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So … I was watching the planes at the air show, and I couldn’t keep my eye off that plane. Was it some kind of optical illusion? It was a big plane and seemed to be going so slow that it would fall out of the sky. Then it STOPPED. Then it went in reverse. Then it made a 180, turning on a vertical axis like a helicopter. Then it slowly lowered itself to the ground.
This defiance of all aerodynamics had me bamboozled. I discovered that what I was watching was a Harrier Jump Jet – the only privately-owned Harrier in the world – and it was a VTOL. The picture above is of a Harrier GR7A of the 800th Naval Air Squadron, Royal Navy. A VTOL is an airplane which is designed for vertical take-offs and landings. When it flew in front of a cloud you could see air disturbance as a rectangle all around the plane. For more information on Harrier Jump Jets, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrier_Jump_Jet.
It’s so nice to know that at this age I can still be awed by aviation. No matter how long you’ve been flying, there are always firsts, new experiences, and new hangar stories to hear and share.
At the air show last month I saw two planes with folding wings up close and personal. One looked like a locust when it was folded up. It was also the first time I’d seen a triplane in person.
The Sopwith Triplane, the first triplane to see service in World War I
This time, my first VTOL and the first time I’d seen the Thunderbirds fly their beautiful choreography. On Long Island, every Fourth of July, we would take our boats out to Jones Beach and tie them together, to watch the Blue Angels dance in the air.
To top off my weekend, I had my first time in a Redbird – today’s version of the old Link trainer. I went “up” with an acquaintance who is an instructor. Landed in two different fields without killing us, and got a chance to see how rusty I was as a pilot. The Redbird is a remarkable simulator – so realistic that when Joe said I could shut down, I thought I had to fly back to my home airport first. It gave me a good feel for the tricycle-gear planes CAP is flying up here these days, and a great exposure to the terrain around here, so I will be better oriented when I fly around here. I don’t care what they say – it doesn’t come back to you like riding a bicycle after 40 years as only a passenger. I’d forgotten how to rely on trim tabs to stabilize straight and level flying. I was more used to a stick than a yoke, so I was way too busy with the wings, rather than trusting the rudder. When I left my knees were as weak as they always were after flying solo.
When I returned to the CAP safety tent, riding the high I always get from flying, everyone was packed up and gone (bad weather closed down the air show). I felt like the kid who comes home from college only to discover that his parents had moved away. All I could do is drive home and share the experiences with my readers.
below: Two Thunderbirds perform a calypso pass.
© 2014 Bonnie-Jean Rohner