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From the age of three, Shane Osborn dreamed of being a pilot. He began learning the skills he would need to fly as a member of the Civil Air Patrol, a branch of the U.S. Air Force, when he was just twelve years old. But it wasn’t until he graduated from the naval ROTC program at the University of Nebraska and joined the navy that his dream became a reality. For five years, Osborn practiced rigorous training exercises, working tirelessly day in and day out until he advanced from ...
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From the age of three, Shane Osborn dreamed of being a pilot. He began learning the skills he would need to fly as a member of the Civil Air Patrol, a branch of the U.S. Air Force, when he was just twelve years old. But it wasn’t until he graduated from the naval ROTC program at the University of Nebraska and joined the navy that his dream became a reality. For five years, Osborn practiced rigorous training exercises, working tirelessly day in and day out until he advanced from navy pilot to mission commander.
All Lt. Osborn’s flying skills were put to the test when a Chinese F-8 II fighter jet collided with his EP-3E ARIES II plane during a U.S. surveillance mission through international airspace. The impact severely damaged Osborn’s aircraft, sending it plummeting toward the ocean. With almost certain disaster looming, Osborn managed to gain control of the crippled plane and land it safely on the Chinese island of Hainan—saving the lives of his twenty-three crewmates.
In Born to Fly, Shane Osborn describes these terrifying events in vivid detail, along with the years of dedicated training that made the emergency landing possible. This is the inspirational story of a boy with a dream, and of the extraordinary discipline and courage that made him a hero.
KADENA AIR BASE, OKINAWA
1 April 2001, 0430 Hours
I stood on the handstand, staring up at the big gray-and-white airplane. The wings and four turboprop engines of the EP-3E ARIES II reconnaissance aircraft were outlined sharply in the portable floodlights the maintenance people had used in the night to prepare for today's mission. But above the lights, the cold predawn darkness was full of stars. After several days of thunderstorms, during which we'd had to scrub one mission, it looked like we were going to have a perfect day to fly.
By the traditions of the Naval Aviation, the final walk-around inspection of the plane was the responsibility of the Aircraft Commander. I took this task very seriously, even though third pilot Lieutenant Junior Grade Jeffrey Vignery and flight engineer Senior Chief Nick Mellos had already conducted their rigorous walk-around inspections while I had been getting my pre-mission briefing from the intelligence people supporting Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron VQ-1.
As I ran my hand across the fiberglass skin of the forward weather radome in the nose, Senior Chief Mellos emerged from the shadows. He'd been smoking an old sailor's "hot butt" safely away from the fueled aircraft.
"Hey Senior," I kidded him, "getting in the last precious hit of nicotine?"
"Roger that, sir," he said, returning my grin. "Never know where the next one's coming from."
With his shaved head and graying mustache, Senior Mellos looked like a middle-aged pirate. But his green Navy flight suit covered muscular shoulders and a barrel chest. He'd been in the Navy for twenty-eight years, most of that time flying on one variant or another of the P-3 Orion maritime patrol plane. That was two more years than I'd been alive. Back at VQ-1's home base at Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, Washington, Senior Mellos and I rode our Harleys on off-duty hours. On overseas departments, we partied with the rest of the crew. But on missions, our relationship was strictly professional. It was also based on mutual respect. I relied heavily on Senior Mellos's long experience as a flight engineer to keep me up to speed on the condition of airborne emergency. So when he pronounced this aircraft a solid airplane, with only minor maintenance problems, I felt certain we could make our takeoff time.
We flew our planes hard in VQ-1. Even though we were based along Puget Sound, our operational work was overseas. At any given time, the squadron had planes and crews detached—on "Dets"—in the Western Pacific, in Bahrain flying missions along the Arabian Gulf or over Kuwait for Operation Southern Watch, which enforced the no-fly zone in Iraq, or conducting counternarcotic surveillance in South America. I had flown from all those sites since joining VQ-1 in April 1999. But this Det to the Far East, which had begun in early March, was my first as a mission commander, a job that required the flying skills of an Electronic Warfare Aircraft Commander (EWAC) with the in-depth knowledge of the squadron's complex surveillance mission.
Using my flashlight, I inspected the nose wheel for tire wear and the shock-absorbing gear strut for leaking hydraulic fluid. I walked under the left wing and repeated the process with the main landing gear on that side, then peered up inside the dark wheel to check the pressures in the two engine fire extinguisher bottles. Next, I stepped forward and reached up to grab the red-striped tips of the heavy gray alloy propeller blades of the number one and number two engines, checking for obvious nicks or wobble. The four big Allison engines could each produce 4,600 shaft horsepower. It was essential the props were smooth and perfectly balanced or their runaway vibration could damage the aircraft.
The Big Look radar dome, a bloated gray doughnut beneath the plane's forward belly that we called the "M&M," and a narrower canoe-shaped antenna cover farther aft, were both solidly attached. Smaller antenna mounts beneath the wings near the tail were also intact and undamaged. All told, the EP-3E bulged and bristled with sensor pods, disrupting the original airframe's streamlined exterior and producing a lumpy appearance that some aviators found ugly. But I've never seen a bad-looking airplane.
This array of external equipment revealed the plane and the squadron's mission: The acronym ARIES II stood for Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic Systems II. EP-3E's were one of America's most capable platforms for collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT). With our sensitive receivers and antennas we could look over the horizon from international airspace in support of the ships and aircraft of the Fleet to pinpoint a wide range of radar and radio emissions. This was required to develop an accurate picture of what's been called the "electronic order of battle," which might include the electromagnetic activity of surface-to-air or surface-to-surface missile systems. We also were capable of providing direct real time tactical electronic reconnaissance during combat operations to our fighters and strike aircraft so that they could better avoid threats and locate targets.
To conduct this mission successfully, the EP-3E had a crew of twenty-four, the largest of any U.S. military aircraft. Because our missions routinely last over ten hours, we carried three pilots and two flight engineers. On this Det, I was both EWAC and Mission Commander. The second pilot, or 2-P, was Lieutenant Patrick Honeck, with Jeff Vignery, the 3-P, flying his first Det to the Western Pacific. Senior Chief Nick Mellos, with over 8,000 flying hours, was one of the most veteran flight engineers in the Navy, but the other FE, Petty Officer Second Class Wendy Westbrook, was a cool hand a fast study. I knew from experience I could trust her in the seat between the two pilots. Our navigator was Lieutenant Junior Grade Regina Kauffman, who had not yet officially qualified for her position.
The "guys in the back" were the electronic warfare operators (EWOPS), cryptologic technicians, reconnaissance equipment specialists, and the special operators supervised by special evaluator Lieutenant Marcia Sonon. Lieutenant Junior Grade Johnny Comerford, the senior evaluator (SEVAL), had overall responsibility for these reconnaissance personnel. In total, eighteen people worked at in-line computerized consoles set along the sides of the cabin, the long, narrow "tube" that was broken up by the head (toilet), the small galley and its cramped booth that looked like something out of a 1950's diner, and a stacked pair of curtained bunks for the off-duty pilot and FE who could grab some sleep on long missions.
Adequate rest was actually a critical safety factor for our flight crews. Once the reconnaissance crew had checked out their sensors after takeoff, they could lean back in their seats and nod off on the long, slow cruise to our reconnaissance track. But even on autopilot, two pilots and one FE had to stay awake and alert for hours on end because we flew Visual Flight Rules-Due Regard, which meant that unlike civilian airliners, we had to rely on ourselves, not on ground controllers, for our safe separation from other aircraft.
I climbed the folding ladder to the main cabin entrance on the portside aft, and Senior Mellos secured the hatch. Now I was engulfed in the familiar scent of the airplane: warm electronics, a slight whiff of jet exhaust from the Auxiliary Power Unit in the nose, and hot coffee in the insulated mugs some of the crew carried on board. A few of the people looked sleepy. Today had been a "three-for-five", and 0300 for an 0500 takeoff, which meant most of us had gotten up at two, rushed through the shower, and managed to grab a quick breakfast in our rooms before heading off for separate briefings depending on our specialities.
Now we had all reassembled in the cabin so that I could give the final "planeside" brief. Even though we'd all been through this together as a crew a dozen times on this Det alone, I again reviewed the procedures for ground and air emergencies, which might include the need to bail out or ditch the plane at sea. On entering the cabin, the crew members had taken a grease pencil and printed their names on their position line of the plastic ditching placard on the head door. Each line marked the number and storage rack of that position's parachute. Also stowed aboard the aircraft were our SV-2's, a one-piece combination survival vest-Life Preserver Unit (LPU), and custom-fitted flight helmets. We all carried our own Nomex fir-resistant aviator gloves.
I completed briefing the ditching procedures by pointing to the two big life rafts stowed in the orange rubber soft packs near each over-wing emergency exit hatch. Now Johnny Comerford, the SEVAL, briefed the crew on bailout procedures. He was the jump master who would supervise the distribution of parachutes, make sure everyone was lined up correctly, holding the overhead grab rail, and then see them out the hatch of the main cabin door at one-second intervals.
We could all practically recite these instructions by rote, but this was a U.S. Navy aircraft on a demanding mission, and we followed the book in everything we did. In our case , that book was the Naval Air-Training and Operational Procedures Standardization (NATOPS). Everything the flight crew did aboard the EP-3E was covered in that black three-hole binder thick with checklists, schematics of instrument layouts, and wiring diagrams.
After Johnny had reviewed bailout procedure, I briefed the crew on the weather.
"It looks like good weather en route to the track orbit and back to Kadena. Excellent visibility and no reported turbulence at our assigned altitudes. Briefed mission time is just over nine hours today."
We were headed down the coast of Asia to the South China Sea. Once on track, we would fly our reconnaissance track in international air space south of China's Hainan Island and north of the Philippines. Our squadron had been flying such missions in this area in one kind o aircraft or another for decades. Signals intelligence planes from a number of countries, including China, fly similar reconnaissance missions. With the increased military dependency on sophisticated radars and data links, airborne SIGINT forms a vital part of a military commander's resources. So we were not overly apprehensive about the mission, even though someone had joked that it was April Fool's Day.
Posted August 22, 2003
This book was a good read, in spite of the harsh reviews below. Arm-chair historians and philosophers (a few examples of whom are probably below) make me sick. They have the luxury to hold their pathetic excuse for opinions because men like LT Osborn are out there willing to die for their country--which is a heck of a lot more than you can ever say about these arm-chair philosophers. LT Osborn is a great man and an excellent pilot. It was a honor and a privilege to get the opportunity to fly with LT Osborn as my instructor.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 29, 2002
How dare you people degrade and tear apart a pilot and his company by saying 'HE DID IT FOR THE BUCKS.' Only Lt. Shane Osborn can be the only judge on that one, otherwise people shut-up and rejoice in a story that deserves gratitude and praise. Give him the respect at least. ~a furious pilot, J.N.
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Posted December 31, 2013
Name: Arianna Isabella Steele. <br> Nickname: Ari, Izzy, Belle, etc. <br> Mistake age: Seven years old, due to a awful mistake she made. <br> Normal Age: Around 15 and 16. <br> Gender: Female. <br> Look: She was curly brown hair in ringlets, blueish-silver eyes, and her voice is squeaky and quiet when she was returned to seven years old. She only sounds quiet when she returns to normal again. She has white wings on her back that are small, but lift her high. <br> Attire: Seven Year old attire: She wears a light blue shirt with a glittery rainbow on it. She wears white yoga pants and a necklace and white and black vans. <br> Older attire: A white leather jacket with a dark blue shirt with a cloud with a lightning bolt going through it. She wears black pants and white sneakers. A Yin Yang necklace rests on her neck. She wears a few bracelets. <br> Personality: Nice, sweet, caring, fiere, brave. <br> Likes: Music, instruments, Science, wings, Nice stuff, flowers, dragons, etc. <br> Dislikes: Bad stuff. <br> Status: Single. <br> Powers: Fire, shifting, levitating, weather, almost all elements, able to contact dragons, teleporting, light, lightning bolt, etc. <br> Weapons: <br> Seven year old choice: Darts, slingshot and minituare powers. <br> 16 year old choice: all powers, bow and arrrow, machete, sword, pocket knife, blow dart, fireballs, dagger, ice shards, etc. <br> Everything else I forgot: Just ask me. <br> History: Nope.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 20, 2013
Posted January 23, 2011
Let me guess, Shane osborn will run for public office right? And someday even El presidente to. Its typical of these so called heroes to capitalize on their experiences in the military to write books and make millions, run for public office,John McCain anyone? and all the sheeps in the country faint in their presence. Cheaply written book with cheap thrills.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 3, 2005
Posted December 7, 2001
The only reason I've given it one star is that 'zero' was not an option. It seems that a pilot in the limelight, who did what ANY pilot would have done went for the quick buck. I sincerely hope his ego in life is not what it reads in the book. Having associates that are still active duty, I've got some info on what really happened and realize this book is just a glamorization to boost the pilots market-ability either in or out of the navy. The ethics of writing such a book so soon after the event cause reason to question his motives. This book contains no value except to empty your pockets of some cash that could have been spent on something useful. Luckily, I read it in the store over a few coffee's that were money better spent than the time reading the book. I hope people finger through the book before wasting the money. Pathetic...at best.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 7, 2001
It was a gift. Good thing I didn't spend my money on it. No real action. No real history. No real military info. Maybe the kids version is better.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 15, 2001
This was a book I couldn't put down! Easy to read but very informative. This story showed the character of the crew and the unimaginable amount of courage they showed after the accident and in the 11 days of being 'detained' in China. True heroic effort to save their lives and maintain their honor. Highly recommended!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 17, 2001
Lt. Shane Osborn, is a real Top Gun, a Navy Pilot with all the right stuff! He has shown us the view from the other side with his eyes in this well written book, a biography and memoir, of the situation that he and his crew lived through, that many of us never imagined could happen inside an EP-3 plane. Then to carry on tremendous courage while held against their wills. Lt Osborn and the crew kept up their determination to stick together through it all. Plus, his early training and background helped him to overcome so many hurdles, obstacles and closed doors in which he has proven, that by working hard, you can succeed in whatever you put your mind to. This will become a classic Naval Aviator book. The book is enlightening rich with a historic look into the situation firsthand. I rate this a five gold wings! Fly Navy!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 11, 2001
I thought this book was a great account of the real story. Well worth reading. I couldn't put it down! Lt. Osborn and the crew are a great representation of our men and women in the military.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 29, 2001
LT Osborn did a fine job with this book. The action he took was directly responsible for the saving of 24 very fine lives, and one venerable old P-3 (which ALWAYS gets the crew home if they treat it right). It's obviously THE authoritative book on the South China Sea incident, and it was hard to put down. Great job, LT - You should buy Nicky a cold one or several.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 22, 2001
Being one of the 24 crew members on the plane with Lt. Osborn, this man saved my life and everyone elses on that plane and is a true hero. I have read the book and it is very well written. Lt. Osborn gives credit to the whole crew and describes what a team effort it really was. I know I will pass this book onto my kids someday so they can read about the man I owe my life too. Great Job Lt.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 24, 2001
This is a pretty light-weight book, with little important information. I find it amazing that less than six months after the event, there already is a book on this incident, ghostwritten for the pilot, who obviously did it for the bucks. A sorry commentary of the 'psuedo-history' so popular in our culture today. Glad I read it in the library, it is not worth the money. This book was written for the money, not for history, so has no use to the real aviation historian. I suggest it will be at least 10 years till maybe the true story will be told.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 18, 2010
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