Thursday, March 11, 2010


There is a nasty rumor circulating on FaceBook that I gave Odel a mop for his birthday.  Actually, that was just a “pre-birthday” present (and he got to pick it out himself).  Today was the real deal.

Odel as a handsome young jet fighter pilot.Pensacola, Florida, is home to the National Naval Aviation Museum, highly recommended to us by several people who knew we were heading in this direction.   Only 30 miles or so from here, it made a good day trip; we arrived shortly after the doors opened.

After a brief orientation from a docent at the door, we hurried off to the back of the museum, to the jet fighter simulators, to reserve a simulator for Odel.  Would the skills that kept him alive during 100 missions over Vietnam reawaken to land on the simulated aircraft carrier deck??  Or are those brain cells ancient history?

Reservation made, we strolled the museum until 11 am, when we boarded a trolley for a tour of the many planes that can’t be fit in the museum building, so sit on the tarmac outside.   The highlight (for us): the plane that George Bush landed (in) on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln for his infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech.  It still says “George Bush, Commander in Chief” on the door.

Display of the Blue Angels, based here at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL.

The plane that brought George Bush to the USS Abraham Lincoln for the infamous speech.

Display of the Blue Angels. George Bush, Commander in Chief

Next, we had lunch in the on-site restaurant, the Cubi Bar Cafe.  No food photos today – it was good, but no different from what you could find anywhere in the country.

Next stop, the on-site IMAX theater for the 40-minute movie, Storm Chasers.  It was great!  We flew with a sailplane pilot through the thunderheads over the Rocky Mountains, with hurricane predictors into the eye of a hurricane, and land-bound storm chasers after tornados in Tornado Alley.  Riveting!

An F4, much like the plane Odel flew way back when... Finally, it was back to the simulator, a two-seater cockpit (I declined to be the “navigator”).  Four simulators share the room, though only three were in use during Odel’s flight.  In front of each simulator is a giant screen, where pilots attempt to blow up buildings, shoot down enemy aircraft and, finally, land their jet on an aircraft carrier.  If you manage that, the last challenge is to land on the carrier in at night, in the dark. 

Behind the four big simulators (each about the size of a large van) is the controller, facing his bank of computer screens where he can watch each pilot’s view.  Throughout the 20 minute simulation, this busy guy kept an eye on all three screens, resetting those who had crashed, relaying instructions to those still airborne.  Odel was #103.

Another safe landing! I stood behind the controller, where I could watch him and his screens, hear all of his instructions (relayed to the pilots through their headsets), and watch the three movie-sized screens showing the simulation of the three jet fighters.  It was hilarious!  Poor pilot 101 crashed every 3 minutes or so – he never got the chance to attempt the carrier landing.  Pilot 102 made several approaches to the carrier, but was often perpendicular to it at landing time (crash), or coming in upside-down. 

Only pilot 103, Odel, seemed in control, so most of the small audience focused on him.  He did it!  He landed!  Applause from the crowd (which of course he couldn’t hear, with the canopy closed over his head).  Someone said “He must have flown before”, so I pointed to the F4 (photo above, left) behind us and told them Odel flew a jet fighter like that one.  Lot of congratulations to him when he exited the cockpit with a huge grin on his face.

A mop!  Sheesh!  Happy birthday, my stud-muffin fly boy.


  1. Congratulations to the "Pretty Man" Great birthday gift. I bet he was very proud and rightfully so!

  2. Probably got lots of "you can fly my plane any time, big boy" comments...

  3. Happy Birthday, Odel! And congratulations on your spectacular performance in that simulator.

  4. Congrats on that carrier landing Odel....oh ya & the Birthday too:)) AL

  5. Good going,'ve still got it!

    Sydney and Frank

  6. You are the "Birthday Man"--congratulations on your day, as well as the "happy landing". Frank & I really enjoyed this museum, felt it was time well spent.

  7. Happy Birthday - Wow what a B-Day present. Do we see a trade of Scoopy for a plane in your future?

  8. Nice job Odel! And *Happy B-Day*!

    -- jc&bev

  9. What a great idea for a birthday present!

    Karen and Steve

  10. Happy Birthday Odel!! You're the MAN!! (pretty man, too!)
    Can't wait for your visit!

  11. Pretty AND talented. Oh my. Laurie, you stole my nickname for Fred. I once jokingly called him my studmuffin, and if you look on my cell phone contact list, you will see Fred listed as Fred Studmuffin. :))))

  12. love your Blog Laurie. loved the fighter plane story. happy birthday Odel. we listened to those planes taking off and landing all week in Yuma. Gypsy Journal rally was right next to field. We didn't mind the noise, we just remembered the folks that are keeping us safe. thanks for serving. Sue and Ken

  13. Great Job!!Odel,As a former Navy Helo Pilot who flew from several carriers and ships of smaller sizes I know what a kick that was for you. My old flight instructor would say This is the most fun a man can have without girls, Now go out there and try to stay alive and save the taxpayers all the money they invested in you. Happy Birthday from one VN Vet to another, Be Safe out there. Sam & Donna

  14. Happy Birthday, Odel,
    I did not know that we shared a love of flying. We'll have to talk someday when we meet you out there on the road.
    Have a great day!
    Ed & Marilyn

  15. Enjoyed the birthday story very much. Great celebration. And a big thank you again for your service to us all.
    Nancy and Jerry

  16. That is so cool! Made me smile, just reading it!

  17. Hi from Ontario Canada. I've been reading your blog for a couple of years now. I just returned from a week at Gulf Shores Alabama and have been to all the places you are mentioning. There are so many great places to eat there. If you are still in the area of the Tin Top restaurant of a Friday evening, their prime rib special is out of this world!! Their seafood is as well, as you have pointed out.
    There is a neat model train display in Foley that you might enjoy seeing as well. A volunteer "engineer" gives a fun presentation.
    Jo Cassan

    Love from Rosanna, A.C., and Joy (who is visiting, yipppeeeee)

  19. Good going Odel!!! for you to still fly and land a plane on a carrier at this point in your life is real testiment to the training our military pilot recieve. Happy birthday!!

    John Rosasco

  20. Happy Birthday Odel!!! Good job on that landing. From the bottom of our hearts thank you for your service to our country, tis much appriciated. I don't think we can ever say thank you enough.
    Happy Trails...

  21. Long time lurker...(Love the blog Laurie) Laughed so hard with the "pretty man" entry. Yes Odel...You are a "hottie". Hold on tight Laurie, he keeps getting better with age. Happy B-day!