By lex, on May 22nd, 2011
Blog a wee bit in the AM, do the financials on Quicken, sigh at the results. A lovely day to take the scooter down to the aerodrome, but – not having been properly attended to over the fierce Sandy Eggo winter – she obdurately refuses to kick over. Plug the trickle charger in, hope the battery will recover, make a mental note that it may be necessary to buy another. They can only be run down so many times.
The first flight was at noon, yet with all my morning labors and an increasing tendency towards domestic distractions I barely made it to the field on time. The little Varga, at least, is attentive to her duty, N8275J ** will catch on four or five blades if she’s been properly primed and the throttle pumped half way.
A pair of brothers from Las Vegas, each as plump as basted turkeys, a sprawling family gathered ’round who laughed appreciatively at all the right moments, three generations at least. A evidently well-fed baby who did not entirely admire my schtick squalled and wrestled with his own dear ma, while a pretty teenaged girl with startling green eyes stared at me throughout the brief in an almost unsettling way before solemnly asserting, the brief having ended, that I had given “a very good presentation.” I deflected her confident compliment with a, well I’ve given it once or twice before. There are people you see who have a glow, they stand out in crowds without even trying, and that girl will come to something I predict, if the world stays out of her way. I do not think she knows it yet.
My wingman John is an active duty Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, and an FA-18 pilot as well. He is tall, lean and angular, and often calls me “sir” although my hair touches my ears and curls a bit in the back these days, for it’s too long since I’ve seen the barber. The Varga is, as I explain to the guest pilots, “twelve hundred pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal,” which has the virtue of being halfway right, and if you bat .500 in the major leagues your glory will last forever. Crew weight, therefore, composes a significant fraction of gross weight at take-off. Since I have never really been tall, and have not for some years been lean and angular, John gets the brother with the greater gravitas to even things out a bit, although truth be told it is very nearly a distinction without a difference.
We do the formation take-off from Runway 28 Right, that being the broader of the two parallel runways at KMYF. We often speak of the “June gloom” that settles in over Sandy Eggo, but this year the “May Gray” vies with its successor. Overcast in the morning, with a brief burn-off in mid-day before the clouds close in again. Mere groundlings are not much bothered, but those of us whose weekend duties include flying unsuspecting civvies in “air combat” keep a weather eye. The Vargas have so often been abused by steep and repetitive turns that the artificial horizon indicators are entirely useless, condemning us to use the real one, so long as it can be seen. When a gray sky blends into a gray ocean the staff pilot must fight to keep oriented, and what with the varying airspeeds and g-loadings against that unvariegated background, the guest pilots must fight to keep their lunch.
When the “fight’s on” comes, they overbank, they always overbank. We do not carry parachutes, and are restricted by the terms of the letter of deviation which allows us to fly passengers for hire in formation flight to no more than 60 degrees angle of bank; non-aerobatic flight in other words. Not only that, but lift is orthogonal to the wing plane, and at 90 degrees angle of bank there is no effective lift to counter gravity and so we plummet from the sky, using our 500 feet of altitude injudiciously. I explain to the guest pilots that the altitude buffer above the hard deck is like a bank account, and you want to spend it wisely. They nod their heads appreciatively, and then routinely overbank. It is tempting to despair of man’s fallen state, but instead I coax them back within parameters, a tug on the stick enforcing my urgings on the intercom. “Have fun, be safe” is the mission objective, and it’s my role to see that they satisfy the first part of that objective and I the second.
The first pair of brothers do themselves credit, my man wins of course, taking two out of three and it’s my story. John briefs the second set of brothers, one an Army special forces guy on recruiting duty, the other a property manager from Pasadena. It being his turn, wingman John gives the brief, and I do not know whether he gave a “very good presentation” or not, for I have sought out my weekend luncheon of a shredded beef taco to go from the Mexican lady who runs the restaurant above our operation and always gives it to me free of charge, demurely waiving away my proffered hard-earned. On alternate weekends I insist that she accept a small tip and eventually she does, we are friends I say to her, although I do not know her name nor she mine and this exchange of free food and alternating gratuities pretty much defines the limits of our relationship.
Whatever the quality of John’s presentation the brothers exercise their privilege of becoming violently ill, mine on the first hack, and John’s on the second. The flight is still well within the “be safe” parameters, but the “have fun” bit is very much in question and my own man’s bag is full nearly to overflowing. With that in mind we forgo our last engagement and planned break maneuver overhead the field and settle quietly into the downwind for an uneventful landing. The brothers remain gruff and hearty as they trudge away to the refuse bin for to shed themselves of their respective burdens, and the even have the courtesy to tip us, which is novel to my experience from those inadvertently made airsick.
Having returned to company HQ we learned that a father/daughter team had dropped in unexpectedly, and would we mind taking them on a one-hour learn-to-fly, at all? We would not, for here we were at the airport, and the airplanes had fuel, and what better way could be found to spend one’s time in such circumstances? She was graduating from SDSU in just four years, and her father – undoubtedly grateful at this unexpected boon – had taken a wild notion of breaking the surly bonds of earth with his daughter in close company. She had that ineffable quality attaching to youth, her father was my age, and it was my turn to brief. Briefing confers upon the briefer the privilege of choosing his guest pilot, and you have known me long enough, gentle reader, to remain stoically unsurprised that I took off with the young lady in the back seat, while John partnered up with pops.
The weather was lowering down upon us, and we could scarcely climb above a thousand feet during our journey up the coast. We turned east at the Del Mar racetrack and navigated towards Black Mountain, hoping that the inland heat had kept the clouds at bay. I took us as close as I could to the cloud base, for a fixer-upper in Rancho Santa Fe starts at nearly a million dollars, and people in that demographic are not much taken with piston singles buzzing over their cabanas. We found a hole in the clouds at last and circled up to do some exploratory level speed changes, turns, steep turns and power off stalls, with their associated recoveries.
The young lady might well be a gifted academic (and pleasant company) but she was not what we might term a “natural” aviator. Her anxiousness gave way in time to real pleasure, and – having worked our way back to the coast – did the shoreline transition south through Lindbergh’s airspace, around Point Loma and into the Sandy Eggo bay. We tagged up at the Coronado Bridge and turned back to the north, having been cleared by Lindbergh Tower to cross their field at 1500 feet over the Delta taxiway, herself happily snapping digital photographs the whole way, the rising generation having captured every significant moment of its waking life in pixels.
Coming from the southwest we entered the pattern well set up for the first of three landings on Runway 23, the winds having shifted since our departure. I flew the first approach, guided young Megan – for that was her name – through a second touch and go, and flew the full-stop myself. She had a lovely time of it when all was said and done, but her father had a real glint in his eye and I expect that some Stockton-based CFI will soon be numbering him among his students. All it takes to fly, I warned him, was airspeed and money. But I don’t think he heard me, not really.
The Rapture did not occur during our flight, or if it did, it happened on a very small scale and there must be any number of disappointed people here and there. I was never much troubled for young Megan’s safety, in the event, for having lived the life I’ve lived I suspect I’ll have to earn my way when the time comes, and in any case we have Matthew’s counsel.
Update: Best Rapture comment ever – “I guess on Sunday when the #Rapture people feel really upset, we can’t console them by saying ‘Cheer up, it’s not the end of the world.’
** 10-25-2018 Original link gone; replacement found – Ed.