Sunday, August 4, 2013
The other night I went out on my deck to take in the night air. To listen to the peepers and chirpers and other small beasties who like singing in the dark. To gaze upon the stars and marvel at the many lovely things a New England evening offers.
Of course, we're way too close to cities like Providence and Fall River, the horizon is stained with city glow. So the nights here are never truly dark.
I used to spend a lot of time outdoors when I was a smoker. For quite some time now I've avoided just going out on the deck at night. I don't wish to be tempted. But now it's okay, it's been long enough so that I'm not reaching for a cigarette as soon as I go out.
I have missed taking the night air though. Some nights you can see a chain of lights stretching to the far southwest, airliners heading into T.F. Green. Occasionally it's just peaceful and quiet. The other night was like that.
As I'm standing there, I hear a soft drone, high up. Tilting my head back I go into my search pattern. Not looking at the noise but near it. Slowly scanning the night sky until, there it is. A very small plane, fairly high up. It's lights moving ever so slowly across the black backdrop of space.
And I was reminded of a flight we took with the WSO, shortly after she was commissioned.
Now her first official assignment in the United States Navy was to T.F. Green airport, just south of Providence. She was to undergo a mini ground school in ground to air communications and then have a number of flights in a small aircraft to practice her ability to communicate over the radio to the various folks one must talk with while airborne. Air Traffic control, approach control, those folks.
It was nice to have her at home for a few more weeks before she headed off to Pensacola for the start of her real training. (This business at T.F. Green was essentially "something to do" until a slot in a class opened up for her down in Florida. As a stash job, it was a good one.)
One of the last things she needed was a night flight. It was duly scheduled and she invited Mom and Dad to come along for the ride. I was pumped, the Missus Herself? Um, no. Not so much. She's not all that keen on flying, the smaller the aircraft, the more frightened she is. I remember thinking, "This should be interesting."
We get to the airport and head back to one of those "general aviation" hangars. Where all the little airplanes hang out. The Missus Herself is very nervous. For the airport is so big and our aircraft is so small!
And it did look tiny sitting there in front of the hangar, while in the distance the commercial jets were coming and going. I don't remember the aircraft model, just its characteristics. High wing, single engine, fixed tricycle landing gear (no wheel spats) seats for four.
Eventually the preflight was complete and we boarded, parents in the back, WSO and her pilot up front. Oddly enough, the WSO was seated on the left. I don't remember why, but as the actual pilot did actually have controls on his side of the cockpit, I was content with whatever explanation was given.
We taxied out, the Missus Herself looked, shall we say, nervous. Probably as we're in this wee small flying machine waiting our turn with all these big passenger jets. I thought it was kind of cool. You know, commercial aviation, up close and personal.
As the sun is headed towards the backside of the planet, we begin our takeoff roll, into the darkening skies. As I recall, it was a beautiful evening. Moderate temperatures with hardly a cloud in the sky and very little wind.
I nearly had my right arm snapped in twain as we gained speed and lifted off. The Missus Herself had this death grip going on my right arm. I pointed out to her that I was not actually Superman and would be quite unable to save her should something go wrong with the aircraft. With that she relaxed her grip and a minute or so later, feeling returned to my lower arm.
Now the WSO was up front, making radio calls, talking to the pilot, looking very much like she knew what she was doing. Our flight plan was to fly over to Hyannis, do a touch and go, fly back to Aquidneck Island, do another touch and go at Newport airport (actually in Middletown) and then return to T.F. Green.
As we headed towards Cape Cod, the WSO was on the horn with Hyannis Approach. Except, she kept pronouncing it "Hi Anus". Like she was conversing with someone's butt. The controller on the other end kept pronouncing it properly and somewhat ostentatiously, trying to clue the young aviatrix into her mispronunciation of this small town on the Cape.
Meanwhile the pilot and I are giggling like a couple of school girls every time the WSO would say something like, "Roger that, Hi Anus..." Eventually she figured it out. Happy she was not. Her next radio call heard the name of the town pronounced correctly. With no little exaggeration of the enunciation, if you get my drift.
After our touch and go at "Hi Anus" [giggle] we headed back to Little Rhody.
It was over Buzzards Bay that I noticed it. It was in my peripheral vision. Something was shadowing our aircraft, just below our altitude and slightly outboard. Flying in formation with us but not showing any lights. Slightly alarmed I was. But then I figured I was seeing things. So I ignored it.
Minutes later, I could ignore it no more. This dark companion was still there, still maintaining perfect formation on us. Now I was a little pissed off. Mind you, we're over water, at night and there is nothing below us to give me any sort of perspective. So I'm trying to figure out just what the hell it is. And I am stumped. I have no idea. And I'm getting a little freaked out now. Wondering just how to broach this to the WSO and the pilot.
Then we cross the coast, we're "feet dry" and lights are starting to appear below us. Okay, now I can figure out what this mysterious wingman is.
As we pass over a town I realize what the mysterious object is which has been following us since we left Cape Cod. In reality, it had been with us all along.
It was the left main landing gear, the tire to be precise. No doubt (as a matter of fact hopefully) there was another on our right side as well.
I'd been staring at this tire for over fifteen minutes wondering what the hell it was.
Part of the airplane it was.
Embarrassed I was.
Needless to say, when we landed and drove home, I did not mention our "spectral" wing man. You know, the landing gear flying in perfect formation just under us. I mean, that's where it was supposed to be, right? The only reason to have been freaked out was if it wasn't there, right?
This is the first time this story has seen the light of day.
I shall not speak of it again.