The Circle of Flight
D. Paul Angel ©2010
The cockpit of the future is going to have a man, a dog, and a single red button. The man is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to bite him if he ever reaches for the button.
-- Glen Marshall
I feel the wind buffet the Jenny through the stick as I fly through the cold, dawn air. I don't honestly remember if I'm over Kansas or Nebraska at this point, but it doesn't really matter either. They're all just fields still grey below the dawn. It's just nice to feel the wind and the engines rumble as I head West. Putting the Sun to my back and just flying. As it starts to rise behind me I can just start making out the wheat swaying in time to the wind, and matching the strumming of the gusts through the wires between the wings.
Even though I counted the change again last night, and I'll be having to give rides again tomorrow, it's nice to be alone for now. Some of it is the familiarity of the Dawn Patrol routine from the War, I guess. Mostly though, well, mostly it's that there just aren't as many people around. I've met some good people giving rides though; a lot of Dough Boys thinking we lived the glamor life in the war. I wish.
~ ~ ~
"Contact!" I pull my right leg back while pulling down and away on the smooth wooden prop. I can feel the trailing edge with my fingertips, though I'm careful not to let them overhang. A couple steps back and after a couple sputters the little Continental clunks to life. Holding on to the strut, I pass around the back of the little Yellow Cub, untying the tail-wheel before maneuvering myself awkwardly into the rear seat.
I'm not sure what's wrong when my instructor gets out until he raises his voice over the engine, "Three take-offs, three full-stop landings. You're ready." He runs back to the hanger, and she's all mine. My first Solo. I take the runway, ease the throttle forward, nudge the stick, and balance the plane with stick and rudder as I accelerate down the runway. Keeping it balanced until it simply leaves the ground of its own accord, giving itself to the wind's gentle clutch.
~ ~ ~
As I run up the Pratt & Whitney Single Wasp the North Atlantic pitches the Escort Carrier about like a cork in a toddler's tub. Only a crazy man would take-off on a day like this, unless of course someone saw a periscope.
With the wind is coming straight down the deck now, the Martlet is on the verge of flying whether I want it to or not. I release the brakes and the prop pulls it down the deck and into the air, dropping off the end as I strain on the right rudder to keep it straight.
I madly pump the gear handle, hydraulically raising the gear before banking to the South. The turbulence pounds my legs through the rudder pedals, but I don't even feel it anymore. That's just part of flying by the seat of your pants. And it's better flying than sitting. Especially when there's a wolf down there, and I have dozen grey sheep to protect.
~ ~ ~
The Jungle flashes below as a rippling blur of mottled greens and browns. My RIO has the signal from the SAM now, and it's only a matter of a minute, maybe, two, before I dump raw fuel into the J79 and streak directly at them. Some days we hit the SAM site, but today, well, today we're the decoy. It's what the Thud does best.
"Signal engaged, left to heading two zero four."
"Coming left, two zero four." I reply while pulling the 'burner tab, rolling to knife edge, and pulling back on the stick in a high G turn.
"Inbound SAM's,” my RIO calmly calls out, “Charlie-Two, start your run."
~ ~ ~
My wingman and me are on CAP again, boring holes through the air, ten miles up; waiting for an enemy that will never come. They came that first night, I'll never forget it even if they didn't come into my sector, but at a loss of over half their Air Force. So I fly my lazy patterns, keep my feet on the floor, and dogfight in my mind. I miss the Academy's glider.
~ ~ ~
The Predator has easily the longest endurance and highest payload for any aircraft of its size. All they had to do was eliminate the pilot. I fly my UAV from half a world away. Literally. And to think my mom told me playing Xbox wasn't ever going to help me land a job.
~ ~ ~
It's been almost a year since since the Colony ship left and we're just now hitting full stride.. Laelnizo IV is a beautiful planet. Not the best soil, which is why the grass is so short, but there's lots of it. The more we work it, the better it gets, too. But that also means our farms are spread out, so I'm constantly flying people, parts, and everything else around.
It's just us here, and anything that breaks, well, we have to fix ourselves. My Grasshopper has more in common with a 1930's monoplane than the Wasp's which delivered the Colony two containers at a time. I flew them, too. Spce to Surface and back. There's nothing quite like rolling in on an approach to a Colony Ship. At two miles long, half a mile wide, and a quarter mile tall, it all seemed like it should be falling into the planet, not floating above it like a brick hovering over a lake.
Now I'm following the steady dot-dash-dash dot-dot-dot-dash dot-dot of the Main City's NDB back home. I can feel the wind shift a bit through the stick, and kick in a little more rudder to keep the ball centered. The more things change...