Flying Above All………….

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The Fetus is Viable

One of the jokes I had with my youngest son while he was growing up was the old saw….”what is the Jewish definition of fetal viability?”  The answer is “when it graduates from medical school”.

I never pushed or encouraged him to pursue medicine.  Medicine has been good to me (at least it was for 25 years), and I enjoyed learning the human body, and understanding how our wonderful organism works.  Youngest son and I were pretty much by ourselves from the time he was in 6th grade.  He tolerated my world view, turned wrenches on planes with me, and at times simply got out of bed, rode to the hospital, and slept on a couch or hospital bed.  High school provided an opportunity for him to negotiate a better ride (translation: diesel pickup truck) as long as his grades stayed at a 3.5 GPA.  There were numerous times that wailing of “I just can’t do this!” was met with a shrug of the shoulders, and a “hand me the keys” statement.  It has always amazed me how much a boy can do, if he really wants to drive a truck.

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Back in The Saddle Again

As I mentioned, it’s been an unusual fire season.  A burst of activity early, then the monsoons arrived in Arizona.  Flying in from the East, the mountains appeared green, instead of the usual earth tones.  I’ve seen green grass all the way from Arizona to Oregon.  There is the usual discussion of the future weather….those of us who fight fire both hate it and love it.  We don’t like to see the destruction, but if there were no fires, we’d have no job.  The discussion on the porch of the tanker base has about as much reliability as the National Weather Service. Continue reading

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The Long Climb In

The vagaries of weather have created an unusual fire season.  We had a fairly quick start, then things changed.  Avoiding bed sores had become a large part of our daily routine.  Dramatic cutbacks in food intake were needed to avoid becoming so suddenly overfed that climbing into the plane represented a major challenge.

Speaking of climbing into the plane…I had never thought much of how we mounted/dismounted from the plane.  There are two steps that extend below the wing.  First the left foot, then the right, grab the handle, put left foot on wing.  Grab next handle, put both feet on wing. Continue reading

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Momma Made Peace With It….

My parents did not lavish gifts upon us.  We were expected to provide for ourselves any “extras”, or luxuries.  (Well, with the possible exception of my baby sister….)   My mother has said on several occasions, “I just don’t understand why all you kids work so hard”.

I told her, “Momma, you convinced us that the wolf was at the door, and if we wanted a fur coat, we better skin him!”  I learned at an early age that if you wanted something, you best be figuring out how to earn the money.  In the first grade, I “earned” my bicycle $0.05 and $0.15 at a time, doing chores, washing dishes, etc.  I guarantee it taught me the value of money to get $29.00 saved up like that.  And yes,  the money was in the “account” (in the Bank of Mom and Dad) prior to the purchase of a bicycle.  There wasn’t a policy of “buy it now”, with the parents conveniently forgetting to make you pay it back.  Yards were mowed for the neighborhood at age 8, and by age 12 I was running a tractor and a combine.  Continue reading

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1973 was a significant year.  I soloed a plane (March), got my pilot’s license (May), graduated high school (May), bought my first plane (June), and turned 18 (end of June).  My first airplane ride was at age 12, in an old V-tail Bonanza, and the next time I was in a plane I was taking flying lessons.  During my high school years I had a variety of jobs, including school bus driver, TV/washer/dryer repairman, worker at a cotton gin, and just about anything that would pay a bit.  Far and away the thing that captivated me most was working on airplanes, and working as a flagman.

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The Great Escape

Frequently I’m queried about “why do you go fly fires?”

Occasionally, I ask myself that same question.  However, this morning while out walking around the tanker base, I found some insights coming to me.  Not sure it will make sense to anyone but me, but, on the other hand, I don’t think it necessarily has to make sense to anyone else.

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Summer Camp (for Pilots)

As I was readying to leave Georgia, headed to make the trek West, the cute girl (now fiancee) driving me to the airport  looked at me, somewhat askance….

“You’re headed to summer camp”….

Huh?  Never really thought about going out to fly fires as “summer camp”….but it got me to thinking.  Summer camp, as a kid, always involved “church camp”.  No sir, none of those fancy/schmancy camps where you go and have catered meals.  We stayed in rudimentary cabins.  No air conditioning, and in West Texas the lack of air conditioning approached child abuse.

The food was relatively healthy…fresh goat meat, occasionally a hamburger, beans.  Always there were beans….and if you were a junior high age boy, that provided it’s own source of amusement.  Activities varied from sitting and having worship services, to cleaning, to organized games…and the ever present campfire at night.  Not that we were going to suffer too much from lack of heat, but it did seem to provide an internal warmth that I remember to this day.  I still love a campfire, even if it’s way too warm to *really* need one.

We had the morning class/lecture/inspirational talk.  Most of them were clearly unremarkable, other than the fact that they seemed to be delivered by people who truly believed what they spoke.  Lunch was a time to look forward to, if for nothing other than being able to get out of the heat, into the air conditioning, and get something down to quiet the growling from your stomach after breakfast had long worn off.

The fire season day usually begins about 5:30 am or so for me.   My body is still on Eastern time, and even when in the Eastern time zone, I was an early riser.  “Show time”, or the time that we have to be ready to be utilized, is either 0800 or 0900…0800 today.  Because I am the relief pilot, I get out to the air field a bit early, to go over the plane that has been flown by another pilot for the past couple of weeks.  My mechanic/driver/loader (another Stan) helps me get things ready.  Naturally, the rudder pedals have to be adjusted….which, in an 802, is really easy….if you are 5’0″ tall and weigh about 125 pounds.  For those of us who are taller, heavier, and have an abdomen that has expanded over the years, it’s not quite that easy.

Bending over, trying to avoid impaling my head on the control stick, opening a nice laceration on my right arm, and using a few choice words somehow helped get the pin into the correct place.  Better to suffer for a bit early, than suffer sore ankles and legs from pedals that are way too close. (Ever notice how mechanical objects seem to require the shedding of blood?)

Then the morning brief.  The weather report is read in a monotonous tone (but how in the world can Battle Mountain, Nevada, be too excited about a front moving moisture in over Ohio?), and the fire “sit report” (situation report) including Alaska, is read as well.  A discussion of the LAL (lightning activity level), the Haines index (google it), and the mixing level of winds occurs.

Time for PT.  The young, healthy, fit ones go for a run.  Us slightly older…(well, maybe a lot older) ones walk around the base.  Some of the guys go off for a cigarette and a cup of coffee.  I take a path leading out to an old abandoned C-123, with the JATO still mounted on top (Jet Assisted Take Off).  I ponder what it was like to take an elderly, much used work horse, add a jet engine to it, load it with retardant and light the fire in the jet, put full power to the old radials and hang on.  More likely, add all the power and hope that nothing broke, and that you could get the thing airborne.

Now, waiting on lunch.

You know, there are certain parallels.  Maybe this really is summer camp.