I never expected that my job, as a pilot, would lead me through a series of class-five rapids. Sure, moisture behind the ears may have been imagined but the accelerated heart rate was not. First tip: when rushing water is audible before it’s visible look for an eddy--someplace where you can collect yourself and construct a plan. The turbulent waters ahead gave plenty of warning, but it is my nature to disregard trepidation, which, in this case, is most likely why I was still looking for my oar just prior to submergence.
I’ve gotten use to the simple life while flying single engine air tankers. In simple, I mean, few options when/if something goes wrong during a mission. Low-level flight seldom affords the luxury of troubleshooting. In a perfect world, you’d hope for enough time to set it down gently. I’ll admit that my skills concerning more complicated procedures have acquired a few barnacles.
The Neptune P-2V and I are old friends; however, four years does considerable damage to the memory and I’ve forgotten exactly what's required for a desired outcome. Another notch of flaps will increase our descent rate by how much?
“Tanker niner, you are cleared for takeoff, left turn westbound approved.”
“Cleared for takeoff, left turn, tanker nine.”
Neurosis came over me while verifying the completion of our checklists. No matter how many times I repeated them, I always felt that something had been missed. Four engines climb to 6,500 feet a lot quicker than one engine will so it's a game of constant adjustments. Comfortably established at cruise altitude affords some relaxation and I release half of the muscles pinning my shoulders to the overhead panel.
“Do your fuel pressure gauges always read high?” I was genuinely curious.
“Only when the boost pumps are on,” the captain said without glancing at the position of the boost toggles.
Damn it! Those were on my cruise check list, that--supposedly--I completed ten minutes ago.
You may think this is comical. Three days after the fact, as I write this, it sort of is, and so I give you permission to giggle. But I will refrain because I am a perfectionist. Taunted by a fun pack of bite size mistakes, the challenge I have embraced promises eventual success. I knew that the hurried return to the heavies would not be an easy one.
“Wasn’t that call for us?” the captain asked.
The radio crackled, “Tanker nine, you are cleared to land runway three zero.” Yep, that previous transmission was for us.
Where was I . . . Oh! Yes, far from perfect. There’s no way in hell that I could pilot-in-command this aircraft with a measly two recent hours, yet I slightly expect it of myself. I thrive on challenge--sometimes in excess. But I don't think I'm alone. I'll bet that half the population wouldn't mind the occasional 4,000 piece puzzle--of clouds. Who doesn't want frustration at ad infinitum of irregularly shaped cardboard bits? It's a test of sanity.
Let's steer away from inflated examples for a minute. How many times have you paced yourself down Main street researching the precise speed required to avoid braking at the stop lights? I have, at least once--in each city lived. Or how many cars have you converted to nitrous so you won't have to worry about those pesky lights? Damn the exaggerations. I apologize. It won't happen again.
. . . Tell me, have you ever been awed by the beauty of glistening city lights--through a slight fog of nitrous?