Air Force regulations strictly prohibited flying with a camera—for students and instructors alike. Holding a camera and taking pictures would be a huge cockpit distraction from a job that required attention, discipline, and planning. Dropping a camera would present an even bigger problem, because as FOD, it could prevent the proper movement of flight controls and result in a very unsafe situation. A loose camera might interfere with the proper ejection sequence of the seat, and a tethered camera, hanging from a camera strap around the neck, might interfere with an ejecting pilot’s parachute deployment. Flying with a camera was not only grounds for termination from UPT, but the offense might also land the offender in Fort Leavenworth, where one might spend a few years in hard labor, turning big rocks into little rocks.
Not much good could come from flying with a camera. Except maybe the pictures. Those could be pretty awesome.
After watching the real 49ers beat up on the scab Atlanta Falcons at Fulton County stadium, Kenny insisted on stopping at the mall near his parents’ house, and once there Kenny led me straight to the camera store.
“Kenny,” I began nervously, “you’re not thinking about buying a camera to take pictures in the jet, are you?”
“Aaay. Naa. You can’t fly wit’ a camera in the jet,” he told me reassuringly. Then, he added, “What I’m lookin’ for… is a whammo.”
When Kenny said “whammo,” I thought of toy Frisbees and hula hoops, but I was wrong. That’s Wham-O. A whammo is something completely different. It’s not a toy at all, according to Kenny. Some might think that a whammo is a lot like a camera, because a whammo looks like a camera, is about the size of a camera, and takes pictures like a camera. But it’s not a camera, because it’s a whammo. And because it’s a whammo—and not a camera, then according to Kenny, there was no Air Force regulation that prohibited flying with it.
Kenny loved his new whammo. With his new whammo, Kenny took pictures of every visitor to our Columbus rental house. He took pictures of all of the support personnel on flight line. He took pictures of our classmates and instructors in Dagger flight. For our Mid-Phase-Completion-and-Welcome-New-Roommate-Gramps Party that we were going to have at the end of the week, Kenny was constructing a Wall of Fame on one of the walls in our rental house, using the pictures taken with his whammo.
Among the local celebrities featured on the Wall of Fame was the Jamaican Domino’s Pizza delivery guy, who would drink a shot of rum with us every time he delivered a pizza. There was the pinball machine repairman, who called himself “The Spider-Man” because he only made his rounds late at night. After a month of midnight repair calls, he still hadn’t fully fixed the yard sale pinball machine. We finally asked him to stop coming over. Kenny had a picture of the guy who hooked up Gramps’ washer and dryer. He snapped a picture of the guys who put together Gramps’ waterbed. Kenny had some custom mirror work done in his bedroom by a middle-aged White guy and an older Black gentleman that the younger White guy called “his boy.” Kenny took a picture of them for the Wall of Fame. The air conditioner repair man made the Wall, as well, even though he sucked as a repairman.
Kenny snapped a picture of me for the Wall holding one of three wooden plaques of our class patch that Kurt cut at the Wood Hobby Shop. We had to paint one for the O-Club, one for the Wing Headquarters, and one for the Student Squadron so that they could be prominently displayed when we became the senior class on base in the summer of 1988. One night when Doley came over after work, Kenny had charged into our bathroom where Doley was taking a dump, and took a picture of him on the toilet. That made the Wall of Fame. Gramps’ Wall of Fame pose was staged in front of the supply of Colt 45 Malt Liquors on the mantle of the fireplace. I took Kenny’s Wall of Fame shot the night he tried to make moonshine in our kitchen by pouring a bunch of nasty liquids in a glass jar and adding some rotten fruit to his still. Kenny had said that because we were in the Deep South, we needed to come up with our own moonshine recipe.
From the flight line, Kenny had a picture of Al, the T-37 crew bus driver, who cooked frozen hot dogs on the windshield defroster of the crew bus for breakfast, because he didn’t want to wait in line to use the microwave oven in the snack bar. He snapped a mug shot of our classmate George Biezinger, who unsuccessfully tried to grow a mustache and thus earned the unofficial nickname, Beez with a Cheese. Kenny also posted a picture of Lieutenant Wilson, our instructor pilot, in a very heroic pose in front of the F-111 mural painted on a wall outside of the Dagger flight room.
Kenny’s Wall of Fame perfectly captured the life of a student pilot living in a rental house in Columbus, Mississippi. It could not have been more perfect… unless each picture were autographed. So, I made sure each one was autographed… even if I had to assume the persona of the subject in the picture in order to make the appropriate comment and assign the proper name, like “Bubba Joe” or “Bobby Pete” or some other name like Billy Mike, our inspirational Class Commander.