Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Obsession With Aeronautics

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1 June was the last day of the Berlin Air Show - ILA 2008. It is a bit like a week-long store window for anyone wanting to buy a plane and anyone who loves airplanes in general.
Check out a few more pictures on Flicker

N. and I packed a picnic, some chairs, plenty of drinks and of course the camera and to take in a little bit of the air show. We didn't have much time set aside in our tight weekend schedule, just about two hours, but we hoped to see some great aerobatics in that short time.

Since we couldn't spend the whole day there, it didn't make much sense to pay 11 EUR to we could get onto the grounds of Schönefeld Airport, so we opted for the cheaper (free) version of finding a deserted side street and pulling out the binoculars.

There really wasn't much of a problem seeing the planes because very often they would fly directly over our heads in the circle pattern to take them back over the grounds. I got some OK shots - considering the distance - and was able to really give the telephoto lens a workout.

This kind of thing really taps into my geekiness. How exciting it is to see and feel these birds of the sky when their engines are on full throttle, kicking it into afterburner and roaring across our eyes. I LOVE it when I can FEEL the power of these planes!

I remember when the Blue Angels would come into Wichita, Kansas for the local air show. The day before they would spin and thrust around the area as a means of promotion. Just like almost everyone else in town I would run outside for a glimpse of what on earth was making that noise... oh yes... it is the Angels... WOW! Not long after those thoughts would clear my head I would be thinking to myself how happy I was that those planes were friendly.

Wichita considers itself the Air Capital because so much of aviation history happened here. Not the Wright Brothers or anything, but it was the home of Cessna, LearJet, Beechcraft, and of course one division of Boeing. Many of the best-known planes of the world were either partially or fully built in Wichita. One of the coolest things was to see Air Force One as it was getting its final outfitting. For about a month it was possible to see this huge green (before final paint) plane running its paces... must make sure that it is in top shape for the President. Often it would come back for checks and refitting.

The local Air Force Base, McConnell, was home to the refueling wing of the Air Force, so I got to see lots of KC-135 refueling planes... sometimes we would even see them in action. Then the B-1 Bombers came and the sound of the skies was completely different. When they would take off, houses for miles around would rattle and shake. I remember a local festival where 3 B1's did a flyover the crowd and I swear it was hard to hear the fireworks two hours afterward... I think that is the last time they did a flyover if I'm not mistaken.

Once I even got a glimpse of the B-2 Spirit Bomber. I was at 47th and Oliver in Wichita, Kansas (for those not in the know it means that I was at the end of the runway for McConnell AFB) in at the local QT, filling my Jeep up with gas - yup, I did that a LOT. You might be able to picture me, standing with my hand on the nozzle filling the endless pit when a HUGE roar came from the direction of the Air Force Base. Just about the time I looked up, the sky turned black with this astoundingly LARGE black wing-shaped thing. It banked right over top of the station and I felt like I should duck or something. I could feel the vibration in my feet and hands as the ground and my car were shaking. Two car alarms in the parking lot were tripped from all of the vibration. Afterwards some of the other patrons and I exchanged nervous grins and eventually talked about what was most certainly an awe-inspiring demonstration of power.

Even further back in my history, and probably at the root of my facination for aviation is the Somerset County Airport, which was pretty much in my family's backyard.

We had a large, leafy green yard with many trees, and beyond that a cornfield. On the other side of the cornfield was the very end of the one and only runway of this little two-bit airport. From the house we could only see the tip of the runway because of a forest which blocked the rest. The airport was very small, so the planes needed to be as well. We had mostly small Cessnas with a few Learjets, and every once in a while a dirigible (blimp) would make a stop in the area for refueling.

About three or four times a day, a plane would taxi up to the edge of the runway (the part we could see from the house) and run final checks before takeoff. How sad that from the house we couldn't see them actually leave the ground... so of course every once in a while I just HAD to disobey Mom's orders and make my way to the edge of the runway.

Around the runway was a buffer zone of probably 50 feet of cut grass. They also had lights along the runway which were green/blue and so bright you could see that they were on even in high sunlight. Occasionally I would dare myself for fifteen minutes just to get enough courage to steal up to those lights and touch them - making sure that there were no planes coming my direction of course.

Sometimes I was really lucky and would be at the runway when a plane would take off. They would taxi up to the endpoint so slowly... oh my... they simply didn't understand that I was in my "hiding position" sitting in the tall grass waiting for them. But eventually they would get close enough for me to see what was happening. I always liked to be on the side of the plane instead of the back because you could see the pilots inside the tiny cockpits. They would make a move inside and suddenly you would see the flaps go up and down or and hear the engines as they would spin them up and then down again.

I remember one time in particular as I watched a larger than normal Cessna taxi up and prepare. This plane had six people inside, and one of them was a kid about my age. Of course I was in my customary hiding position watching the final checks with envy in my eyes. How could that KID be IN the plane? It just didn't seem right. At that time I would have done just about anything to be in his position. The kicker was as they pulled the engine up for takeoff all of the people in the plane turned to my side and waved... HEY! How did they see me? Man! I wonder if they knew and understood how jealous I was.

Of course there were also times when I would witness a plane landing. Now that was cool! The plane itself could be seen from a long way off in its preparations. There was this kind of a dark glimmer at first with two white lights. Then as it got closer it would look more like a plane although it seemed to hover in mid-air for the longest time. Eventually the noise of the engine would reach my ears, and could watch to see how the wings would react to the crosswinds. Soon the plane would hover over the landing strip and you could hear how they were throttling back the engines, almost sounding like they would die. At last the tell-tale screech would let you know that they were safely on the ground again.

Ahhhh... to be a pilot!!


tqe / Adam said...

I. Am. So. Envious.

What a fantastic day and thing to do!

Diane Mandy said...

You are full of surprises! My Max has the same obsession. In fact he is a licensed pilot back in the US (small planes, nothing too roaring), but he doesn't have the credentials (thankfully or not depending on how you look at it) to fly here.

Maria said...

You need to take flying lessons.....

barbara said...

I also witnessed from my neighborhood the Blue Angels as they flew over Barber's Pt, in HI. I had never seen anything so fast... and loud before that !