Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Negative, Ghostrider. The pattern is full."

Whoever authorized Air Force One to fly over the Big Apple for a photo-shoot is in Big Trouble. You already know about the ruckus it caused. The news media reported that New Yorkers fled in panic, fearing with tears and screams that another hijacking was in progress; that the nearby jet fighters were preparing to shoot it down into their streets. All the news agencies—even the conservative FOX News—opined that the flight was not only ill-advised in that it unnecessarily scared people, but it was financially wasteful.

Already several people have asked me what I think of it. I'm used to these kinds of questions. When something newsworthy happens in the aviation world, people ask their local airline pilot what he thinks. I don't mind; it comes with the territory. So, I'll tell you what I think about USAF Uno's buzz job, but get ready for the truth. It hurts.

Notwithstanding the fact that the flight was launched for a number of combined missions, the photo shoot being only one objective (thereby rendering the 'waste' argument irrelevant), the lesson is that Attorney General Eric Holder may indeed be correct when he charged that America has become a “nation of cowards” (although his context was starkly different). We see a big plane flying low over New York. Do we look closely at it to try and identify it? (Even in the videos the Air Force One paint job is clearly evident.) Do we wonder why those fighters aren't firing? Do we pause and think? Do we evaluate? Do we compose ourselves?

No. We don't. We panic. We run. We hide, quiver and cry. We grab our cell phones and call our lawyers. Somebody frightened us. Sue!

It turns my stomach.

We're supposed to be Americans. Running and hiding is not our heritage. We face the threat and we don't blink, and when we see the threat is not a threat at all, but rather a proud symbol of American freedom and independence from tyranny, we stand tall and salute.

That's what I think. What do you think? Post your comment.

And while we're on the subject of buzz jobs, I confess I perpetrated one myself this very morning at our nation's premier national airport—Washington-Dulles. I didn't mean for it to be a buzz job, but it may have looked that way.

We were ferrying a 767 to Chicago. A ferry flight is a flight with no passengers and often, as today, without flight attendants. The big bird had only the two of us. Accordingly, it weighed in at a very light 220,000 pounds. As Tom, my fearless ex-Marine Phantom driver co-pilot, worked up the takeoff performance data, he remarked, “You're flying a rocket today, Boss.” I knew what he meant. He meant the jet was going to climb like a scalded ape up a skinny palm tree.

Dulles tower cleared us for takeoff on runway 19L with a turn to heading 260 degrees. When they do that they expect the turn to be made as soon as possible after liftoff. With a normally loaded plane that turn would be made down toward the end of the runway or even south of the airport boundary. But not today.

I eased back gingerly on the yoke to avoid striking the tail (a common precaution in a long-bodied jet) and immediately rolled into a 30 degree right bank. Since there were no passengers I might have rolled a little more briskly than normal and to a steeper bank. I glance down to the right and saw the main terminal racing underneath us. We might have rattled the windows. I looked at the vertical velocity indicator: pegged at 6000 feet per minute.

Then the tower called us. “[Company and flight number], I WISH I HAD MY CAMERA. YOU GUYS BUZZED THE TOWER. WOW!” Tom and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows, the mutually unasked question: “Are we in trouble?” Then the tower handed us off to Potomac Departure Control with a cheery “So long.”

So did we get in trouble? No. Haven't heard a thing yet. We may have caused them to spill their coffee in the tower, but I can't think of any rule we broke, although I wish that excited controller had used words other than “buzzed the tower.” I do wonder what some FAA guy sitting in an airport office with a scanner may have thought when he heard the tower's shout.

So, there you have it. A few weeks ago I was accused of air piracy. (See the Feb 4 2009 post.) Now I guess they'll call me a 767 barnstormer. I buzzed the tower at Dulles and I'm still licensed and employed. But stay tuned; the case may not be closed.

About this blog's title: What movie is it from? What did Ghostrider do? 

Some famous buzz jobs:

Cathay Pacific at Seattle (the captain got fired)
Blue Angel Six
Airbus A-320 in Portugal
Varig 727

And finally, the most famous of them all, Yak-52s at Moontown
(Vicious rumors allege that I am one of these rogues, but
I vehemently deny it.)