After the great “hotel scramble”, the next morning had a truly “brief” briefing. Dispatch sheets were handed out with no fanfare.
My driver had the plane untied by the time I arrived.
Flight suit on. (Maybe I should wash this thing….nah.) Oil cap secured. Climb up and in the window. (You thought maybe we had doors? Nope…you climb right in the window). The tiny step never seems big enough. The scariest part of the entire flight is the moment my entire weight is on the tip of my boot. One slip, and I’m sure that only will it result in serious injury, but great hilarity on the part of all observers.
Seat belt. Knee board. Stow the sunshade. Boost pump on. Boost pump off. Clear prop….start switch, ignition at 12%Ng. The clacking of the igniters reminds me of a metronome on the “urgent” setting. Slight movement of the condition lever….a pause…and the comforting “whoosh” of ignition of jet fuel.
One eye on oil pressure, one on TIT. All in green, the normal rise, then fall, of the TIT and my “mobile home” is ready for business. Radio master on, air conditioner on, prop out of feather, ready for taxi. Today we will fly, and load, from another base.
Unloaded, the 802 flies considerably more sprightly. I’m looking forward to it. The power-to-weight ratio will make it feel “fighter-like”. I say nothing. Today….I’m “Two”.
Clearance to the runway. Clearance for take-off. Since we are at a military base, it brings back memories of the Air National Guard, and my all-too-brief time in the backseat of a jet. As we roll onto the runway, the first thing I’ve said…”Two’s on”. Lead now knows I am lined up and ready.
The two-ship comes off smoothly. As we leave the AFB traffic area I make the call to dispatch.
The views of the fire, from the “hold” in formation, are amazing. Several large air tankers pass nearby, one turning in for his drop, one heading out, and we eye the fire.
(the view from 10,500 feet).
The non-stop turbulent air keeps us busy. No autopilot. No other hands in the cockpit. The spinal cord reflex of coordination developed over years of flying takes over. The deep green of the alfalfa fields contrasts with the stark ruggedness of the mountains. The turning foliage bears a striking resemblance to lines of retardant…bright red colors intermixed with the delicate yellow of turning aspens. This small space of but a few feet has been my window into sights I had only dreamed of seeing.
The constant radio chatter of a busy fire is the background noise to the simple, elegant view of the cockpit. Now, after several seasons in the same plane…every little shake, every switch, every control, every gauge…all are more familiar to me than my home. My hands find small things to adjust. Tiny movements. Imperceptible. Man cannot merge with machine…can he?
Today, my landings are good. Good enough that the DO comments. To my recollection, it’s the first compliment on my landings in 8 years, and a 1000 hours. (Perhaps that’s a commentary on the general quality of my landings…or of his standards.)
After the last drop, we are sent to hold. “Our objective is accomplished” by the words of the Air Attack. As the sun eases down, the turbulence seems lessened. The spur ridges of the mountains give a world class view of Fall approaching.
The last landing did not disappoint. Lift disappeared as wheels rolled.
Tower asked us to clear the runway, and taxi back on the parallel, and hold prior to crossing. A flight of two “late-generation” (I think I can safely say that) jets pulled into place by me. I was admiring the sleek lines, recalling the incredible speed and maneuverability of the jet as we’ve watched them fly.
The helmeted head, and visor-covered face looked towards me…….gave me, and my retardant-soiled plane a close look….