Friday, July 28, 2006

Artistry and decibels

Thursday July 27, 2006

Over the years at Oshkosh, there've been several times when my jaw has dropped and my breath has been taken away. Wayne Handley was the first pilot I ever saw stand his airplane -- the Oracle Raven -- on end and hold it there, then give it the throttle and make it climb again. He crashed some years later, survived, and retired. Of course, Scott Tucker is an amazing aerobatic pilot, and then there's the RV folks who provide us with a fabulous formation show at OSH, as they did on Tuesday.

Lately, though, I've felt somewhat guilty coming over here to Oshkosh and thinking, "oh, yeah, seen that. Yawn." But a few minutes ago I found myself being young enough to dream of being a jet pilot when I grow up, when your government sent two of the brand new F-22 raptor fighter planes to show their stuff over the skies of Winnebago County.

As one did his (or possibly her) thing down over the main runway, the other one came over here over the campground to entertain me -- and I assume a few others for awhile -- giving us a great show of their capability.

The pilot, like Wayne Handley, seemed to make his fighter stand still in mid-air, then put nose up and just enough throttle to hold it there in a vertical position, nosed it over to a flat position, and then gently let the nose drop into a dive with a kind of aeronautical artistry that nearly demanded music. But the dive was short, almost unnoticeable, and allowed enough airspeed to allow him (or her) to again trade it for altitude that in a graceful return to a vertical position. And as the pilot brought his newfangled plan around for the climb, he showed both afterburners ablaze to me and my binoculars to the point where I thought that any minute I'd be hit with a blast of hot air.

A couple of high speed passes over the main runway was followed by a third at slow speed as the pilot wagged his wings to the left, to the right, and to the left again... a traditional greeting to the crowd.

The pilot, someone's grandson or granddaughter no doubt, then ascended in a soft turn, joined up with his mate and from miles high circled the air in two 360 degree turns. I imagined the pilots inside spending time looking down, envious of the people that were on the ground at the greatest aviation gathering on the planet; people that were on the ground looking up, envious at their ability to fly two of the greatest airplanes ever developed.

At the conclusion of the second wide circle, another jet appeared in my binoculars' field of view ahead of the two fighter jets. One, peeling off to one side, the other disappearing in the dot of the larger jet. I wondered if they were now escorting some dignitary home, until I realized it was a tanker jet, providing a drink of fuel for each of the fighters to return home.

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