Mayor David Lansford, right, smiles toward friends and family who were on hand to watch his F-16 orientation flight, as he waits for Yates to make final preparations before taxiing for takeoff Tuesday at Cannon Air Force Base. CNJ photo: Eric Kluth.
By Darrell Todd Maurina
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — As Clovis Mayor David Lansford pulled on a borrowed flight suit Tuesday morning to prepare for a special orientation flight with base commander Col. Robert Yates, he couldn’t conceal his feelings.
“I’m having trouble wiping the smile off my face,” Lansford said as he walked down the halls of the building housing the 523rd Fighter Squadron.
The Air Force gives orientation flights periodically to civilians to help them better understand the work of the Air Force, and one of Yates’ last acts before leaving Cannon on Friday was to select Lansford for an orientation flight.
After receiving a medical checkup and a pre-flight briefing, Lansford headed outside with his family where Air Force public relations staff took photos of the mayor and Yates standing in front of an F-16 fighter jet.
Capt. Dan Javorsek, a pilot in the 523rd Fighter Squadron, explained the workings of the F-16 to Lansford’s wife and children. Javorsek pointed out the plane’s guns, which are designed to shoot down other aircraft, and a series of six small bomblets under the plane’s wing, which Yates and Lansford planned to drop over the Melrose Bombing Range.
“He’s got six BDU-33s, these little 25-pound bombs that send a 25-foot puff of phosphorus smoke up so you can see where they landed,” Javorsek said.
Yates and Lansford didn’t get the chance to fly in that plane, however. During a routine check of the equipment, Yates discovered a problem in the plane’s hydraulic systems.
Yates and Lansford climbed out of the cockpit and walked to a second backup plane, but Yates found a problem with that plane as well.
Finally Yates checked a plane in a different squadron and found it was in proper working order — though it wasn’t equipped with the BDU-33 bombs and therefore couldn’t demonstrate a bombing run to Lansford.
Another pilot in the squadron, Capt. Brian Healy, told Lansford’s family the third plane had different capabilities.
“This one is designed to do a slightly different mission — night strikes and all that,” Healy said. “It’s got some different beeps and squeaks on it that make it better to fly at night.”
After waiting in line on the runway for his takeoff time, Yates moved a few controls and within seconds — 27, to be precise — he and Lansford climbed more than two miles straight up, finally rolling out of the ascent far above the Earth’s surface.
Two hours later, the colonel and his passenger were back on the ground showing cockpit videos to Lansford’s family.
“We went all the way out to Encino and Yeso; we did some acrobatics over Fort Sumner and some simulated combat runs,” Yates said. “It was a pleasure taking you up today — I hope you gained a new appreciation for the work of the United States Air Force and, most of all, that you had some fun.”
Other locations visited included Ragland, the Caprock, Santa Rosa and Sumner Lake. Yates said with the drought conditions, he could point out to his passenger how much water had been lost to the Santa Rosa and Sumner Lake areas.
While Lansford admitted to some queasiness while contemplating the prospect of aerial acrobatics, he said he enjoyed the ride.
“Probably about one in every 100,000 people in America gets this opportunity,” Lansford said. “We in Clovis really appreciate Cannon, and this helps me understand more about what Cannon does.”
Other city and community officials said they appreciated watching, even if they had to stay on the ground.
“It was awesome to watch all those planes line up,” said City Manager Ray Mondragon, who compared the line of planes to scenes from the movie “Top Gun.”
“With him in the cockpit, it’s like the whole city is in there with him,” said Ernie Kos, executive director of the Clovis-Curry County Chamber of Commerce. “This whole experience has given us a good working knowledge of the flight plan and the crew, and that’s good, I think.”
Yates said he believes greater knowledge by civic leaders of how Cannon works is good for the city and the base.
“There is a perception that the military tries not to reveal anything, but you are taxpayers, and it’s important that you know what we do,” Yates said. “There’s no mystery about it, it’s just pure brute force power.”