By lex, on September 25th, 2009
Had lunch today with an old bud who works for one of the major defense contractors here in Sandy Eggo. Catch up a bit, see what’s shaking and baking. That sort of thing.
We’d flown together during one of my refresher tours at the FA-18 training squadron. He’d been senior to me, on his way to his XO/CO tour, while I was en route to Japan for a department head tour. We had one of those “memorable” flights together, a night bombing hop in the Chocolate Mountains near El Centro. Led by a first tour instructor pilot, a young Marine captain if I recollect, with three more senior officers on his wing. It’s only a matter of 20 miles or so from the airfield at NAF El Centro to the bombing range, which can make for a hasty, agitated mission. You barely have time to get dash four aboard before dash one is breaking up into the circular bombing pattern. Six laps around the pattern for the bomb deliveries, and then it’s rejoin time again overhead the target and head back towards the field.
A dark *ssed night – this was before we wore NVDs – and the lead got disoriented heading back to the field (naval aviators are never lost, but can become temporarily disoriented). He ended up taking us back to the wrong runway for the break to land and we had a near miss with another two-ship coming in on the intersecting runway. Got pretty exciting there for a little while as each of his wingmen first bailed out of the formation and then tried to regain situational awareness to prevent hitting each other.
We were in balanced formation when it happened, me on the left wing as two waiting to get lined up with the runway for my cross under into echelon right, and the other two commanders in three and four on his starboard wing prior to the goon-ex. All of us more or less glommed on to the flight lead, some of us with varying degrees of vertigo in the gloom.
My escape plan was up and left as we started a right hand descent in the darkness towards the field. Clearing the formation was always going to be a little tougher on three and four on the inside of the turn, stepped down. When he caught site of the conflicting traffic – more or less the same moment as the tower controller chirped a warning – lead pulled straight up in blower to avoid the incoming two-ship. I cleared as planned and somehow three and four made it work, increasing their angle of bank and descending below the threat, towards the inky darkness and the waiting ground below. For a while there it was touch and go. We ended up dribbling back to the runway as singles once our heart rates went down. Didn’t learn much about flying from that, already knew that it was important not to be stupid. Made a habit in the future of turning into the light side of the four ship if possible when I was a lead thereafter though. We damn near scraped four off into the turf.
What set me to thinking about all of that was that my bud and I were talking about how much longer we’d be at this game, one full career behind us and kids to send through college. He’s living down in Coronado, which is very expensive and thus he’s in an interest only loan, paying nothing down. Said he didn’t have an escape plan, but needed to work on one.
Been thinking the same thing too.
Eldest daughter is up in Portland for college now, youngest leaves the house in three years and after that I can’t see much reason to stay in Sandy Eggo once the tuition’s paid. Sure, the weather’s fine but the rest of the Southern California experience is largely wasted on me. I don’t surf, don’t hot tub and don’t swap wives, so for me it’s high cost of living, exorbitant taxation and potholed roads, the product of a deeply dysfunctional political culture at the state and local level.
Discovered yesterday that you can buy a Nanchang CJ-6A for a mere $60k. Two of them would make for a nice formation flying school, with some acro thrown in to keep things interesting. Need to be certificated though, which probably doesn’t come for free but is worth looking into. These guys seem to be having fun, although I don’t for the life of me see how they’re doing it as a non-profit. But worth looking into.
Then I saw that this fellow had bought the 3,000th RV-8 from Vans Aviation. A former Viper driver living in Bigfork, MT – a knot on the river that I swiftly navigated to via Google Earth. Maybe a bit too small for the Hobbit, but Kalispell looks nice. Got a nice little airport, room to build that RV-8 and maybe someone up there wouldn’t mind some flying lessons or tours.
Yeah, it gets cold in the winter but if God had reasons for making sheep, surely at least one of them was for the wool that’s in it.
So no, I don’t have an escape plan either. But I’m working on it.