Lt. Col. Wendell "Smokey" Bauman


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Lt.Col. Bauman is about to finish out his career. He will probably not get to fly the Viper again unfortunately. He enjoyed it immensely, but did not make Colonel this year [1998]. His primary zone will be trying to go to Eglin for final tour. He was commissioned in 1975, went immediately to UPT at Laughlin AFB, TX and then was a FAIP there until 1980. "Smokey" was one of the first ATC instructors to be selected to go to the F-16 and initially flew the jet at MacDill AFB, FL in the 61st squadron, block 5's. General Ryan (then Lt Col Ryan flew in the pit on his second or third ride) was the squadron commander, and a famous Vietnam fighter pilot - Maj Roger Locher was his instructor. How long have you been flying the Viper?

Lt.Col. Bauman: I began flying the Viper in September 1980 and took my last flight in July 1993. I had a one year break from June '87 to Jul '88 to attend Army Command and General Staff College. How many flying hours have you accumulated total, how many in the Viper?

Lt.Col. Bauman: Total hours is somewhere about 3500 and 2003 in the F-16. What was your most spectacular Air-to-Ground run?

Lt.Col. Bauman: Dropping CBU against AAA sites in Iraq during the war in '91. We went against a target north of Baghdad which had not been struck previously. It was my first combat mission and I remember in the bright sunlight, the AAA muzzle flashes looked like sunlight reflecting off car windshields, the buzz of the radar was loud in the headsets and as I pulled off and jinked out, I remember seeing the AAA white bursts above and behind me. There were 20 other aircraft in the package and it was interesting to watch the Mk-84's detonating just as briefed all over the complex. What assignment did you like best in your career and why?

Lt.Col. Bauman: 19th TFS Gamecocks at Shaw AFB, SC from Jul '83 to Jun '87. It was in the very heart of my career and I attended the weapons school from there. I enjoyed being the weapons officer for the 19th more than any other job I ever had. Additionally, even though I did not volunteer, I was selected to be a demonstration pilot and did the east coast F-16 demo for two years. It was really a rewarding time, especially seeing the motivation of the kids who got to see the demo. Do you remember any specific jet number of a Viper that you really liked?

Lt.Col. Bauman: block 10 tail #79405 - it was the first one with my name on the canopy rail - every fighter pilot remembers his first. Maybe you can tell our readers more about your flying assignments, the squadron, the mission, the theater you were flying in, the people...anyone you'd like to greet...?

Lt.Col. Bauman: The assignments I had in the F-16 were as follows:

  • Aug '80 to Jan '81: 61st TFTS, MacDill AFB, FL
  • Feb '81 to Jun '82: 429th TFS, Nellis AFB, NV
  • Jul'82 to Jul '83: 35th TFS, Kunsan AB, ROK
  • Jul '83 to Jun '87: 19th TFS, Shaw AFB, SC
  • Jul '88 to Jul '90: 85th TES, Tyndall AFB, FL
  • Aug '90 to Jul '93: 39th Wing, Incirlik AB, TU What was your most scarey experience in the Viper, what the most glorious mission?

Lt.Col. Bauman: The scariest moment came during an egress from a target in Northern Iraq. I was in a large package dropping on 3 targets in a line east/west about 5-6 miles apart. The mission was briefed as simultaneous deliveries on all three targets with no reattack option. I was on the easternmost target and we delivered on radar due to weather in the target area. The flight on the middle target decided to do an unbriefed reattack because they felt they could see the target through a hole in the clouds. As I heard their call, I began looking for the flight because they were turning in our direction (I was no. 4 in this flight) and I knew the targets were about 1 turn diameter apart. I saw 2 aircraft coming off the target and could not find the other two. About the time I realized I was seeing their second element, I looked up and there was the lead aircraft about 5000 feet on my nose. I was supersonic at that point an he was close to the mach, so our closure was above 2000 feet per second. Fortunately, there was not time to react because he passed directly over my head so close I could hear his engine noise inside my cockpit. I would estimate that parts of our aircraft were less than 12 inches apart - he still had a full load of M-82's on board. It was so close, I had my element lead come look at my aircraft to ensure I had all the vertical tail and to ensure I did not need to tell the other aircraft to check is ECM pod. I hands shook for about 15 minutes after, fortunately, it was more than an hour home. Once we landed, I made the crew chief get a ladder and check the tail, I still was not convinced we had not hit a little bit. So, the lessons of peace stay applicable, it ain't briefed, then don't do it - it would have been an ignominious way to die after getting to the target.

The second scariest moment came in an airshow at Cape Cod, Mass (1985). During one of the reposition maneuvers, the maplight came loose in the cockpit and was banging the canopy and my head. In the distraction of trying to capture the light and get it put away, I passed one of my checkpoints (2500' and vertical down) to initiate recovery to the show line. When I looked, I was already at 1800', 450KIAS, 90 degrees down and accelerating. A max pullout at 9G's recovered the aircraft below 100'. I remember watching the trees rushing at me and thinking it was not going to be a very good ending to the airshow - might even ruin the entire weekend for a lot of folks to see a fireball. When I recovered, I just continued the airshow as if nothing had happened - the only person to ever comment was my crew chief, now retired MSgt Roy Pleasant, who later spent a full tour crew chiefing for the Thunderbirds. What story is behind your callsign "Smokey"?

Lt.Col. Bauman: Nothing romantic, just an unhealthy habit of always having a cigarette in hand - a habit I kicked at the start of my Demo Pilot days to keep from influencing the kids. How important do you consider the family in the Air Force career?

Lt.Col. Bauman: Without the family, there is no career. My wife is my greatest asset and the success I had without getting a masters degree I would attribute to her completely. She put up with long hours, constant moves, uncertainty about what I was doing, and the fear when a fatality came in any of the units until she could be certain it was not me. What do you do now, how do you like Germany?

Lt.Col. Bauman: I am Chief, Senior Officer Management. I make the colonel assignments and manage the colonel to brig.Gen. promotion process for the USAFE and NATO management levels. Do you fly as well in your leisure time or did you ever?

Lt.Col. Bauman: I have a commercial license, but have not flown in my leisure time much, primarily due to cost and an assortment of other interests. I ride bicycles obsessively, play golf obsessively, scuba dive, fish obsessively, and while here in Germany, Volksmarch obsessively. This does not leave much time for other interests. For example, this past Saturday, my wife, Barbara, and I did a Volksmarch with my wife and dogs and got home about 10:00. We then prepped our bicycles and went for a 50 mile ride down to the French border and back. On Sunday, I went out with some other members of the 'Kaiserslautern Radsport Club' and rode a fast 70 miles. My biggest regret was the days were too short to play golf in addition. So, as you can see, there is just not time to do everything for me. What advice can you give to readers that would like to fly the Viper?

Lt.Col. Bauman: NEVER give up you dreams!!! Someone has to do it and it might as well be you as long as the physical qualifications are there. What would you tell someone who wanted to join the USAF?

Lt.Col. Bauman: The same thing I told my daughter when she wanted to enlist - it is an honorable profession and to earn a living while helping our country, it just doesn't get any better! Thank you for the interview!

- Lt.Col. Bauman was interviewed online by Martin Agüera -

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