Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sitting in the front office of a B-29 Superfortress.

What a cool day.

Up fairly early this morning and headed over to the airport to exercise the Bluebird (Cessna 172). Have a VOR radio that I'm not sure if it's going a little frisky on me or not. On a particular non-precision approach at a small uncontrolled airfield I frequent, it will start abruptly deviating by ten, sometimes fifteen degrees.

Obviously not good if you're in the soup, descending and watching for your decision altitude and a runway/airport environment and everything is off by ten or more degrees. Worse yet, this is a recent phenomena.

Any and all other fields and the VOR is dead on. Perfect. Precision (ILS) approaches are complete non-events. It's just this one particular little airport, the VOR, VOR radial and my VOR receiver that seem to be rumbling with each other.

So this morning before it got (too) hot, I decided to fly up to the vortac in question and see how the radio and indicator handled it. Had my uncle in the right seat. For the record, he's a retired Air Force KC-135 driver who gassed up everything from B-52s to F-105s and F-4's over the friendly, tracer-filled skies of Southeast Asia.

After that, he spent another ten-thousand hours flying approaches for the FAA in the south Pacific, including the infamous approach into Kai-Tak, the old Hong Kong airport where more than one airliner has ended up in Victoria (Hong Kong) Harbour. He is the consummate professional pilot and has taught me more than I'll probably ever realize when it comes to being a careful, serious and smart pilot.

We fly the radial inbound the VOR and it doesn't budge. Dead on and rock-solid steady. We figure a couple of new AM transmitters installed along the radial at this uncontrolled field are what's screwing us up.

Leaving the vortac, we fly to an abandoned municipal airport just south of the Red River that I've been interested in buying for the past couple of years--but me and the little town haven't been able to negotiate a price that's agreeable to either of us.

It's been over a year since I've flown up there to check out the abandoned airport, so upon arriving, I do a couple of low passes. Big yellow "X's" on both ends of the runway tell you not to land. The cracks and brush growing up on the runway itself and visible from 5000 feet msl tells you the same thing.

Alas. The low pass showed that some serious water damage had occurred on the south end of both the runway and the field. That part of the runway had completely bowed up and the asphalt looks like a front-loader tore into it. The rest of the runway looked pretty bad, too.

Next time I talk with the township's management, I'm going to lower my offering price. Drastically.

Back to the home airport for my usual and customary crosswind landing--crosswinds seem to follow me around at the surface; headwinds love to greet me at altitude. Put the Bluebird up and check to see how much fuel we used for the almost exactly 100 minutes we were aloft (one hour, forty minutes). Just about ten gallons. Not bad. I can lean this O-300 back at altitude and still get a hundred knots and only burn seven/seven-point-five gallons per hour.

That's better gas mileage than my full-size pickup gets. Better speed, too.

We drove into Fort Worth for some Cooper's BBQ in the Stockyards. Damn was it good.

On the way back to our little airport, we notice some warbirds parked at Fort Worth Meacham (KFTW). One of them was FiFi, a restored Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

Now my uncle is a Life Member of the Commemorative Air Force, of which he and I will always refer to it as the Confederate Air Force just out of habit, if for no other reason. But he adores the old WWII warbirds and I'm rather fond of them myself.

We paid the $5 donation per person to get through the gate and then proceeded to drool. Right in front of us was the Pacific Prowler--a legendary B-25 that raised all kinds of hell with the Japanese in the south Pacific. And she is a beauty!

Staring up at this magnificent example of WWII aviation, my uncle and I traded thoughts about Doolittle and his merry band of marauders launching off a carrier, loaded to max, on a wildly pitching ocean and with as little as six-feet clearance between wingtip and superstructure.

Those WWII aviators. . . they had stones the size of bowling balls.

And then we checked out the dream machine. Fifi. The Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

This was like a religious experience.

The religious experience was about to turn into a baptism.

The uncle yelled over at me while I was taking pictures and waved me over to the underbelly of the magnificent beast. "They're letting Air Force vets look around inside," he said in an excited voice. "Interested?"

"Hell, yeah!" I gushed.

The crew members lowered the ladders and up we went.

Holy cow.

Now, I've been in a variety of more modern day Air Force aircraft including lots and lots of time in C-130s and C-141, a smattering in C-5s, and then some backseat rides in F-15's and F-16's. I've crawled around more than one B-52 and B-1 back during my days.

But this was unbelievable. This was history and I was standing right there on the flight deck of it! The youngest CAF crewmember of FiFi asked me if I wanted to try the gunner's crew tube, of which I am way, way too claustrophobic to do. But check it out, and then think about teenagers or young men in the early 20's having to scramble back and forth through that tube while being pitched and rolled and battered in the air by flak all around them and enemy fighters boring in and strafing at them.

Like I said, bowling balls. Filled with iron.

Then came the crowning touch. The aircraft commander asked us if we wanted to have a seat in the front office of Fifi.


I thought we were going to start speaking in tongues.

This airplane has a cockpit unlike any I have ever seen, sat in or flown in anywhere in the world. It's almost like sitting in a greenhouse. No cowling to look over--just a bombardier's station. Visibility all around. Huge controls, but only throttles for the engine/power plant controls.

The flight engineer explained that was his job--the drivers told him what they wanted and it was his job to make sure each engine was set, manipulated, blessed over, configured--whatever you want to call it. He had the mixture and feather controls at his station, which was behind the First Officer's seat. The navigator and comms guy sat behind the pilot-in-command.

Sitting there, control yoke in hand, throttles to the side. . . it didn't take much imagination to feel what those pilots of yester-years were going through.


Magnificent machines. And magnificent men who flew them.

What a cool day.


Old NFO said...

Very nice, and a true chance to get up close and personal to history!!! :-)

Murphy's Law said...

Aw wow. Massive fantastic!