By lex, on February 16th, 2008
Just the one flight today, which might seem like a long walk to a small house, but once again, someone else was paying for my flight time so up I went without reservation. My man was all of 13 years old, Jake y-clept and wide-eyed and eager at the whole of it. There were times during the brief when I wondered if it would all work out, since himself seemed on the verge of losing the plot when the talk turned to the advantages accruing to the combat Varga pilot in a two-circle rate fight over those adhering to the once-circle radius fight, not to mention the finer points of trading off of potential energy in the form of altitude for kinetic energy in the form of airspeed. I hesitated to mention g required for level flight as the sine function of bank angle, but there was nothing else for it.
He asked how much flying he’d be doing himself, and when I told him “roughly half” what with your correspondent doing the take-off, formation flight and landing, he seemed a little concerned. Would you like more, I asked and he intimated that rather less might do as well as even so much. Well, we’ll see when we get airborne, said I.
Moms was flitting about nervously as we strapped himself in, smiling and taking pictures all the while even as she was clearly considering the wisdom of letting her number one son fling himself through the insubstantial ether with this Lex feller, no matter his hoary antecedents. Took a bit of shooing to clear her from the prop arc when the time came to turn the motor over, and with a brittle, if familiar “I hope I see you again, my love” look in her eye she headed back towards the hanger with many a backward glance.
He was game enough once we got the weight off the wheels and for sheer, wide-eyed enjoyment I do not know that I have seen the like. The weather was perfect, and the familiarization part went smoothly. He had an initial advantage in our first hack, but bled himself down to stall and our adversary turned the tables. Defensive BFM went by the book, with us working out of plane and out of phase once the bandit attempted to close for guns. We shook him off at last, and scraped him off on the deck, counting that as a kill for us.
We weren’t quite so lucky on the second hack, with the bandit working to a plausible firing solution. On round three, your man flew the machine like he was born to it, and in very short time was in the saddle, calling the shot. It had gone so quickly – and with so little drama – that the staff pilots momentarily considered the option of a fourth hack, but just then Jake told me that he was feeling a wee bit queasy.
Right you are, mate and wings level we go. Turn the air vents towards you and think of the flag, said I, but it was too late for that. “Barfing,” was the next call on the intercom, and if it wasn’t according to TOPGUN brevity, it had the advantage at least of being both clear and concise.
“What shall I do with the bag?” asked he when the deed was done, and “Put it back behind the seat there,” was my recommendation, but apparently it would never do – not enough room. Well, tie it up as best you can, hold it in your lap and try to think of something else was all I could think to tell him, the machine itself being poorly equipped in the overboard discharge category and the laws of the state of California frowning severely at the notion of tour pilots bombing barf bags on residential streets in any case.
I haven’t had a customer clear baffles on me in flight before and felt more than a little guilty. But himself was more than game once the moment had passed and regretted the fact that the fighting was over. I was flying as wing on the recovery to Palomar, and your man warmed the cockles of my grizzled heart by asking how long it took to become “such a great pilot,” and I aw-shucked him in reply all the while thinking to myself, “bless you, my son.” Tips are all well and good, but unearned praise bears the bell away every time.
We – or I should say I, since himself seemed blithely unaware – had a bit of a startlement on landing since the nose wheel shimmy dampener gave up the ghost at the first hint of wheel brake application. The crate was shuddering and bucking to an alarming degree, and while I suspected a dampener failure, but not knowing the exact failure mode it occurred to me with all the objectionable activity going on up front that maybe the engine was coming apart, but it’s not like we could forgo the option of slowing down. Runways go on for but a finite length.
All’s well that ends well however, and we taxied to the line to the evident relief of his dear ma who had no real need to be any the wiser on the topic of shimmy dampeners. A few photos and a handshake later and our work there was done. “That was a blast! Flying is so cool,” said the young man to me, and I had to agree with him:
“Yes. Yes it is.”