Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cookin' With Gas

You line your plane up on the runway. The checklists are done. You’ve got your clearance. All is ready. You push up the throttle and roar off. Right?


Every takeoff in your life is an important event. Lives are at stake; not just your own either. One of my favorite adages goes like this: When a pilot walks out to his plane, he faces one of two possible fates: This will be his last flight, and he knows it. Or, this will be his last flight, and he doesn’t know it.

So that makes every takeoff a profound event. It’s no wonder then why some pilots mark the beginning of the takeoff with some sort of self-assuring verbal utterance. It doesn't seem to matter if their machine is a garage built winged gizmo or the latest behemoth off of Boeing's assembly line, they have this irresistible proclivity to say something as they release the brakes and whip the engines into a mad frenzy.

Some pilots say―with precise professional bearing―“Cleared for takeoff.” Others just say “Here we go!” Some Navy pilots, braced and awaiting the cat shot say, “Lord, please don't let me―“ (You know the rest of that one.)

For no apparent reason, as I got ready to take off a few days ago from Sacramento bound for Denver, I remembered what Hack Cross, one of my old buds of the Mississippi Air Guard, used to say when he let go the brakes and put the spurs to a Starlifter. He said, “HERE WE GO, SINGIN' IN THE KITCHEN!”

I wondered what in the world that meant. Must be a song. Coming from Hack, it sounded cool. And that brought back more memories. I recall how “Flat Land” Moore would release the brakes, push up the throttles and yell, “BOYS, WE'RE COOKIN' WITH GAS NOW!”

Where did that come from?! I think that was a TV commercial, or some sort.

Then there was Mississippi Air Guard icon, George Fondren, the “DOD” (a highly inside acronym that does not mean Department of Defense), who, without fail, announced to his crew as the jet heaved down the runway, “May the force be with us!”

Although I am one of those “Here we go” kind of guys, I decided that morning in Sacramento to honor my old Guard buddies by using one of their takeoff utterances. I chose Hack's. I turned the 757 onto the runway, pushed up the power and said, “HERE WE GO, SINGIN' IN THE KITCHEN!”

But this wasn't the Magnolia Militia anymore. This was the Big Airline world. There are certain things you say at critical times, and you are expected to say nothing else. My first officer blurted, "WHAT?”

“Nothing” I said as I steered the jet down the centerline stripes. I stole a quick glance at him. He was looking at me with this incredible question mark on his face. “Nothing!” I said again.

After we got up higher and our work load dropped off he said, “What did you say when we were taking off?”

I said, “I said, 'Here we go, singing in the kitchen.'”

He looked at me with a blank stare. I grinned and shrugged. I had to admit to myself it didn't sound near as cool as when Hack said it.

I do miss the camaraderie of the Mississippi Guard. Those guys, by the way, are now pushing ultra-modern C-17s and are flying some of the most challenging global missions of our time. I don't know many of them any more, but I sure hope they haven't lost at least a touch of the Southern flying man's tradition for projecting their personality into the task at hand, and making professional flying fun, as well it should be.

I'm tired of saying, “Here we go.” I need a repertoire of co
ol takeoff utterances. Give me some suggestions. Post them to the blog, or e-mail me if you're cyber-shy. As long as it doesn't make a fool of me, I'll use your submittal on an actual 757 or 767 takeoff, and I'll let you know when and where I used it.

Until next time: We're off to see the Wizard.