By lex, on May 2nd, 2011
Because you’re dying, in the midst of all these international bewilderments, to know how that landing turned out.
So, anyway, your man had the aircraft wrapped up in a more or less continuous turn from the break, though downwind, to base, to final. Which is all well and good in the hands of an FA-18 jock doing his sh!t hot thing behind the ship, but then hizzoner wouldn’t have 1) me sitting in his trunk without, 2) an ejection seat, worse came to worst. We overshot final, like I knew we might, and the guy in front said, “lined up for to land on the right side of the runway” like it was the most natural thing in the world, what with no one to share the left side with and I had to admire his chutzpah.
Rolled out, taxied in and shut her down in the grass before clambering down to figger what was what.
The grass alongside the taxiway was full of 70s era trainers from the Sowjet Union and the PRC, single engine Yak 50s designed for aerobatic competitions, their round tailed two seat trainer version, the Yak 52, and Chinese made, gull winged Nanjang CJ-6As. Each of them sporting a radial engine what turned the wrong way, too little internal fuel for any serious utility (the better to stave off defections) and with starters and brakes that were energized by compressed air: Each of the Red Star pilots put the spurs to his mount prior to shutting her down, the better for to recharge the accumulator, and it was a bit of a startlement to see them crank engines on the go, for it appears that air can be diverted to the engine, or diverted to the wheel brakes, but not both at the same time, so there was a fair bit of lurching out of the chocks when the engine caught until the brakes were recharged again.
You want to walk behind that kind of machine when the pilot is starting up, rather than afore.
A second flight soon offered up with another T-34 feller, this one a somewhat saturnine owner of pistol ranges in Phoenix maybe, or Tuscon. (The vast majority of them such as flew their Yaks and Nanjangs into Porterville were rich buggers such as had made their fortune in small businesses, and if ever you wanted to be outshone in your criticism of the Oval Office’s current occupant, you were in the right place, in Porterville. Made your humble look like Glenn Greenwald(s), so they did.)
The point of the whole thing is to fly formation I gathered, as though that was a worthy end in and of itself, although I also learned that the Yak 50 set was somewhat given to actual air combat maneuvering. Which if that don’t make your hair stand on end, the odds are that you’re in the market for Rogaine, I’ll betcha.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
A two-ship took off afore us, and having waited a decent interval we followed in trail as dash three, the guy in front having casually offered up the use of a parachute. Don’t cinch it up too tight he said, and I looked at him askance, for I’ve reason to believe that a loosely tightened parachute harness could do you no end of suffering if it came down to stepping over the side. The risk of getting important elements of your physiognomy trapped between your leg strap and your thigh come opening shock sufficient to the evil therein.
What followed after take-off was some mild maneuvering in what you’d call instrument parade in the Navy, followed by break-up and rendezvous training. It was a sad affair to sit through, for dash two got hisself sucked far aft of the bearing line and we spent the length of a goodly long book hovering about at his six waiting for him to sort it out. Flew back to the field in something resembling a proper formation, broke to downwind and landed uneventfully.
An hour or two of hangar flying followed, after which time I was offered right seat in a Lanceair something or other. Having always wanted to fly in airplane that could go 200Kts on a 150 HP engine, I gladly accepted the offer to ride along, but it was a wee, sma’ thing, and had I on me ten pounds more than I currently carry, it’d have been Vaseline or no climbing out, the cockpit was that tight. I was forced to hug myself to keep from interfering with your man’s control of the airplane, and – not for the first time that day – asking how I had come to sign up for this sort of thing. His machine and all, and no doubt he knew it well, but I found myself wondering at folks who would fly half the country in order to tie themselves in parade formation, what with the kids that I grew up with eager to ease out to cruise and loosen up the oxygen mask at the first opportunity. But no more than I wondered at those who, knowing better, would eagerly come along for the ride, volunteering for a potentially ineluctable fate at the hands of a stranger.
Somehow we came though it intact, landed unremarkably and taxied back in for shut down. We were all wearing flight suits, those few of us who had military time and the rest of us that had military flight suits. Something circled around in my mind about roads not taken, and second chances, but it didn’t entirely form. Dinner was an entirely pleasant affair, with good companionship and shared stories of derring do, but with all the talk of militaria in that mostly civilianarian milieu, I couldn’t help but hear a slightly discordant note. Moneyed fellers of a certain age who’d dodged the draft and then bought military aircraft to fly in their military flight suits until their medicals ran out.
I didn’t know, and don’t still.
(To be continued.)