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Flying high

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happy birthday to the U.S. Air Force. On 18 Sep 47 it became official; the former Air Corps branch of the Army became a separate military service. USAF now marks 65 years, of which I was privileged to be a part for about one third. A long time member of Strategic Air Command our motto was "Peace Is Our Profession."

Life itself is a wonderful adventure and I give thanks for another day to savor. Let me share a couple highlights along the way during my time in uniform. In the fall of 1958, the Royal Air Force brought a Comet aircraft to Colorado Springs and offered to give a few of us Cadets a ride. The Comet, an English endeavor, beat everybody in the commercial airline world by building the first jet powered airliner. I couldn't pass up the chance for the ride, even though I knew the history of the Comet disintegrating at altitude eventually causing it to be withdrawn from service. After discovering and fixing the problem, the public refused to ride so their RAF took over the remaining airframes. The RAF then used them for military transportation missions.

By the time I got the ride, the Comet had been eclipsed by the French Caravel and the even better Boeing 707. I remember the Comet's cabin being appointed with the usual high quality airline seats. In vogue at the time, I think, was the practice of having all the passenger seats facing aft, a configuration that wasn't at all popular with the public and is not the practice today. The RAF stewards were sharp and the flight crew typical matter of fact English. I love those guys! The real highlight of the ride was the fact that we climbed rapidly to above 50,000 feet altitude. Yea gads, what an international incident that would have been if that airplane had disintegrated with the load of Cadets on board. Even today few airliners ever fly that high. I suspect that the Brits didn't ask, knowing it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission.

At 50,000 feet the sky becomes a very dark blue, almost black. We weren't high enough to see the stars in the daytime but that happens at even higher altitudes. Below there was enough haze in the air to make it difficult to see the ground very clearly. We were over the foothills, though, and the mountains were distinct yet far below. I never flew that high again in my entire career. We did make it to 48,000 feet several times in the KC-135, a sibling to Boeing's famed 707. The tanker was perfectly safe at that altitude, though the flight controls felt a little sloppy. We crewmembers also wore oxygen masks at the ready. In the Comet none were evident.

Over the years since leaving the world of high flying high speed military aviation I have enjoyed the low and slow scene that is general aviation. We don't fly nearly as high or as fast but have a much better view of what is happening on the ever changing face of the earth. That, too, I enjoy but have rather missed the view from up in the flight levels. For the past year or so, though, I've been privileged to fly as a crew member on a small corporate jet. Our Citation is happy cruising around 36,000 feet so I've been getting my high altitude fix regularly since. Recently we departed Lincoln and flew west along side the Platte River. Grand Island, Kearney, Lexington, Cozad, Gothenburg and North Platte all ticked past in quick procession. Note for an aviator: a town with a familiar airport makes for a positive fix of one's position. My fellow pilot grew up in the Madrid area and we were about able to pick out the farm of his youth, along with Grant and Imperial. The air was unusually clear that fine day. Then it was on to destination in the slightly smoggy Denver area.

Two days ago flying my smaller general aviation airplane, we leveled off in a hazy layer at 7,000 feet. Earlier that morning the sun had shown a brilliant red color as it rose above the horizon. In the not-so-clear about a mile above the earth, we could smell smoke, wood smoke. Voila, it was the smoke coming from the western forests a-burning. That, too, explained the red sun at morning. I was reminded of a similar red sun phenomenon while flying out of Okinawa years ago.

That red color of the sun at morning turned to a pale yellow during the day and was traced to dust clouds blowing from the Gobi Desert. At times it is a small, but wonderful world in which we live.

I have been tickled to observe fellow Gazette columnist and friend Mike Hendricks "Mike at Night" explaining why he no longer wishes to make public his political views. I can't blame him. After all, Mike being a lifelong Democrat and now on the losing team, it is hard to be excited about being wrong on so many fronts. For example Mike applauds President LBJ for pushing "through the Civil Rights Act that eventually drove almost all the southern states to the Republican Party." Well the way I remembered it, it was LBJ and the Republicans who provided the majority votes in Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act. The mossback Democrats fought it tooth and nail but most of those no voters in turn lost to Republican challengers in the next election.

It is the spend spend spend Democrats that have run up our huge national debt. They get angry with the Republicans who vote no on more spending and that is why President Obama, Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat, haven't allowed a budget to pass the Senate in what, three years and running.

Yep Mike, I'd be a little embarrassed to cheer for the spend to bankruptcy party. And how about the good job your President is currently doing in the enflamed Muslim world?

That is the way I saw it.

Dick Trail

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Mike at Night is, as usual, correct. It's all in the point of view (and the history books). How is it that dissembling comes so easy to those who hold conservative views? The old "I may not be right, but I'm never wrong" mindset? Just askin'.

-- Posted by Virginia B Trail on Thu, Sep 20, 2012, at 11:41 AM

Wasn't George Bush, who took us into an unfunded war, a Republican? Weren't the tax cuts George pushed through, supposed to spur growth and lead to more government revenue, thus being able to reduce the debt?

-- Posted by mickhaney on Thu, Sep 20, 2012, at 6:11 PM


I have been working on the Tanker for 25 years this year. Dang....What a good airframe!!!!! The last of us old guys wish for the SAC days again.. It ain't what it use to be, but I never attended the academy. The guys I have meet that have; have been, lets just say more full of them selves than the average pilot!

Cheers! Next time I'm in McCook you need to take me flying!


-- Posted by greb on Tue, Sep 25, 2012, at 12:15 AM

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Dick Trail
The Way I Saw It