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Brian's Song   ...by Rob 'Smokey' Ray

Friday, June 13th 2008 would have been my friend Brian Wolf's 39th birthday. I spent that day crossing the beautiful landscape of the USA traveling from Seattle to Lakeland, FL in his former RV4. Here is the story...


Brian's Song
 "Any Aircraft this is XXXX,we are Sprint I repeat Sprint!" We are in a compromised situation and are on the run, we need immediate air support now!" This was the terror-filled voice of a British Special Forces soldier when his team was compromised and overrun by Iraqi forces on a dark night in Northern Iraq, March 2003. "Copy that, we are inbound" was the reply by my two RV4 buddies and fellow F16 fighter pilots Ned "Mob" Linch and Brian "Wolfman" Wolf. During the ensuing battle in a dust storm with poor visibility, no horizon or ceiling and with troops on the run for their very lives, somehow "Wolfie" was able to thread a needle with a 500LB bomb. He dropped it precisely in the middle of the Iraqi troops, ending the Troops in Contact and helping the Special Forces soldiers regroup and re-attack. I was flying on the other side of Iraq that night, but heard much of the excitement on the guard frequency and Brian's calm voice calling "2's in hot" to save the day/night. His response when I asked him about it when we got home to Base-X was "I Did what I could for those guys, hope it helped!"  Brian would later earn several medals and the coveted "Semper Viper" award presented each year by Lockheed Martin for heroism under fire in an F16.

RV Dudes
  "I'm out like a Scout on a New Route" Brian exclaimed as he lowered the canopy of his RV4 and hit the starter. I too hit the starter as did my friend Ned "Mob" Linch as we were going to Oshkosh 2003 in our 3 RV4's! We were a rarity indeed, Fighter Pilots who owned personal airplanes, eleven in all and of one type: the RV4. Since I had the puny 150HP wood prop "girly man" RV4 and they had the 180HP constant speed propped "manly man" RV4's, I led the formation. The trip would cover the beautiful hills of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and finally into the Aviation world's greatest show on earth. For us, combat flying was only a few weeks behind us, our senses were sharp, wits keen and formation skills sharp as a razor. This seemed like a complete vacation flying around in skies void of hundreds of other aircraft, explosions, troops in contact and the occasional 100MM AAA flying by your canopy. The flight eventually went right over downtown Chicago and over the shore of Lake Michigan and finally into Fon Du Lac, "cake" as Brian would put it. The next day I briefed (standard, questions?) and led our three ship up initial on the warbird arrival, a fitting end to our journey of the most current Air Warriors at Oshkosh. We would later get together with two other squadron mates "Tater" Currenti and "Hollywood" Fowler for a discovery channel special on fighters, past and present. One of our Alabama ANG F16's was parked in the warbird area next to a P-51, flown there by Tater. I was completely amazed, people were actually asking us questions and Bud Anderson and many other famous vets talking to...us! Wow! Another day in the life for Brian Wolf...

 

Epilogue..going home
   Friday, June 13th 2008, Brian's 39th birthday...I place the FAA Bill Of Sale in my backpack in the baggage compartment, climb in and hit the starter. The Aerosport Power 0-360 barks to life as I plug in the "Target Coordinates" into the Garmin 295 and taxi out for takeoff from Thun field, Tacoma, WA. The clouds hang low as I blast off and head southeast for Florida, a huge portion of the USA in between myself and the target! I spy a large blue hole south of the airport and with a flick of the wrist I am above the clouds and there next to me Mt Ranier looms above the clouds, Cumulo Granite! I fly once around it taking photos and remembering how Brian used to shine this Art Chard-built beauty like a mirror. Now that it's painted, it seems almost "civilized" in comparison. All of the "sisters" are visible on this 100+ mile visibility morning, a great day for flying! The ground speed creeps over the 190 knot mark at 11,500' with a smart tailwind as the gorgeous Oregon landscape comes into view. Brian would be pleased.
    A forest fire in Northern CA with it's brown murky clouds is visible in the far distance and snow-capped mountains abound. What a contrast to it's new home near Orlando, FL! I am the ultimate delivery pilot, bringing a friend's RV4 back to southern skies on his birthday, marveling over vistas the pioneers spent months crossing only 100 years prior. It becomes increasingly clear what myself and many others have placed our lives on the line for so many times, the freedoms we enjoy every day.  Like my first F16 post-flight quote, "I can't believe they pay me for this" is holding true once again!
Brian would be pleased...

   With a pit stop ahead in Salem, OR to visit a buddy, I start my descent, waving a wing in salute as I pass over North Plains Oregon, the RV4 birthplace! I line up for initial on Salem's runway 30 for a left break and uneventful wheels landing. As I taxi in, I spot Mike beside his New Standard and like barnstormers before him he has grinning riders lined up for aerial adventures. The Oregon sky is clear, warm and simply glorious. I spy an RV8 parked in front of an open hangar and when I venture in and ask if anybody is home, a voice emerges from underneath an old VW. "Lauran Paine, nice to meet ya", one of my favorite aviation writers is an airport bum! In our brief visit I again learn why we all do this stuff, passion!
   The next day the journey continues, I stop at Parawan, UT, one of my favorite airports right in the middle of a mass gaggle glider launch for competition. As a former glider tow pilot, I can totally relate. One of the gliders about to launch has a distinctive two-letter tail identifier very familiar to me, "RV". Only one sailplane sports that one, Van himself, his name adorning the airport desk sign-in log. I proudly log the only RV aircraft on the same page and borrow the International Scout courtesy 4X4, keys in the standard location! Ahead lies some great Mexican Food for some extra rate of climb over the mountains... Brian would be pleased.
   I blast off from Parawan, clawing for altitude in the 100 degree air over circling sailplanes near the Cedar Breaks national monument with Bryce Canyon looming in the distance. In the sunlit silence of the RV4 time stands still as God's vast splendor slips beneath the wings at over three nautical miles an minute. In what seems seconds the Rockies loom large, pegging all the human sensor needles even further. Near Silverton CO, I spot a large herd of Elk grazing in a pasture above 10K. As I circle them they scatter and stampede towards lower ground near a tree line. I can't help but grin as I am reminded of a night in Iraq when one of our assets sent us out to look at a large group of "movers". When we arrived and put our targeting pods on the "movers" we spotted a large herd of sheep! When queried by the asset as to their ID, I replied on the UHF radio "friendly" while I am simultaneously hearing the VHF radio from my wingman going "BAAAA-BAAA" you had to be there...Brian would be pleased.
   After a few days doing real work in Dallas we finally brought Brian's RV4 into southern skies once again. Stopping at several old haunts the memories overflow. The route passes by our F16 gunnery range where Brian and I spent many nights practicing for our classified missions at Base-X. The gulf coast finally comes into view and later central Florida, clear skies across the entire USA, what are the odds?
   Despite this trip being labeled an aircraft delivery it seems too official a word. Translation: "Amazing aerial adventure crossing the greatest country on Earth followed by a triumphant low approach at the destination (target) and taxiing up to the new owner who is dazzled like a Christmas morning child with the loot before him".  The fact that the new owner had Wolfie's same initials and the N number would match was simply uncanny. Brian would be pleased...

Brian left us in November of 2006, the victim of an auto accident, but his legacy remains. Lest we forget...


Rob "Smokey" Ray