By lex, on January 24th, 2012
So, your host flew a night hop last night and a day sortie today. The difference between the two was, well: Look at the title.
We’d missed some sorties for weather. Gotten kicked out of the brawl when the training rules limited the number of fighters and bandits that could contest the same airspace. No hard feelings, it all made sense. When you’ve got Hornets, or Super Hornets, or F-16s with radars and night vision devices zorching around at one another at high fractions of the number, it makes sense to pad your chances.
But the weather last night was good enough to launch us, not nearly good enough to make us happy. An overcast cloud deck at maybe 3000 feet above the field, about three thousand feet thick. Clear above, for all the good that it would do. For it was an inky dark night, not a trace of any moon and scarcely any reference to the ground. It was, in a word, unpleasant.
I’ve mentioned previously that the current steed is a slippery machine, she yearns to sneak away from you at a moment’s provocation. Could be a look down to check the status of the jamming pod, a manual frequency change or – worst of all – a heads down, over the shoulder change of transponder codes. Which is a trivial thing when the sun is shining down through the canopy and there are a multitude of indications of your attitude, but sore duty when you’re hurtling through a sea of black velvet on a high tempered mare with ideas of her own. It doesn’t much help that the attitude indicator is somewhat lower on the panel than it might be in a more nearly perfect world, and the spot it ought to occupy is instead filled with a really quite lovely Garmin 530 GPS display, which tells you with seductive certainty exactly where you are in space, but not how it is that you come to occupy it. You could be straight and level, in a gentle turn or hurtling towards the unyielding terrain, but you’d know exactly where you are. And nothing else, not if it was ever so.
I flew ground controlled approach mostly through the goo until I had the field in sight, transitioned to a visual approach at about a mile or so and landed with a thump, the runway sneaking up on me like. Wasn’t so much a landing as an arrival, in the words of Ernie Gann, yet any landing that you can 1) walk away from and 2) leaves the machine in running order for the next jock is reckoned something of a victory in such circumstances. It was work hard work, and the price for foolishness would have been awful steep. I slept the sleep of angels last night. Which, if that’s a zero sum game, well, they’ll have to catch up with me after.
The weather was far better today, not least because you could see and avoid it, the sun being in a useable quadrant of the sky and attentive to his watch. No chance of straining in the darkness to catch a tally-ho far above you, and suddenly find yourself wrapped in clouds that – Murphy having his vote – could as well contain terrain as otherwise. We got the jets going pretty good, almost to their maximum Mach number while carrying external stores. In full grunt, the clouds scudding below us, the hunter on the hunt and we the prey, ourselves with a chase in view, or nearly. When you’re flying a little on the cold side of an intercept and your adversary is bringing the heat at 1.1 or so chasing your friends, you have to be careful about your intercept geometry. Those sent to target us were.
We didn’t mind, for that is what we came here for. To see if they could make it happen. To ensure that they could. To test them.
The recovery from the day hop was an essentially trivial affair, although we once again split up for our precision approaches. After the hard work last night – I had a Guinness for strength at the O’Club afterward, and a shot of Jameson’s on the side for courage, just to be sure – it was like third grade spelling.
I spent two decades taking my bite of the apple. Now I mainly serve apples up.
Beats the hell out of working in a cube farm, and you should really see these kids, these days. And maybe thank their parents.
It’s a great country still.