Monday, October 28, 2019

Aircraft, Past and Present

So Darling Husband and I went to an airshow on the nearby air force base last weekend. Walking up to the gates was an experience, because a Mig was doing aerobatics. My husband's face when he saw a MIG-17 doing a low-level pass... his entire nervous system looked like it was desperately crying out for a missile launcher, just let me at 'em! Some reflexes die hard, eh?

After that, while my wonderful man sat and enjoyed the airshow, I went off to ogle all the static display airplanes. (They were fairly spread out, and he didn't feel inclined to all that walking.)

Sitting alone amongst the air force planes was a single Army Chinook, with a recruiting tent right next to it, sticking out like a sore thumb. And rocking it. Those guys were having a good time. (The other oddball was a C-47 in the corner, for the WWII paratrooper jump demonstration team.)

I walked up the load ramp of the Chinook, and had to stop and stare in amazement. It was clean. No, it was...*clean.* I don't think you understand the amount of cleanliness... the wiring bundles didn't have any grime between the wires, clean. Every hydraulic hose and line was clean, with no stains from any leaks, clean. And all the hydraulic lines were bent at the perfectly correct indexed angle, and everything was labeled. None of the nuts had traveled from their marked point. No field-expedient repairs. No evidence that there ever had been any...

It was... birds like this don't exist. This is the demo you use when making a textbook photo, that could not possibly survive the first trip out the factory door, clean.

In the back of the bird, a young army sort was hanging between the stretcher on one side, cheerfully enjoining the civvies on his bird to "ask me anything!" He caught me ogling his wiring bundles, and gave me a nod. I nodded back, and continued inspecting his junctions in sheer amazement. This was a bird in use - it wasn't factory new - and it was Just. Too. Pretty.

So as I walked past him, I felt I ought to say something, even if he looked like the youngest JROTC kid to pull public relations instead of getting to see the air show. On a couple air force birds just minutes earlier, I'd tried asking questions only to get a startled, "I don't know, ma'am, I'm still in training." So rather than ask what in the wide green world was going on with this bird, I went for complement instead.

So I say, "Your wiring is immaculate. The bundles, your hydraulics... your bird is beautiful. I haven't seen one this just... this lovely." He gets this grin, and the chest puffs out a little more, the ramrod straight spine gets a little straighter, and he says, "Thank you, ma'am! Let me know if you have *any* questions!" And by the gleam in his eye, this is not, as I thought, some poor training kid. I have made the old fart's mistake of underestimating this young man in both age and ability.

...Turns out he's the crew chief. Oops. (When did they start looking so young?) And thus ten minutes were pleasantly passed in discussing load configurations and capabilities, and confirming that his was indeed a working bird, and he was by G-d going to make sure it was the best working bird in the entire US Army, every single time, and everything was perfect. Even if it was a slingload of live goats in a crate.


After that, I visited the C-47 as well. And when I climbed up the narrow ladder and got inside, I saw bare primered walls decorated with photos and sharpie scrawls. Closer inspection proved that they restored the plane to as close to original paratrooper configuration as possible. (Although this airframe actually spent her war years flying the hump, and then in the Israeli Air Force, only reimported back in the 80's. If that bird could talk!)

And then, after restoration, every WWII paratrooper who managed to make it on board has been handed a sharpie and invited to leave his name, dates of service, and jumps. And some of those - the number of places they jumped were astounding. On some, they'd even managed to dig up old wartime photos, and stuck them up beside the signature. That bird... she was something special. Something more than she had been, as if her own record wasn't enough.

Yeah, from the young men who jumped out of planes like her over Reims to the young men making sure that the birds will be okay today...  There's a lot of good out there that's easy to overlook. I'm glad we got to see it.