The Old Red Truck

After I left the Chicago I was stationed at the Naval Air Station, Pt. Mugu. I worked in the Air Traffic Control Facility maintaining RADAR and communications systems, as well as the antique ATC computers. It’s one of the reasons I am terrified to fly commercial airlines!

But anyway, on to my seastory.

Point Mugu was an interesting base. We were part of the Pacific Missile Test Range, where weapons systems were fitted and tested on new aircraft. So we always were the first to receive the newest of the new. The very first F/A-18 Hornets were on base for testing, doing touch-and-go’s and other airplane testing things... We also had, believe it or not, a collection of F-86 Saber Jets! These were painted orange and flown by remote control as TARGETS for missile tests. And we had C-130 cargo planes coming and going back and forth to Antarctica, since we were involved with supporting McMurdo and operation deep-freeze. Then there were helicopters flying around picking up the splash-downed missile targets, and the test missiles themselves being fired, both from aircraft and from ground based launchers... It was a busy place!

ET2 Dave Bowman was an odd duck, to say the least. He drove an old old (like, 1950’s vintage) pickup truck that he one day planned to restore but at present was just an old old old truck. Dave had a girlfriend whom he would pick up from work after hours on his way home in his old old old red and primer gray pickup truck.

We worked out of an office and ET shop in a building at the base of the control tower, located, of course, next to the tarmac at the edge of the airfield. To get to the air traffic control facility you would drive in the main gate into the "center" of the base, where the exchange and housing was located, then sort of double back around the end of the runways and over to the "business end" of the base.

I lived on base and usually rode my bicycle to work. One day I rode into the parking lot and noticed that Dave’s distinctive truck was just leaving! Well that concerned me, since Dave and I were scheduled to do some RADAR maintenance work that morning. I went inside to find Dave waiting for me. I didn’t think much about his truck driving away after that. We did our scheduled work, and after lunch I got busy doing something else... Well, right around 1700, just as I was getting ready to leave, I heard this absolutely frantic air traffic controller yelling into the PA system. "Petty Officer Bowman, call the control tower, IMMEDIATELY!!" Bowman, I noticed was standing by the main door to the ATCF lobby looking up the road, apparently waiting for his ride. Dave, like most other ET’s at the facility was used to hearing controllers yelling and screaming. We never let it bother us, controllers being on the excitable side by their nature. Anyway, I watched Dave amble over to a telephone to call the tower. He was in no particular rush, since he could see that his red truck was nowhere in sight. So we were both rather surprised to see Dave’s girlfriend and his distinctive truck pull up in front of the door just a few moments later. And oddly enough she was turned around and facing the exit! Now how did she do that??? Then it dawned on us. The truck appearing out of nowhere, frantic controllers in the tower—She drove across the runway!!! It seems Dave’s girlfriend got a bit turned around driving on base, but she knew that her boyfriend worked in the building under that tall tower, so she looked for it, and then just drove across that big wide road to get to it. What was all the excitement about???

To hear the controllers talk about it, she skirted death by the slimmest of margins. They say there were aircraft backed up for ten miles lined up to land after a busy day at a busy base. Apparently some F-18 on final had to "go around" due to the ratty old red pick-up truck crossing the active runway. Pilots (another one of those excitable people) seem to get upset about things like that. Dave’s girlfriend just never got what all the excitement was about. She said she was "real careful to look both ways" before she crossed that wide road. Dave got a lecture from the Commander, but really, what could anyone do? Dave promised never to let the girl drive his truck on base again, and that was that.

Joe DiPietro

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