The darkness was inky black. Tex drove to the airport, saw the runway lights in the dimness, and was ready. The Corsair was waiting. Day flights, made over time, had left him feeling quite comfortable with the big bird. This morning, with the moon long gone, the stars distant behind a high overcast, the blackness of the night encompassed him in the rumble of the truck taking him to the plane. The darkness added a bit of tension in his gut….not much, but he could still feel it.
Dark blue in the daylight, virtually invisible at night, the Corsair waited. Tex did his “walk-around”, knowing that in the dark he was more dependent than ever on his crew chief to make sure all was well. The crew chief had inspected it in the hangar, under the bright lights….then moved it to the darkness. Tex understood that pilots didn’t need to spend time in the bright hangar, as it would destroy their night vision…but he would have liked to have seen the plane better.
Walking to the right side of the plane he put his hand up to the location of the collapsible hand-hold. He had always thought it odd that Chance-Vought set it up for the pilot to mount on the right. Perhaps it was the years riding horses, or getting on motorcycles…but darn it, you just got onto something from the left side, not the right. Left hand into the hand-hold, left foot on the slot in the flap, up on the wing, both feet into the collapsible foot-well, then into the cockpit. Tex was settled about the time the crew chief showed up with a flashlight. Ritual insults were exchanged, and Tex realized the batteries weren’t connected. He had to climb out of the seat, balance on the rails in the dark, unlock the seat, connect the batteries and re-lock the seat. By now the crew chief was apologizing profusely.
The switches seemed to magically appear under his hands. 9 blades of the prop to make sure it was clear, primed, and magnetos on. Tex laughed to himself as the huge 2800 cubic inch engine coughed, and smoothly came to life. 18 cylinders, each with a piston the size of a dinner plate, 36 spark plugs, and untold gears, pumps, and chambers all cooperated to settle into a smooth lumber. Tex grinned. The airplane knew his touch, just as his woman knew his touch. The thought of Mandy made him sigh a bit. It had been days since he had been able to see her, feel her hand, and caress her. He thought about how she would come to life, just as the big radial did, when he would touch her. “Soon”, he thought to himself, “soon”.
As the temperature of the oil rose, he advanced the throttle. As opposed to some other planes, the corsair showed no exhaust in the darkness. The T6, the Mustang…those at this time of morning would have beautiful exhaust glow streaking down the side. Naval fighters in WWII would be launching from ships to intercept and fight…and a big exhaust flame would be very counter productive…virtually blinding the pilot in a night time launch…but Tex still missed the comfort of seeing the flame at night.
Runup, pre-takeoff checks complete, Tex unfolded the wings, ensured they were locked, and by the quiet glow of the cockpit lights taxiied to the runway. Pushing the power forward, he recalled the first time he felt the power of a fighter…and he never tired of the sensation of speed and thrust. Quickly the tail came up, the earth fell away in the mysterious feeling of the plane being stationary, and the earth moving on its own. Gear up, engine check, power reduction…and Skeet felt again the wonder and mystery of flight.
Light showed in the east, dawn began to break, and Tex was happy. His plane felt light, maneuverable, and solid. His life with Mandy felt light….comfortable, joyful….and solid.