could walk around Pensacola in his
flight suit and most folks wouldn't give him a second look.Naval flight officers aren't exactly an endangered species in this neck of the woods.But when Osborn, a flight instructor at Pensacola Naval Air Station, visits his college alma mater in Nebraska, heads turn and people whisper.
That's because they know who Osborn
is and what he
is -- a Navy hero.
...On April 1, 2001, Osborn was the aircraft commander and mission commander of an EP-3 ARIES II reconnaissance plane that was flying in international airspace over the South China Sea.
The plane was intercepted by two Chinese F-8 fighters, one of which collided with the reconnaissance plane.With 23 other crew members aboard, Osborn
recovered the plane from a free-fall and eventually landed on the Chinese island of Hainan.
was even supposed to go on a tour to promote his
book, "Born To Fly," beginning in the fall of 2001.His
first book-signing was scheduled for Nov. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center
But two months before that signing date, the World Trade Center
was toppled in a deadly terrorist attack on the United States. Osborn
canceled the book tour immediately.
"I volunteered to go to Afghanistan," he
said, because that's my job.My job is not to sell books." Osborn
, 29, said he
truly was born to fly.
One of his
earliest memories is flying in a yellow J-3 Piper Cub with a friend of his
left the Boy Scouts to join the Civil Air Patrol
head always was in the sky. "I planned on being a pilot in the military since I was 4," said Osborn, sitting near the pool of his home off Gulf Beach Highway near Innerarity Point.
"It just always fascinated me.I always had that as a goal, and I never wavered.I was a pretty determined kid." Osborn
, a South Dakota native, attended UNLon an ROTC scholarship.He
commission in 1996 -- the same year he
first was sent to Pensacola for flight training. He
then was assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron VQ-1, based in Washington state, and began flying reconnaissance missions routinely in international airspace over the South China Sea.
"It was just a routine mission," Osborn
said."I had only been mission commander for a few months.The crew hadn't been together that long, but we had some good people."
Chinese pilots regularly intercepted airplanes on similar missions, Osborn
said.So, seeing two Chinese planes closing in didn't surprise him and his
crew too much.
"But (one of the pilots) became more aggressive," Osborn
"There was a loud noise, and our plane just shook," Osborn
said."I heard his
nose hit ours.His
jet was cut in half."
In "Born To Fly," Osborn
remembers it sounding "like a monster chain saw hacking metal."
crew were upside down, and the plane was in an inverted dive.The plane plummeted 7,500 feet before Osborn
was able to regain control.
"I was fairly certain we wouldn't make it home," he
said."I thought that we were all finished."
With the plane righted but severely damaged, Osborn's crew destroyed classified material on board and prepared for an emergency landing at Lingshui Naval Air Base on the Chinese island of Hainan.
"It wasn't a warm greeting," Osborn
said."But we were alive." Osborn
cool as two trucks with soldiers greeted the plane and ordered the crew off.
"Can we use your telephone?"
The 24 crew members were held for 11 days and faced relentless interrogation.Osborn
shielded many crew members for most of the ordeal, telling his
interrogators none of the crew members in the back of the plane could see the crash and had no details to provide.
At one point during his
interrogation, while being asked the same questions he
was asked during a previous interrogation that was videotaped, Osborn
questioner: "Watch the videotapes." Osborn
soon was separated from the rest of his
crew and subjected to sleep deprivation, but no real physical torture.
After 11 days of questioning and repeated orders to Osborn
to apologize for the crash -- he
never did -- the crew was released.
"Once I got home, it was pretty busy," Osborn
said."I was just happy that we all made it home healthy and with our honor intact.That was most important." Osborn
could have ridden through the rest of his
time in the Navy as a celebrity.But even as his
book was released, he
was preparing to fly reconnaissance missions again, this time in Afghanistan, locating targets for United States firepower.
"I wanted to do something to help," he
said."If something bad happens to America, we just want to make it right.That's job satisfaction." Osborn
returned to Pensacola in August 2002 to train the next generation of Navy pilots.His
friend Good said Osborn's experience carried much weight with the young flight students.
never intended to make a career out of the armed forces.He
has a year and a half left on his
current seven-year commitment.Then he
wife, Teri, and their 6-year-old son, Avery, plan to make a home in Nebraska.
"I don't really know what I want to do," he