Rocky Mountain High BY ROY STAFFORD
I had a favorite backseater: Larry Shreve, Oklahoma Boy. Call sign “Okie.” Up until one beautiful Sunday morning, Larry’s favorite song was “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” He’d crack a smile whenever it came on the radio, do a
little clogging move and, when the song came to the end, he’d
let out a yell like John Denver. Kinda like a cross between a
Rebel yell and cowboy yippie-up. It was cool. He was cool.
It was an early Sunday morning in January and Larry and
I found ourselves mounting up our Phantom
at Buckley ANG Base in Denver. We were planning to do a high, low, high, over to Holloman
AFB, then back to El Toro. Our route of flight
would take us over the ski resorts and then we’d
drop down and do a low level through Monument Valley, then do a pop up into Holloman.
I don’t know how others feel, but there was
always something special about early morning
flights on a clear winter day: it always seemed to me that the
air was smoother, like gliding over a new carpet. And the sky
was bluer, almost cobalt blue like the ocean far out to sea. The
earth was clearer, cleaner, its colors more vivid and contrasting.
You combine this with a magnificent, powerful steed like the
F- 4 … its brute force power was awesome … hard to convey …
it reminded me of a newly broken colt; it just wanted to run!
It was exhilarating! And … Dear God … it was a payback for
every bad thing that ever happened...no other feeling like it in the
As we got our clearance and taxied to the runway at Buckley, it was surreal—nothing else was moving on the whole airfield—no sign of life besides the cryptic instructions from the
tower crackling over the radio. We pulled on the runway, did
our final checks, were cleared for takeoff and I smoothly came
up on the power, then went into full afterburner.
It was awesome! Almost like an out-of-body experience: the
big Phantom leaped forward like that colt out of the gate …
The runway at Buckley had a little hump
in it near the middle. On a hot day, you’d get
a bump airborne and then settle back on the
runway. On this day … and days like it … it
was just a smooth transition to flight. No settling, just a nice little lift. The Phantom never
missed a beat and just accelerated at a higher
than normal rate, which was in itself incredible. It also inspired
me in the cockpit. As I raised the gear and flaps, trimmed everything out, and made a smooth transition on course, I was
doing my little cockpit ballet, if you will, while Larry switched
the radio over to departure control.
Departure switched us over to Center and as we were approaching the snow-capped Rockies, we checked in. The controller came up and said, “Good morning, Romeo Foxtrot. How’s
the view up there today”? Larry and I were of one mind. He
keyed the radio and we both yelled out, “Rocky Mountain High!”
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;e Phantom never
missed a beat and
just accelerated at a
higher than normal
rate, which was in