Sunday, February 17, 2008

Well, I ain't flying...

... but that's hardly a good reason to deprive you of a ripping good flying yarn or two.

By way of intro, Lex is a retired F-18 jockey, and as such has never gotten used to the idea of paying for his own flying. Can't blame him for that, mind you, and sure do appreciate his years at the tip of the spear, but darned if he didn't find away to leverage that experience into the getting the front seat (paid!) of one of my favorite planes, the Varga Kachina:

The tandem seating, control sticks, and that T-6 looking canopy were oh so intriguing to a teenager dreaming about flying. I finally got to fly one a few years ago, back when I still had the Tampico. The retired doctor that hangars his Kachina across from me (in the hangar right next door to his Bonanza - I really should have considered a career in medicine!) offered to let me fly front seat over to MadCo for gas, while he tended to my ham handedness from the aft position.

Positively giddy, was I, but in retrospect I think it was wise to hold out for an RV rather than try to find a Kachina of my own. Although a -4 or a -8 would better slake my Mittyesque thirst for a more fighter-like seating arrangement than my side-by-side -6, the -6 comes close enough that to ask more is simply to show sinful greed. The point is, the RV planes are closer in flying qualities to a true fighting plane than a Kachina could ever hope to be, so I'm happy that I took on the additional challenge of the Experimental class bird.

Now, to get back to the story, Lex went and got himself a gig flying around in a Varga Kachina with some of those very same dreamers as I was before I grew my wings, dogfighting with another Kachina. I think it may be this very facility ( at which he has gained such desirable employ. Cool work, if you can get it.

In any event, he has taken to sharing stories about his flights in the Kachina, and has posted one today that I thought might fill the gap left by my own failure to provide the entertainment y'all stop by here for. Just to whet the appetite, I'll tell you how it ends:

We - or I should say I, since himself seemed blithely unaware - had a bit of a startlement on landing since the nose wheel shimmy dampener gave up the ghost at the first hint of wheel brake application. The crate was shuddering and bucking to an alarming degree, and while I suspected a dampener failure, but not knowing the exact failure mode it occurred to me with all the objectionable activity going on up front that maybe the engine was coming apart, but it’s not like we could forgo the option of slowing down. Runways go on for but a finite length.

All’s well that ends well however, and we taxied to the line to the evident relief of his dear ma who had no real need to be any the wiser on the topic of shimmy dampeners. A few photos and a handshake later and our work there was done. “That was a blast! Flying is so cool,” said the young man to me, and I had to agree with him:

“Yes. Yes it is.”

You can read the full story here.

He meets quite a variety of folks, each drawn to the experience for different reasons. Not all are there to get their first taste of real flight (flying in airliners not really being the same thing, at all); many arrive to look the other direction, back into their past:

Climbing out, he came under immediate machine gun fire from the farm house, and dropped to the deck. His wingmen circled overhead, and he thought that perhaps he could ease up, put the plane between him and the threat and run for it, but the instant he raised up even slightly the machine gun tore gouts through the snow around him. The message was clear: We have you. Sit still.

Eventually his wingmen ran out of gas, and returned to their base. Once the fighters had gone, out came the Wehrmacht soldiers. Hands up. Come with us. Your war is over.

You really ought to read all of that one too. Here.

Have you noticed how sometimes the details of the flying take a back seat (so to speak) to the emotions and satisfaction that comes from the sharing of it? I suppose that's why I find these little stories so fascinating - it's probably the one thing in my aviation experience that I can fully share with an F-18 pilot.

That's kind of cool.

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