The KC-10 is a tanker aircraft also capable of carrying cargo and passengers. In addition to the normal crew in the front of the plane, there also is an enlisted person in the back of the plane¾ the ‘boom operator’¾ who operates the fuel dispensing machinery.

Captain "Maroon" is the aircraft commander of a KC-135 aircraft on a Higher Headquarters mission to Andrews AFB. On initial takeoff, the red light in the gear handle does not extinguish, thus indicating to Maroon there is a possible malfunction involving the landing gear. Maroon plays it by the book, pulls back the throttles, and follows all of the appropriate procedures to identify and remedy the problem. After full inspection and consultation with the duty instructor pilot on the ground, Maroon decides it is probably just a malfunctioning squat switch, so she continues with the mission. Halfway through the flight the light extinguishes, and no unusual indication reoccurs. Once at Andrews AFB, the crew chiefs check the system and do not find any irregularities.

The next morning Maroon and the crew are at the aircraft early in order to prepare for the fifteen General officers they will be flying to Texas, where they will be participating in a conference. Maroon’s commander has repeatedly emphasized the importance of this mission. He even called this morning to tell her the generals "must be in Texas on time."

During the preflight inspection of the aircraft, the senior ranking general in the group approaches Maroon and asks if he can sit in the jump seat during takeoff.

"Of course, General," Maroon says, knowing full well that the general will have a clear view of everything that goes on—including any negative indicator lights. If the general sees, for example, a gear warning light that is lit longer than it should be, he (as the senior ranking person on board) may be forced to order the aircraft to return to Andrews for repairs, which would mean a late arrival in Texas.

Just before takeoff, Maroon takes the boom operator of the KC-135 aside and instructs him to pull out the circuit breaker for the gear warning light if it fails to go out more than 3 seconds after a ‘gear up’ indication.

"Don’t sweat it," Maroon tells the boom operator, "if the landing gear indicator light doesn’t go out after 3 seconds, it’s just because of a stuck squat switch. I don’t want to irritate the generals or delay their arrival in Texas."