air-to-air refuel,” Swain said.

He said they had to fly steady so the tanker could make contact and drop fuel.

“When you did it for the first time, it was pretty nerve wracking,” Swain said.

He said eventually they got used to refueling, while flying 350 mph, in an F-4.

“It was kind of a mainstay fighter throughout the world,” Swain said.

Swain earned the Commanders Trophy for being very talented in the cockpit of the fighter, as well as in academics.

He was the top of his class, in both.

“It’s been over 40 years ago,” Swain said.

He said he still gets together with his classmates, who became lifelong friends.

“This was the F-4 training squadron,” Swain said.

At one reunion Swain even posed with the aircraft he once flew.

Swain got out of the military in 1978 and said at the time, it was tough to find a job as a commercial pilot.

He became an engineer with the flight test section at McDonnell Douglas, the same company that developed the F-4.

He said about six months into that job, his alma mater K-State told him about a job with Koch Industries.

He worked for the company for 36 years.


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