Saturday, February 9, 2008

It begins with a night flight to South Carolina

I flew last night from North Island Naval Air Station San Diego to Columbia, SC and then proceeded by bus to Ft. Jackson, Camp McCrady to begin deployemnt training. The flight left ON TIME at 18:30, and we flew at 40,000 ft to SC in 3.5 hours. I was amazed at the speed of the flight. I’m not sure if the tailwind was excellent, or if we got a special military flight path, or both. We definitely were higher than typical civilian flights. The plane was a C-40A, just like a civilian 737. Comfortable. I was in the aisle with no one next to me. More legroom than my last flight in American Airlines coach class.
A Digression to Memories of Military Flights Past
Even though I have been on active duty for nearly nine years, that was my first military transport flight. I have flown in Navy planes before, but only for amusement purposes. In medical school, I spent four weeks at the Navy flight school in Milton, FL, just outside Pensacola. Officially, I was there to assist the aerospace medical officers in the clinic, but in reality I spent half of each day flying as a “backseater” with a flight instructor in the front of a T-34 trainer single-propeller aircraft. It was a small plane, but powerful and able to pull approximately 4 Gs – which was plenty for me. A typical flight had the pilot gain 10,000 feet of altitude where he would pass control of the craft to me (“You have the stick, Doc." "I have the stick, sir.”) The pilot then waited the 20-30 seconds it took for the plane to go careening wildly, when he would reassume control (“I’ve got the stick, Doc." "Yes, please take the stick, sir!”) and level the plane immediately, only to return control to me to begin the whole vaudeville routine anew.

One afternoon at Milton I decided that a helicopter deserved me in the pilot’s seat, but that experience ended abruptly when, only 100 feet off the ground, I put the bird in a relentless counter-clockwise rotation that I could not reverse, even under direct instruction from the pilot seated next to me. The day could produce nothing as terrifying as that episode, I remember thinking to myself, until the pilot, who now had wrested from me and continually maintained control of the helo, announced after a bit of airborne sightseeing that we were going to “auto-rotate” to the ground. I was sorry that I casually asked for a definition of auto-rotate as I learned it is a maneuver in which the pilot cuts all engine power and glides in a controlled manner to the ground. Apparently this is a standard training evolution. All I remember is skidding very fast over slick grass for what seemed to be hundreds of yards.

1 comment:

Gloria said...

What great flying stories--reading them is almost like being there...oh dear, I better get some Dramamine... :)