It’s long been known that testosterone and jet fuel are a potent combination and in the right circumstances that’s a good thing. But an investigation by the Navy into the infamous “sky penis” incident over central Washington in 2017 didn’t really reveal anything fresh on that hypothesis and likely added more ammunition for O-Club humor on the already-legendary tale. The Navy Times got hold of the investigation report last week and it pretty much confirmed what most of us already suspected: Give a couple of the Navy’s best and brightest a Mach 2 jet full of fuel and 90 minutes to burn it and they might not always get best value for Uncle Sam’s dollar. And if there’s a lesson to be learned by pilots it’s to always pay close attention to the weather briefing even if it’s CAVU for a thousand miles.
It was one of those sapphire days over the desert heartland of Washington State November 16, 2017, when a pilot and backseater, both lieutenants, in an EA-18G Growler from Electronic Attack Squadron 130 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island hopped over the Cascades for a routine training flight in one of the military areas that dominate the airspace in that relatively sparsely populated area. A massive high pressure system had utterly stagnated the air and the conditions were perfect for voluminous contrails. As they flew over the rocks and trees, the crew members couldn’t help but notice that they were at the controls of a high-powered stylus against an unlimited canvas of blue and the rest is the stuff of t-shirts, shot glasses and internet lore. Transcripts from the cockpit communications show concern for the anatomical accuracy of their creation but little cognizance of the impression they were making on the thousands of people who live in the small towns and on the farms that dot the area.
“Draw a giant penis,” the Electronics Weapons Office (EWO) said. “That would be awesome.”
“What did you do on your flight?” the pilot joked. “Oh, we turned dinosaurs into sky penises.”
“You should totally try to draw a penis,” the EWO advised.
What the young officers didn’t count on was the length of time their creation would loom over the good folks of north central Washington and they even tried unsuccessfully to scrub it from the sky with a high speed pass. It was a young mother in Okanogon, Washington, who finally sent pictures to a local TV station saying she was afraid she’d have to explain the image to her young children. Others howled in cyber laughter and the images from the ground quickly went viral.
Within a few hours the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations had received the illustrated report on the incident as the internet and mainstream media lit up. The report did not include the punishment handed the contrite officers, who received glowing reports from their superiors about their non-artistic efforts on behalf of the Navy. At the time, it was recommended the two lieutenants get “non-punitive letters of instruction” and there was also no doubt some quality time with their CO. One senior officer told the inquiry the incident “was a really bad decision by some really good guys in a really good squadron.”