29 May 2006

Reluctant Devotional

Damn you, airplane.

I wish you hadn’t pulled that contrail over my four year-old head as I sat in the grass on that warm spring morning.

I wish you hadn’t flown low over the apple orchard in my parent’s back yard, your Cub-yellow skin reflecting in the sun, and your engine making that lovely, Continental pop-pop-pop sound.

I wish you and the other F-100 hadn’t screamed up Initial at that airshow when I was six. You broke hard to downwind, landed, and parked directly in front of me as I looked up at my Mom’s face to gauge whether the unbelievable howl of your J-57 engine was something I should be scared of. She held her ears, but without much concern. I saw no need to cover mine. Your sound was an utter tonic.

I wish you hadn’t allowed me to grease the landing on my first solo.

I wish you hadn’t help me find the lift so easily along the ridge at Harris Hill, allowing me to stay aloft for over three glorious hours with no engine and less than 20 hours of experience.

I wish you weren’t such a perfectly photogenic beauty, your wet, sensuous frame looking so perfect in the early morning sunlight that I could not help but touch, despite the sign that said Do Not Touch.

I wish you hadn’t growled at me so throatily on the grass at Duxford as you came to life, twelve hundred vintage horsepower at my command.

I wish you hadn’t been such a satisfying challenge as you taught me how to fly faster than sound, curve upward through ten-thousand foot loops, and fly formation only 36 inches from your brothers.

I wish you hadn’t protected me so valiantly when the enemy wanted me dead.

I wish you hadn’t been such a mighty and impressive weapon, mated with such perfect control harmony.

I wish you hadn’t flown hands-off on your first test flight.

I wish you hadn’t allowed me to see the world from eight miles up and more, the sky darkening and luring me even further upward.

I wish you hadn’t blasted my face with that smell of oil and fresh-cut hay, your upper and lower wings framing a perfect sunset as we touched down in a perfect three-point attitude and the blades of grass swishing gently under your tires.

I wish you didn’t cause a lump to form in my throat every single time you fly a missing man formation.

* * * * *

I wish these things not because I wish you ill. I wish these things because my life might have been easier without you. I might have become a computer programmer, a technical writer, a highly-paid consultant, or someone else less subject to the whims of chance, nature and Big Business. I might have had a stable, predictable, easy-to-explain career, with no great attachment between what I do for a living and what I do for recreation. I might not have been so emotional about life and love.

Instead, I am wedded to you and everything relating you. Very few of my many friends are not “airplane people.” I often note with alarm that most of the artwork in my home is aviation-related. My bookshelves are full of aviation titles. I have to work hard to keep aviation jargon out of my conversations with non-aviators. You have interfered in more than one of my romances.

My thoughts are wired to the sky. When I dream, the backdrop of my mind’s wandering is often vast space and sunlight. I drive my car as if I’m flying on instruments: Precise, watchful, and trying to be smooth even when there’s no one else along for the ride. It's almost pathetic.

Like a parent or spouse, I hurt for you when things take a bad turn in your industry, and I cheer your successes and glorious moments.

Though I complain today about your overriding influence on my life and all its components, I am not willing to change my level of commitment. I tried once. The experiment was a dismal failure. I knew I wasn’t being true to the things I love. So I quickly returned, humbled at the human soul’s inability to deny its true calling, regardless of good intentions.

Damn you, airplane. You have me for life.

18 May 2006

Because I Fly

Because I Fly

Because I fly,
I laugh more than other men.
I look up and see more than they,
I know how the clouds feel...
What it's like to have the blue in my lap;
to look down on birds;
to feel freedom in a thing called a stick.

Who but I can slice between God's billowed legs
and feel them laugh and crash with His step?
Who else has seen the unclimbed peaks?
The rainbow's secret...
The real reason birds sing...

Because I fly, I envy no man on earth.


12 May 2006

Rattlesnake Bomber Base

Rattlesnake Bomber Base, Pyote, Texas.

If you know where to look, you can find remnants of extraordinary times. Rattlesnake is one such place, and a while back I flew in to pay a visit. It was an eerie time-warp of an experience, with lots of ghosts and swirling half-memories I’d inherited from years of reading WWII books.

As I walked through the hangar, now roofless, and looked out across the vast, weed-studded ramp, I marveled at the events that took place here. In 1943, this place teemed with life and activity. Boys fresh out of high school, tasked with no less than saving the world, trained and flew in B-17s and B-29s. They came to this remote base to begin their defining adventure, and you can still feel the tension and excitement in the air.

The facility is derelict now. Mother Nature is slowly but efficiently reclaiming all signs of it. I’m glad I live at a time when historic locations like this can still be found and studied.

I took off and made one fast pass down the runway, then a “duster turn” back to overfly the base, wagging my wings in salute. I imagined a hundred faces upturned, surprised to see a man in a garish, red-white-and-blue Citabria rocketing across their 1943 sky.

10 May 2006


Copyright 2006 V1VrV2

Maybe we've evolved too far, too fast. Mankind has learned how to create powerful machines -- devices that thrust us with seemingly unlimited ease into the sky, where we are able to freely cavort, soar, dip and turn at will. Commercial air travel, by contrast, provides us with reliable transport, without care and without import. It's routine and sedate, because "routine and sedate" sells tickets.

But pilots are constantly reminded how small and insignificant we appear in our travels through the vast ocean of sky above. We flirt with, but do not touch, massive storms whose power and scale escape accurate description. We see the perfection of nature in all its many forms. We see sunsets and sunrises unlike any down below. We see sights of such beauty that we cannot speak of them fully, even to each other. In the air, the components of light, color and form become art without even trying. We gaze in awe at these sights, and we hope our passengers are also watching. We know from experience that most are not.

The next time you fly as a passenger, leave your window shade open and let the scenery wash over you for a while. You may be surprised what aerial sightseeing does for your outlook on life.

Lenticulation 2

This textbook set of lenticular clouds east of Denver explains why local police departments were swamped with UFO reports on this particular afternoon. I took this shot from the crew van on the way to the hotel. This photo was taken facing north, and the previous photo (below) was taken facing south.

05 May 2006


A dramatic stacked-lenticular (lens-shaped) cloud formation hovers over Denver. Clouds along the Front Range of the Rockies seem to be more vibrant and eccentric than most other places I've been. More lenticular cloud photos coming soon!

02 May 2006

Wavy Contrail

Sometimes the air surprises us with its capriciousness. This contrail, left by a westbound 757 at our altitude and just a few minutes ahead, began rippling like this as we watched it. Ordinarily, I'd think we would experience some turbulence in the vicinity of a sight like this, but on this day the air was a smooth as glass.