Saturday, August 30, 2014

Thunderbirds, jet trucks and flying.

Taking a break from talking about our books, I'm going to digress a bit this time around.

We went to the air show today---Mountain Madness 2014---at the Glacier Park International Airport just north of Kalispell, Montana. There were some very good performances by several talented aerobatics pilots which we did enjoy very much. And then there was that jet truck, the Flashfire Jet Truck. It makes a lot of smoke & fire for show, but when it heads down the runway with throttle open there's no smoke and you'd best look fast cuz it zips by at over 300 mph and isn't in front of you for long. Crazy!!  Absolutely insane and we loved it!

Let's face it though, the main attraction---and what a good many folk came to see---was the USAF Thunderbirds. I never miss a chance to watch these fine men and women do their mind-numbing aerobatic maneuvers, and despite my being a former airman, I enjoy the Navy's Blue Angels just as much. Both teams are just flat freaking awesome! I love airplanes and I love flying.

That love of flying goes a looooong way back. My dad had a private pilot's license and back in the late '40's and early '50s did a lot of flying over eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. We lived in a small farming town north of Omaha called Oakland, and Dad was primarily an aerial photographer, but he often took us up with him on a joy ride. My earliest memory was of one such flight. I was still a babe in arms, and rode in Mom's arms the whole time. I remember looking out the window and being fascinated by all the cars, trucks and people around the little airfield. Then they began to get smaller and smaller and now I was entranced by all the toy cars & trucks outside the window. I had no sense of movement that I remember, either on take-off or landing. but I do remember those toys were replaced with real cars and trucks and I laughed at all that was going on.

When I told Dad about that memory a few years before he died, he was incredulous and could not believe I remembered that as I was but a few months old, but remember it I do. And I've been crazy about flying ever since.

I wanted to be a fighter pilot like many a young man before me and since, but that was not to be, as my eyesight was too bad. I started wearing eyeglasses in sixth grade. Well, when the time finally came, since I couldn't be an Air Force pilot, I chose another path: I enlisted and ended up flying on C-130s. Although this aircraft is a cargo plane, it has also filled several other roles, among them gunships and reconnaissance platforms. My flight time was on the latter. I was a Russian linguist and I flew aerial recon missions over the Baltic Sea. There were a few missions over the Mediterranean, but most of my flight time was over the Baltic.

The aircraft we flew on were owned by the 7406th Support Squadron and we flew out of Rhein-Main Air Base. That base no longer exists, as it was turned over to Germany in October of 2005, but it was very active during the period I was there, 1971-1972. My unit was the 6916th Security Squadron, and we were referred to as "the backenders" and sometimes as "sailors." That last term stems from the fact that the mission supervisor, an enlisted man, was usually referred to as the "admiral." Why that was is a story in itself. Regardless of the terminology, we didn't exist. Our missions were highly classified and so our presence on those missions was not officially admitted to. They were fun, however, and that time period holds some of my best memories.  And I was flying. Not piloting, but flying.

Back to the Thunderbirds.  They're flying F-16s right now and they are as impressive (and loud!) as ever. There is something about a fighter jet blasting overhead at a couple of hundred feet that just gives me goosebumps. I love it! My only complaint is that their program is too short. I'd enjoy three hours of it!  Ok, I know. It isn't practical. Pilot fatigue and all that. Still....

Tomorrow is the second day of the airshow. We just bought tickets.

-- Richard
   for J. R. Hardesty