Flying John

By lex, on September 13th, 2008

So, yeah: First day at the new aerodrome. Google mapped the place first just to get the lay of the land. Landmarks, rough headings. Airspace restrictions. It’s much the tighter bit of work for the VFR bugsmasher than was Palomar, and even with 4,000+ hours of flight time, your correspondent is a relative novice at this whole VFR transition through embedded Class “D” airspace under the lateral limits of the Class “B” wheeze. Back in the days of fast jets and loose women, it was 35,000 feet until an en route descent to either a PAR pick-up or visual overhead, request the carrier break. IFR handling all the way. Pretty hard to goon it up, do what you’re told.

Flogging around at 110 MPH using visual landmarks? Not so much.

Back on the motorcycle for the first time since, what? June? Hard to ride it to work when there’s no place to change from your skiddies to your civvies. Started like a champ though, with never a cough or complaint. Deutches Motorradtechnisch, ne ja?

But it’s an entirely different commute up the 5 to Palomar than it is to Kearney Mesa. By the time the suburban sprawl made it up to Palomar, developers had learned the wisdom of “planned communities.” Kearney Mesa – almost in town, but not quite there – just sort of happened. It’s a chaos of what-do-we-do-nows, on ramps, off ramps and random crossings. Kind of a motorcycle rider’s combat reaction course.

Which, look at the upside: Makes taking novice pilots on BFM missions in 40-year old piston engine aircraft seem charmingly sane by comparison.

75 Juliet was down for a cracked exhaust manifold, so we had to cancel the BFM sortie. We only had one client (a former F-111 WSO), so the owners upgraded him to a War Bird ride – a good deal for him, since the operating costs of the SNJ are much higher than the little Vargas.

So it was a one hour “learn to fly” for your correspondent with a 1430 brief time. At the tic of the toc, a chronically over-served gentleman wearing a scowl, jailhouse tats, a wife beater t-shirt, cargo shorts and flip flops strolled in, nearly causing my heart to die inside me. This should be fun. Kept on strolling though. And after a moment I was introduced to John, a bright-eyed cherub of eleven summers, come the morrow. Here to fly for the very first time in celebration of his upcoming birthday. His mother and grandparents having split the cost of his fare. Herself excited for him, even envious maybe. A chance she’d never had.

But always that hint of nervousness just underneath. It would be all right, wouldn’t it? He was her only son. All of it left unsaid, but there nonetheless like an open book for the reading. I’ve seen it so many times before: The happy, strained smiles when we taxi out. The exultant, relieved smiles when we taxi back in.

I smiled and wove confident stories of professional experience and mature wisdom. Things calculated to reassure a necessarily doubtful mother entrusting her most precious thing on earth to a frail craft and a complete stranger. While knowing all along that no one can promise tomorrow today. You just do your best to make it fun and keep it safe.

That’s all you can do.

Briefed the big picture, thrust and drag, lift and gravity. Gave very brief obeisance to M. Bernoulli. Omitted, for the nonce, discussion of the g required for level flight being inversely proportional to the cosine of the bank angle. Spent a good five minutes practicing exchange of controls: You’ve got it. I’ve got it. You’ve got it.

Strapped him in, cranked her up, departed VFR to the southwest like we knew what we were doing. Fifteen hundred feet to the Mission Bay VORTAC, west to Crystal Pier and then up the coast to Encinitas. Let him fly once we’d leveled off, but he got quilty when I asked him to either drop down a bit or else turn north so as to remain clear of Lindbergh’s airspace. Like the kid could know what direction north was. Because while an experienced pilot could point to north having been rudely shaken awake in a strange hotel room after a three day bender in Vegas – “north up” is the way we orient to the world – John was only ten, going on eleven and this was his first flight ever. So he handed me the aircraft back eagerly. Trustingly.

Dropped down to 500 feet abeam Black’s Beach northbound. Staying just far enough away to do honor to the man’s innocence . Wrapped her up in a steep turn a few miles later and hizzoner fair whooped with delight. Do it again.

Why not do it yourself? And so he did. Over and over again, with laughter and joy in his eyes, and a hint of thoughtful sadness when it was over. Headed back to the field via visual navigation – what racetrack is that? Del Mar! – for two touch-and-go’s and a full-stop. Clear at Delta taxiway, taxi toward the transient line and his waving, exuberant mother – simultaneously grateful and relieved, they’re always relieved – and shut 50 Whiskey down reluctantly: mixture cut-off, mags off, fuel off, master off. For everything a time.

Every once in a while you fly with someone who makes you see it again, who makes it fresh once more. The wild, glissading rapture of surfing an invisible ocean of air. The inexpressible, sweeping freedom in the union of man and machine. The earthbound trogs you pity on the beaches, in their sailboats and on their million dollar porches with ocean views.

I get paid for this.

Sometimes it hardly seems fair.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Flying John

  1. Douglas Hasert

    Enjoy all of the stories, this one brings back memories of my first flight 60 some years ago.!

  2. Pingback: Index – The Best of Neptunus Lex | The Lexicans

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