On Flying A Fighter *

Fri – March 26, 2004

For Tammi 😉

I’ve been wondering recently about the possibility of growing up. I spent 19 years flying fighters, and am deeply grateful for that opportunity. But it’s been a while, and so I’m now a “used to be,” and that has me pondering the great out there, not here. Today I played golf with the boss (which is a great thing, to work for a flag officer who likes to golf) at Naval Air Station, oh excuse me, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. What we used to call “Fightertown,” back before we cravenly gave it to the Marines.

Anyhoo.

There were FA-18’s flying overhead, taking off, landing. And I watched them, as I always do, because no one that has flown can ever see anyone else doing so without a measure of critical regard, well flavored with jealousy. If a plane goes by, you must look at it. It is who you are. I envied them, and asked the boss if it ever gets out of your blood, the desire to rend the skies in afterburner. I asked him if he ever get over it.

His answer? “Never.”

And flying civilian planes or airliners just isn’t the same. Just. Isn’t.

Because flying a fighter is more than just a job – it becomes a part of you, a piece of who you are in a fundamental way that no one reading my words who has not been there will ever understand, and it’s not your fault. You spend years perfecting the intimate union of man and machine, until miles of hydraulic lines and electrical wire bundles and fuel storage tanks and titanium and graphite epoxy and hexadecimal computers are as familiar to you as the hairs on the back of your hand. In an airplane like the FA-18, you do not just climb inside. You strap it on, you wear it – it becomes the extension of your will and whim. And you fall in love with her over and over again, always comfortable with the familiar, and always discovering new things. And you convince yourself that she loves you too. And when it’s finally over, and you are parted, you walk away regretfully, full of remembrances of the good times, the times she scared you and the fact that she never let you down. But she sits there on the ramp waiting for her next lover, and doesn’t remember your name.

Eventually I will grow up, and I think I will have to move to a place where I don’t see her quite so often. It’s the indifference, you see.

  • Was originally part of a Friday Musings – Ed.
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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, Flying, Uncategorized

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