Friday – Oct 2, 2010

By lex, on October 2nd, 2010

Worked half the day, and then boogied up to the Miramar Air Show, where the company had provided preferred parking places and a hospitality chalet. Which is really nobbut a tent with pot stickers, beverages and wee bit of AstroTurf leading out into the sunshine. But hard by the flightline at damned near show center, so who am I to grumble? Which is was all paid for.

Hot and muggy though, so there’s that. The overcast burning off only resentfully, but fully gone by the time The Blue Angles performed their show to wrap up the day’s events. First thing I saw was the F-16 dynamic demonstration, which is all well and good for them as likes zipping by in full grunt. Although he did do one loaded barrel roll there towards the end that caught my attention, not merely because, 1) It’d be hard to track a guy doing that through a gunnery solution, and 2) the tail seemed to break loose there for a moment, which causes the attentive air show observer to wonder, momentarily, how it all might work out.


Next up was Sean Tucker from Team Oracle, flopping around and sawing at the air in his 400-HP I-don’t-quite-know-what. Any desire I might have to join the pure airshow circuit being pretty much laid to rest right there and then, for it involved far more forward tumbling and negative g then I’ve got the remotest hankering for.

The Super Hornet demo was certainly impressive. The only thing that’s noisier than an AV-8B Harrier on approach is an FA-18E or F on take-off. Rattle your fillings out, and they can lay some instantaneous turns and AoA on that are truly impressive. Not quite as nimble as an FA-18A in roll perhaps (which in turn is nothing like as quick as an A-4E), but impressive nonetheless.

As a junior officer I spent a fair amount of time on the air show circuit. Always as a static display pilot rather than performing the dynamic demonstrations, though. The first more suited to public interaction (and air show parties), and the latter seeming, to me at least, to have summat a little too close to showing off about it. Not that I’m judging, mind. Just wasn’t my particular thing. Static displays were a fun way to spend your cross country hours, meet people, get introduced to a town.

Was a time standing by my brand new Lot XI FA-18C in Houston, I believe, when a man came up to me and asked which was newer, my airplane or the F-16A just alongside. He was shocked to learn that mine was only a year old, especially compared to the decade old lawn dart which was painted like it’d just come off the factory floor. We treated sea-going aircraft for corrosion using patch spray that gave it a leprous character to the untrained eye. There’d be all the usual questions from the crowd: How high will it fly? How fast will it go? Are those bombs on the wings? Pretty high, pretty fast, and no, they’re external fuel tanks. Then there was the polite man of exotic appearance who asked what the war reserve modes were of the APG-65 radar.

Ask the F-16 guy, I told him.

As an adversary pilot I flew into Ross Perot’s airport at Alliance near Fort Worth one weekend in an F-16N. There were two Russian pilots who had flown in a pair of MiG-29s, and I bet they got a kick out of seeing the Red Star painted on my Viper’s tail. For my own part, I got a kick out of looking at the finishing of their machines: Everything smooth as silk on the fuselage forward of the massive engine intakes. Plain old flush rivet heads aft, however.

Young men’s work however, and I grew out of it. Haven’t been to the Miramar show here but twice in the last 10 years, yesterday being the second time. The crowds press in, traffic is a bear, and anyway I’ve seen it all before.

Or I had, anyway. Until I saw the F-22 Raptor show.

It’s not just the one thing that the airplane does well. It’s the combination of speed, agility and – obviously – low observable technology. If I understand it correctly, the Raptor jocks like to supercruise in the 40′s, rain AIM-120s on unsuspecting foes and then turn tail and let the missiles sort it out. Coming back in again in wave after wave until there’s nothing left to shoot at.

But in a tight, turning fight, it’s hard to believe that there’s anything out there which can hang with the F-22. In one sequence, the Raptor demo pilot took her across show center, pitch pulsed into the vertical to probably four or five thousand feet and basically hovered there. Standing on his tail until he got tired of that, nosed her over a bit and pedal turned a 60,000 pound aircraft around in such a flat attitude that in any other plane I’ve ever seen, far less flown, you’d have had to call it a fully developed flat spin. When he got tired of that, he straightened her out, bunted for a few knots and then took her back over the top again in an Immelman, the two engines roaring like God hisself had lost something in the heavens, and was tearing the sky apart until he found it. I was left shaking my head at the brute, raw force of it.

An F-16 and a P-51 had taken off prior to the Raptor show, and they all rejoined for the legacy fly-by. I’ve flown the F-16, and will never fly the F-22, so it was the lovely song of the P-51′s 12-cylinder Merlin engine that entranced me, for someday yet I may get my chance at her. Probably not, of course. But maybe. As the three aircraft flew by in echelon, I could swear I heard the Merlin engine first before the jet noise overtook the whirring of the pistons. Made the hair on my arm stand up, so it did.

The Snow Birds were characteristically polite and professional, their choreography practically perfect. The announcer said that the team was happy to be down Sandy Eggo way, since the Great White Up had but ten months of winter and two months of bad hockey. There’s always something going on in the Snow Birds show, it is like a complex symphony whose various strains separate and rejoin, leaving you wonder if you’ve caught the composer’s true meaning or only glimpsed a part of it. You cannot capture all of it in a camera lens, nor even in the eye, and wherever you choose to look you know you are missing something equally compelling.

The Blues had a great show, which if you’re an admirer of the Blue Angels is saying quite a bit. The skipper is a post-command captain who worked for me when he was a lieutenant at TOPGUN, and if that don’t make you feel old, well I don’t know what it would take.

On invitation, I stopped by the Officer’s Club for the aftershow party just to see what was what. Full of young bucks in flight suits, comely young ladies and elderly gentlemen who were neither too proud nor too lingeringly envious to stand in their reflected light. I saw no one that I knew, and feeling rather too far separated from the former group and equally distant from the latter, I got back in my car after a few moments and headed home.

One dogfight hop today, in between breaks in the air show TFR.

I’m off for that.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Flying, Lex, Neptunus Lex

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