By lex, on September 10th, 2011
So, as previously hinted,* it was a hideously protracted drive from Sandy Eggo to Ventura County on Thursday, your correspondent having missed the exit for the CA 73 toll road and bravely soldiering on anyway. Which, the curtain between bravery and idiocy being but a gauzy thing, ephemeral. I was almost too distracted with passion to be sympathetic with the poor lost souls whose everyday experience is composed of commuting on those selfsame highways. Having left the home ‘drome at 0630, I traversed the 163 miles from there to NAS Point Mugu in right around four hours: An average of nearly 40 MPH for those disinclined to do the math, and that in a radar detector equipped BMW M5.
Spent the rest of that day getting acclimated to the environment and people, the local headman being a former commander of mine (it does help to have contacts). Friday was spent brushing back up on aircraft systems and their associated failure modes, aircraft systems that are operating within their normal parameters being dry, pedestrian things the operator in the cockpit, even as they represent a source of pure, unalloyed joy to those whose task it is to maintain them.
There are normal checklists for things like preflight, start, taxi, take-off, climb, cruise, descent/penetration, pattern entry, landing, post-landing clean-up and finally, shut-down. Then there are the emergency procedures checklists, elements of which – the so-called “boldface items” for their typeset – require precise memorization, the urgency of their correct execution in an emergency impermissive of the leisurely thumbing through of checklists.
I have come to the reluctant conclusion that aircraft manuals must be written by insomniacs as a form of self-medication. My own way of getting to know an airplane is to rote-memorize the emergency procedures, and then go back through the manual, aware of what it is I should be looking for in between the sleeping pills. Once I’ve taken a pass or two through the manual, I go back to the emergency procedures looking for understanding behind the rote memory. Little by little, the aircraft begins to open up her secrets to me. I’m beginning to get the Kfir – it is about as far as aircraft engineers could advance their art prior to flight control computers – at least sufficiently to move forward in the next steps of my training.
Stayed the first two nights at a bachelor’s quarters in Port Hueneme, home to the SeaBee battalions (a redundancy, I know). The barracks were little crank and weathered, dating from the early 1960s. Much like your humble scribe. Some things you forget and are immediately reminded: In the military, everyone wakes early for their showers. For those that don’t, there is no hot water. Some things remain in muscle memory: If you wake early enough to have hot water in your shower, you must have cat-like reflexes if you feel a sudden change in water pressure. This means that someone somewhere else has flushed a toilet, and if you don’t scamper out of the way of the water stream most ricky-tick, you’re in for a scalding. Tonight, courtesy of occasional reader Triple Chuck’s advice, I sleep in the Beach Motel on base at Point Mugu.
My g-suit was shipped to Point Mugu from Newport News, along with my helmet, O2 mask and a pair of new flight suits in size 44 regular, the previous sets having shrunk inexplicably while hanging in the closet over the years, and anyway there were eagles sewn onto the shoulders to which I no longer feel entitled. The nomex flight suits were stiff, and the fire retardant smelly. They took me back – like scents often do – to the first set that was ever issued me back in 1983. Back then I told the Hobbit that they were quite comfortable, really. Like pajamas. I thought I might even sleep in them. I woke the next morning chafed and jaded, and put them right into the wash. In 2011, I skipped the first step, and laundered them straightaway.
I put the g-suit on with a bit of trepidation – a concern that was rewarded by a rather too snug fit around the mid-section. Twenty minutes tugging and teasing at the interwoven parachute cords that help customize the g-suit to each individual eased the discomfort, if not the embarrassment, along with the determination that, yes: I really do have to get back in to the gym. I have also decided that the role of parachute rigger is not one that I envy. I was gratefully surprised at the easy facility with which my hands found the hooks, snaps and zippers which brought the garment around my waist, thighs and calves. I have not put a g-suit on in eight years, but my hands, it seems, had not forgotten their duty.
When I put the freshly laundered flight suit on this morning, it felt like coming home. Name tag above the left breast, “unit” patch above the right, and TOPGUN patch – the patch – on my left shoulder. Wallet in the calf pocket of my right leg, loose change at the bottom of the left breast pocket, my car keys dangling from the top. The hotel room key card went into the horizontally slashed right thigh pocket like it knew where it belonged. Nothing went into the vertically slashed left thigh pocket. Nothing ever did.
I had to think for a frowning moment about where to put my cell phone and reading glasses. The flight suits haven’t changed that much, but the times have, as has the wearer.
Tomorrow we crank the aircraft up again, take her onto the runway for yet another high speed taxi test, this one in full grunt to 130 knots for a high-speed abort, aided by the drag chute for the first time. Monday and Tuesday, the good Lord willing and the dam don’t break, I take her airborne followed by a chase pilot for some handling quality exploration followed by landing pattern work.
My hands proved to me that they have not forgotten how to get dressed as a fighter pilot. Pretty soon I’ll find out whether they have remembered how to fly a single engine, afterburning fighter.
I have high hopes.
*11-02-2018 Link added – Ed.