and was edited by Owen K. Garriott, Special to the News & Eagle
My contribution follows:
On a brilliant afternoon in May 1978, I strapped into a Northrop T-38 Talon and rocketed into the blue sky over Enid, easing effortlessly up through white cumulus clouds towering over emerald wheat fields 20,000 feet below. The approach controller watched the twisting blip of my Talon on his scope and radioed, “Must be some nice ‘puffies’ up there today!” He heard the laughter in my reply: “Roger that!”
Nineteen-year-old John Gillespie Magee Jr. wrote of a similar flight in 1941: “Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things on Earth you have not dreamed of…”
Surely my T-38 equaled his Spitfire in its capacity to delight a fledgling aviator.
Skylab 3 veteran Owen Garriott was a frequent visitor to my training field, Vance Air Force Base, located on the outskirts of Owen’s hometown of Enid. One frosty January weekend he dropped in for a quick family visit, parking his gleaming NASA “White Rocket” adjacent to our Air Force Talons.
Spotting the blue-trimmed T-38 on the Vance ramp, I laid a reverent, gloved hand on the immaculate jet. A friend’s snapshot captures my expression of admiration and hopeful envy.
I spent a year at Vance, pedaling my bicycle to the flight line through sun, thunderstorms and snow. On weekends I’d escape the tidy little base to visit Enid and enjoy the local restaurants with friends. The town welcomed our crowd of eager, exuberant young aviators-in-training — often a little too exuberant.
After flying the B-52 for the Air Force and completing graduate school, I returned in July 1990 to Enid with new friends, the 13th group of astronauts – the “Hairballs.” At Vance we were in the air again, lofted over the fields under a pickup-towed parasail, then descending to what we hoped would be a soft landing!
It was one of our first training exercises as a group; for us rookies, Enid was one of our first steppingstones to spaceflight.
My first two shuttle missions, aboard Endeavour, took me repeatedly over Oklahoma’s green wheat fields. From 110 miles up I would spot Great Salt Plains Lake, then look south to spy the long parallel runways at Vance.
Before our five-miles-a-second orbital speed carried me away, I returned briefly, via memory, to again soar and wheel over Enid, the place where my dreams of aviation and space truly took flight. When next I touch down there, I’ll breathe in the air of the plains and relax, knowing I’m again among friends.