F-16.net: Please give us an overview of your military career and tell the readers a little about yourself? Do you have any hobbies?
Andy: I went to college intending to follow on with medical school. While there I learned about the Air National Guard - what a discovery that was! I ended college applying to both medical schools and Guard F-16 units in Texas and Colorado. I got accepted to medical school - but kept applying to the Texas units and was finally offered an opportunity my senior year. I finished medical school and started out as green as they come heading into AMS (the Academy of Military Sciences), officer training for the Guard. I went through the standard UPT, IFF, and RTU training, finished my seasoning days at my home unit, and as of 3 months ago became a "Traditional Guardsman". My full-time job now is going through the Internal / Aerospace Medicine residency program at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
In my "free time" I enjoy things like renovating an old Victorian house, SCUBA, snow skiing, fishing, computer graphics and design, and a host of other activities.
F-16.net: What is your call sign and how did you get it?
Andy: From the day I started applying everyone knew they would call me "Doc". Despite the numerous naming ceremonies at different bases where some more "creative" names have been bestowed upon me, everyone still called me "Doc". That became my official callsign after I finished my Mission Qualification training.
F-16.net: How many hours do you have in the F-16?
Andy: Just over 400 - I'm fresh out of the hatchery!
F-16.net: How long did you sign up for with the ANG?
Andy: I signed a 7 year contract (to be part time) which was sneakily changed to 10 years and then reverted back to 7.
F-16.net: What do you look forward to in your F-16 career and what helped you make that decision to sign on?
Andy: I said to myself, "Self, let me get this straight... I can be a private physician full time AND get paid to fly the F-16 'on the weekends'"... and that was pretty much the extent of the conversation. Once I confirmed that was really the case I signed up without a second thought. I'm now looking to integrate medicine and being a fighter pilot. The Active Duty Air Force has a "Pilot/Physician Program", but the Guard has no such animal. I am currently involved in the development of a similar program that would benefit all of the Guard units that have pilots who are also physicians. Ultimately I would like to be involved with space flight and getting the general public into space. I'm hoping the private space sector will "take off" in the coming years!
F-16.net: What do you like about the F-16?
Andy: Oh, there's so much to love about the Viper! But simplest of all, it's a damned good-looking airplane. Normally one can't judge a book by it's cover - but the Viper is an awesome machine wrapped up in a sleek, stylish, package (STS).
F-16.net: How would you improve the F-16?
Andy: I would retrofit them all with the big-lip intakes and give them the engines they deserve. An underpowered F-16 is a sad and discouraging thing!
F-16.net: You have actually survived an ejection, tell us about that mishap?
Andy: In a nutshell, I was number 2 (F-16C #84-1303) in a six-ship air-to-ground training sortie; Our plan was to start up at 15,000', accelerate and drop down to 1000' for our run-in, pop up to drop our bombs (simulated), and then run out low again. We had just started ramping down towards the deck when I heard a loud "bang" followed by a deafening silence. Seconds later every bell, whistle, light, and alarm went off as I saw fire and engine failure indications. I made a mayday call to which no. 3 asked if my afterburner was lit. Responding that it definitely was not lit started the "Two, your jet is on fire! I repeat you are ON FIRE right now!" I shut the engine down (it shut itself down) and started looking for places to land, but there were none. I milked the jet for 2 minutes while the engine continued to burn until there was no longer any option but the silk elevator. I ejected and opened my eyes to see my plane, in flames, flying off without me. Thirty-eight seconds later it burst into a fireball a few miles away. I ended up being on the ground less than 10 minutes before an Army Evac helicopter (they were awaiting takeoff clearance for a training mission when they got the actual "pilot down" call) picked me up. A couple of bruises were the extent of my injury. It turns out that the engine threw a fan blade which tore through the engine housing, ripped through a main fuel tank, and shot out the top of the airplane. Fuel then poored into the engine and there was no way to extinguish the fire. I have the ejection seat as a reminder to that harrowing day!
F-16.net: What was that first flight like after the ejection returning to flight status?
Andy: I tried not to give it much though, convincing myself that it was just another sortie. I was only out of the plane for about 12 days so I wasn't feeling too rusty. I did jump in the simulator and fly around a couple of days prior - even to the point of recreating the incident to 'relive' what had happened at a pace when I could stop and think about it. Honestly though, climbing up the ladder and into the cockpit on that first flight back was a little bit unnerving... but as soon as I started the engine it was business as usual and the mission went off without a hitch. I never gave it a second thought.
F-16.net: What did you think of the official report on the mishap that you were involved with? How did it compare with your experience of the accident?
Andy: The biggest surprise was how long I stayed with a doomed jet before ejecting: over 2 minutes! I had learned about time compression, and listening to the tapes makes everything sound about right, but 2 minutes in a burning jet?!?! The rest of the report was relatively accurate. There were a couple of "hand-slappers" given to me in the report about how I should have done this or that, but it's easy to consider sitting at a desk (especially from non-pilots) thinking about everything, not in the jet that is falling out of the sky. Overall the case was pretty black and white and it was reported almost exactly as I remember it. Listening to the tapes after the fact only supported my recollection of the events.
F-16.net: What have you done with your ejection seat?
Andy: I purchased a cloth mannequin on eBay and donned him in all the clothing and equipment I was wearing that day (flight suit, helmet, harness, g-suit and all). The seat now sits in my corner of the living room where my flying pictures/diplomas hang holding "Rader" the mannequin. On occasion I kick him out and take the throne for myself. My intentions are to completely refurbish it with a "rocking" base so that I can kick back with a cold brew and appreciate being alive.
F-16.net: What exercises have you participated in (ie Red Flag) and how does that impact your training?
Andy: When I first got to my unit I was denied my first Red Flag in place of staying home sitting Alert so that the other pilots could go. Most recently we deployed to Cope Thunder in Alaska... we now refer to it with such affectionate names as "Cope Blunder" and "Smoke Thunder". Ninety percent of the exercise was cancelled due to ridiculous amounts of smoke from all the burning forest fires there right now. It was quite a disappointment for us all.
F-16.net: Is there a particular mission profile that you prefer?
Andy: I really like the spontaneous missions... the CAS (Close Air Support) and TST (Time Sensitive Targeting). It adds an element of complexity to walk out the door not knowing what your target is, where it is, what the environment is around the area, or if you'll even be called in. I'm a huge fan of the Targeting Pod and missions employing it. I also enjoy the SADL/LINK equipment and working on a network with others.
F-16.net: Does your medical background help your work in the military?
Andy: In an "unofficial" capacity right now it helps around the squadron. My medical side is being developed with the Guard, but technically I'm "just a pilot". I'm working with the Guard to investigate development of a pilot/physician program for the Guard (similar to that run in the Active Duty); it turns out there are many pilots who are physicians and the other way around.
F-16.net: Other than the F-16, what aircraft have you flown? And how does the Viper compare?
Andy: In the civilian world I've flown small Cesna's (172 & 182's). That's just a different kind of flying; not really comparable to flying a fighter jet. During UPT I went through the T-37 Tweet and the T-38 Talon. The T-37 is a great aerobatic plane; much better than the Viper. The T-38 is a graet plane, just underpowered. And you really can't compare any of those to the Viper... it's just pure pleasure to fly such an incredible machine.
F-16.net: Is there another military aircraft you would like to fly?
Andy: I would like to fly in ANY military aircraft... each has its own character and lessons to teach; even the 'retired' planes. Probably I won't transition over to a same-generation aircraft, but if I'm lucky I'll find myself in the cockpit of the JSF or F-22 in the future. I would be lucky though to get the opportunity to fly any other aircraft IN ADDITION to the F-16. There's none yet that I would trade for the Viper though.
F-16.net: Is there any particular F-16 tail number(s) to which you are fond?
Andy: 84-1226. We put the last 3 numbers on our tails at my unit. My birthday is February 26th. That's my only connection right now.
F-16.net: What is the best/worst practical joke you played on a victim(s)?
Andy: One of the pilots in our squadron "on loan" from the air force and arrived with the call sign "Stroker", but was renamed something a bit "cooler" while he was here with us. After an 8-hour flight returning from across the pond, while sitting on the ramp waiting to shut down, he accidentally fired his EPU trapping everyone in their jets until the emergency response team could arrive. That next week my buddies and I "burrowed" his name tag, hopped in the simulator with a video camera, and "re-created" the events that lead him to inadvertently flip his EPU switch. Let's just say that his previous call sign of "Stroker" was resurrected after some digital remastering and sound editing.
F-16.net: What advice would you give future pilots?
Andy: Don't lose sight that you're living the dreams of many less-fortunate individuals who will never have such an opportunity; so appreciate what you are doing and share it with others when you can.
F-16.net: Thank you for the interview!
- Capt. Andy Davenport was interviewed online by Jon Somerville in July of 2004 -