There are few military aviators more proficient, knowledgeable and on their game than a senior Lieutenant (or Captain, Flight Lieutenant, or whatever if you wear another set of clothes) They have been through every single step, from Primary flight training, through Advanced, carrier qualification, the final molding in the RAG (“FRS” my foot) and have gone through, if things work out, a couple of cruises. They are on their game in a way that they will never experience again. They have been given the time to hone their combat skills, without too much onerous burden, for good or ill, of endless hours generating digital or real, physical paperwork, all to satisfy the never-ending demands laid upon them, their seniors and their seniors’ seniors by staffs and bureaucrats thoroughly infested by Good Idea Fairies.
In short, they know their airplane inside and out and how to wield it within The Great Scheme of Things with decided usefulness, and even, as the case may call for, lethality. And they know this fact. They know this in such a way as to give them, if they dare to actually admit it, superhuman powers and an encyclopedic knowledge of all things aeronautical. Just ask them.Or, they’ll tell you about it.
Therein, gentle readers, lies the rub. For all (very) good things must sadly come to an end, and our Ace of the Base must move on. If they are careful, and with the right use of guile, treachery and supplication, they go back to the RAG to instill their fleet knowledge to newly minted young fliers. They might get other jobs with the dreamed of tagline, within the masses of verbiage that constitutes the communications of these things, “DIFOPS” or “Duty In A Flying Status Involving Operational or Training Flights.” The Big Good Deal. Oh, and an opportunity to continue building months of time that lead to continued flight pay, also A Good Deal. (the lack of such opportunity led Your Most Obedient Servant to other temporary pursuits in academia, leading, again through skill, treachery and guile back to ten consecutive years in cockpits, but ’tis a story for another day)
And so it came to pass that a highly-skilled young person, our Ace of the Base, bearing Wings of Gold and many, many hours in aircraft carrying both formal and informal names for Dolichovespula maculata (Linnaeus) received orders from TPTB directing to report, forthwith, to NAS Training Command, therein to once again remount the Fisher-Price Jet, albeit almost always in a position where his forward vision will be the back of young erstwhiles’ helmets as they attempt to master the Basic (and Advanced) sets of skills necessary in the eyes of TPTB for them to be awarded those very desired sets of wings.
This leads us to the core of the conundrum: For once you leave Where You Were, you wind up at Where You’re At, and all those great, aircraft-specific sets of knowledge and tribal folk-lore, known as “The Gouge” no longer count for very much. You have been forced back into an orange-and-white product, whose DNA runs through the land of the King of Beers eastwards to the Land of the Prince of Darkness, and while Ace may have thought that all that prior learned knowledge from those distant, carefree days of the past were still there, they were not. Ace had to re-learn the arcane minutiae of the Fisher-Price jet all over again.
In the Land of the Fisher-Price Jet, a.k.a. NAS Training Command, there naturally dwells the Others. The Unclean, the Drones, the Serfs. The Flight Students. Ace’s fellow instructors know, loath and fear them. For They are out to kill them. They are, after all, Student Naval Aviators, SNA’s and their ignorance and lack of all necessary skills are the things of legends and sea stories. For, of course, Ace and his companions, were far superior SNA’s than the current crop who now infest NAS Training Command and it’s sister bases throughout the Great Southern Tier. They are not to be trusted, nor any of the things they know about the Fisher-Price Jet have any value or worth and are merely inquired of to satisfy each flight’s requirements for them to demonstrate to Ace that they know of what they speak, or whatever.
So, on a weekday, the Word came down from on-high: Cross-countries for the People! Launch all students, with Instructors, across the land, therein to learn greatly and to afford them the glimpse of their desired futures. To visit places of legend and lore, of “there I was,” and “this is no #$%^ “ Oh, and to check off some training blocks as well, thank you.
Enter onto the stage of our little morality play, SNA Alpha. Alpha is very smart, being a graduate of the Severn River Academy for the Morally Handicapped in both Mathematics and A Science. Alpha also knows, like all SNA’s at this place, something Ace presumed to know: Every little nook, cranny and performance characteristic of the Fisher-Price Jet. Because knowing those things are required of the SNA, and each and everyone of them know that every flight, every examination, every simulator can make the difference between getting those Wings and falling by the wayside. Every single step is a final exam. There are no mid-terms or make-it-up-with-an-essay alternatives. Thus flows, through the long, deep and ancient River of Student Gouge, every little cup of knowledge a young’un can drink from, even if they drink of the proverbial fire hose. They are the equivalent, in some ways, of young MD’s in the last year of their post-medical school training, or Residencies: They are at the very peak of the knowledge base. They know the latest, greatest and best, far beyond that, almost always, of their so-called Attending Physicians, because they live and breath it, and because they have to. Thus, the Students often know much, much more than their Instructors, especially if said Instructor, herein named “Ace” are newly returned to the hatchery and perhaps a bit disdainful of mere mortals like Alpha.
TPTB informed Alpha that it would be Alpha’s assigned task to embark with Ace on a cross-country for the weekend. Alpha, being the dutiful SNA, sought out Ace, who informed “his” student that they were following Horace Greely’s advice to “go west, young man” and that they would be venturing out to The Great Nirvana, whereupon Ace would be able to cavort and muck about with his fellow Aces and friends from The Good Old Days, e.g. last year, and that Alpha should so plan. And, oh by the way, they should plan on returning as late as possible on The Day of Rest to NAS Training Command and to plan on doing so with only one intermediate stop, for as to take upon the F-P Jet the stuff needed to keep the lone fire burning.
Thus began Alpha’s dilemma. For, dear reader, the Fisher-Price jet is many good things, but capable of anything remotely resembling “long range” is not one of them. Even with gale-force winds pushing it from west to east (in the Northern Hemisphere) Alpha, ever the Math-Science person, and knowing the little details of the F-P Jet, knew that the was No Frabbin’ Way they were going home in two legs. Ever.
Alpha reached out to the SNA network, seeking confirmation of the mathematics arrived at; and the network reached further out, to those knowing not only in the ways of the F-P Jet but in the ways of All Things Cross-Country and the answer kept coming back to Alpha the same: No Frabbin’ Way.
Confident in the calculations, but respectfully, inasmuch as one’s grade sometimes depended on the fickleness of Instructor moods, Alpha went to Ace.
Aplha: “Sir, I’ve run all the numbers, and regardless of altitudes and forecast winds, I don’t think we can make it home in two legs.”
Ace: “Bullhockey, we can.”
Alpha: “Sir, if you look here, and in NATOPS, if we tried to get as far as where you’d like us to stop, we’ll be a glider, sir, about 150 miles before that.”
Ace: “Bullhockey, we can. Plan for it. See you early Friday morning.”
Instructors are the Lord. What they say is Law. They determine your life, your future, everything. They giveth and they taketh away. With great power comes great responsibility; only some wield it like a blunt weapon, confident that they in fact are Lord and they Know Everything.
Because they were headed west, into the prevailing winds and even Ace wasn’t that stupid, they arrived at Nirvana after two stops en-route and with plenty of time that Friday evening. Ace told Alpha, “see you Sunday,” and disappeared into the setting Friday sun. The next day, Alpha ran the numbers a final time, and confirmed what was already known: No Frabbin’ Way. Alpha reached out, via the miracle of modern communication and the interwebby to The Network. The Network tapped its sources, who gave them The Double-Secret Plan: Plan two sets of return flights. The first would reflect reality, three-legs, with stops in the southwest and somewhere around rice, swamps and bayous. The second would, on its face, comport with Ace’s preconceived reality, but with the mandatory alternate landing field just happening to be the first stop (Southwest International Airport) on the real-world flight plan. Make one final, helpful suggestion to Ace to go three legs and then resign oneself to several outcomes, most of which would fall into the Aviation Binary Set of Outcomes: Bad Thing.
Breaths were held throughout the residences surrounding NAS Training Command that Sunday, for the lines had been drawn and the sidebets had been made. The last text from Alpha was “two legs, wish me luck.”
The radio communications with air traffic control a while later went, so it is told, something like this:
“Albuquerque Center, Navy Jet 1234″
“Navy Jet 1234, Center, go ahead”
“Uh, Center, 1234 needs to change its flight plan destination.”
“Roger, 1234; where would you like to go and state reason for change,”
“Center, 1234 would like to go present position direct to Southwest International Airport; fuel diversion.”
“Roger, 1234, you are cleared present position direct Southwest International; are you declaring a fuel emergency?”
“Center, 1234, uh, no, not at this time, sir.”
Ace and Alpha did indeed return to NAS Training Command very, very late that night, much to the consternation of TPTB. To reward Alpha for honesty, good flight planning and sagacity, Ace gave Alpha a totally neutral evaluation, all Above Averages for things like flight planning and foresight and knowing what the F-P Jet could really do were balanced out by slightly negative ratings. Because, in the end, Ace remains an idiot. We can only hope that he is now a slightly wiser idiot who might someday realize that indeed, none of us really know everything, even when we think we do. Oh, and Alpha? Alpha survived Ace, learning all sorts of valuable lessons, not the least of which is that just because you’re told someone else is Smarter Than You, by virtue of time and experience, maybe not so much. And always have a Plan B.
P.S. This is merely a little tale, told of a morning. Any resemblance between this and any actual near-Frab Ups is purely coincidental. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.