At midday Monday, I was in the backyard of my parents’ beach house, about to pull the jon boat out of the lake and secure it before driving a couple of my grandchildren back to Columbia. The house is a couple of blocks from the beach at Surfside, on a small man-made pond.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of high-performance jet aircraft, and looked up. As they flashed by between a couple of pine trees, I saw two fighters for a split second. I tried to identify the planes, but could not.
Later, my wife mentioned having seen a freakishly large plane go over, which I assumed was a C-17 from Charleston.
Later, hearing that there was a beach flyover in connection with celebrations of the Fourth, I looked for news stories to learn about what I had seen. What I read wasn’t helpful:
Beachgoers at a packed Coligny Beach on Hilton Head Island were in perfect position take in the annual Salute from the Shore on Monday, July 4, 2016. Two F-16 fighter jets and a C-17 transport plane from Charleston Air Force Base roared over Coligny around 1:45 p.m., with onlookers applauding and waving American flags, saluting the country’s real heroes.
OK, what I saw were not F-16s. Maybe I hallucinated, but I could have sworn that they had variable-sweep wings, and I actually saw the wings on one of the planes sweeping back toward a parallel position with the stabilizers in that split-second.
There are no current serving military aircraft with variable-sweep wings. It that’s what I saw, that makes them either F-14 Tomcats or F-111s. They also seemed to have single tails rather than double, which would count out the F-14. (I’m not certain about the tails. Maybe the angle was bad. I saw them from 3 o’clock low, at a distance of about half a mile. One was yawing slightly, which is why I could see what the wings were doing — if I really saw that.)
The website for the event wasn’t helpful, either:
The bad news is that unfortunately, only three of the eight vintage planes are able to fly today due to mechanical issues…
However, the good news is that the one of the biggest transport planes in the American military will fly today! Charleston AFB and Joint Base Charleston will fly a C-17 on the SC coast in support of the 169th Fighter Wing F-16s and the vintage planes. This year’s Salute promises to the the best yet….
OK, so if “vintage planes” were involved, they could have been 14s or 111s. But what were they?
In the information age, it should be able to answer such a simple question, when thousands of people saw the things.
But the info just doesn’t seem to be available.
I know it’s a small thing, but stuff like this bugs me. Partly because, as a longtime newspaper editor, I’ve had to deal too much with most journalists’ combined ignorance and lack of interest in military hardware and a number of other topics (firearms, religion, science) that tend to hit news media in a numb spot.
If you assume people are interested in these “vintage planes,” whether you are the organizer or a reporter covering the event, why wouldn’t you tell people what they were?