Somewhere in my archives, which I’m still having trouble accessing, is a collection of “liberal” commentary on Tony Snow’s death that I caught as word came in that he’d succumbed to his cancer [update: found here. Thanks to golem14]. The outpouring of hate then was just as atrocious as the commentary aimed at Breitbart this past week, complete, in the aftermath, with requisite and self-serving rationalizations the left used in that instance to justify the most vile and vicious utterances they could attach to their ironic internet handles.
Tony Snow was a chipper guy who smiled more than he frowned and he rarely if ever said anything bad about anyone. He was a grown up even when he disagreed. He was poised and civil. His style was to listen to the other side and then responded in a friendly way. When he opposed something he was polite and informed. He avoided viciousness. He was not a finger wagger. He went out of his way to be nice and see the best in people, even those he disagreed with.
He was not a possessed frantic ideologue. He was not boisterous or confrontational. He just reported the news with a smile on his face and did guest hosting on Rush Limbaugh, and was eventually Whitehouse press secretary for a while.
For the most part, he was positive, warm, open, and friendly and he played it nice and classy when others were reduced to breathing fire, banging shoes, and waving sabers.
When Tony Snow died of cancer the left celebrated just as they did with Breitbart. Being nice changed nothing. They still hated him.
There are very few things to admire about a 0500 brief on a Saturday morning. The Weapons School lost some sorties during the course of the week due to weather, and quality being the measure by which all things are reckoned, they would have to be made up. But still.
Fifteen degrees Fahrenheit on wake-up. Pitch black skies. A division of sleepy fighters in the brief, and seven to eight sleepy bandits. My chief contribution was departure/spin procedures for the jet: “Controls neutral, pitch trim one second forward, check speedbrake in, throttle as set. Passing 180 knots recover, passing 6000 feet recovery not initiated eject. In a spin, stick full into the spin mark in the direction of turns, throttle smoothly idle, recover at 180 knots, passing 6000 feet recovery not initiated eject.”
Unlike the far more advanced customers we service, the aircraft is dead simple. If she starts, and the hydraulics are serviced, you’re good to go, and that in maybe 2 minutes. I spent a good half hour in marshall waiting for the various fourth generation fighters to sort out various grievances before finally it was time to launch.
The upside to a cold day is that the jet leaps into the air – relatively speaking – cold air being denser. I only had time for one impatient glance at the airspeed indicator on take-off rather than my customary several. Once the wheels came up and I accelerated to 300 knots, the vertical speed indicator was pegged at 6000+ feet per minute rate of climb – better than a vertical mile per minute.
My role was to serve as an ambush CAP, hugging the valleys between mountain ranges, hoping to hide myself from the glittering rays of radar beams and their associated lances of radar missiles. I was joined by an F-16, piloted by one of the TOPGUN instructors, who took the lead.
Despite our best efforts, we were detected, and rather than sneaking up behind the fighters and stabbing them in the back – much the preferred tactic in air combat – we were forced to take them head on. The lead got a radar lock and before you could say Nob’s your buncle, we were merged with two Super Hornets.
My lead was offensive on the first one we saw, and I was nobbut a high speed cheerleader. Until I saw another FA-18 sweeping lead’s wingline from the north. It had been a while, gentle reader, since I have had the occasion to tell a wingman to “Break left!” But I spit it out nonetheless and it would have done your soul good to see him hold the two of them off for six or eight months in fighter time. (Maybe a minute and a half. Maybe two.) I was hoping to spit out of the fight a bit and re-enter unobserved, for I can’t win in a turning engagement with an FA-18 who sees me, and those are the hard physics of flight. This hope was dashed in the event, for malgre my tailpipe defense to the fight and my very small visual signature I was found and shot: The breaks of naval air.
Headed back to the field down low to stay out of the way. With plenty of gas left I hugged the deck and shot the gaps between mountains and foothills. Popped up when clear of the fight to fly a ground controlled approach, just for the training that was in it. It’s important to work hard at such things when the conditions are easy to ensure that you can do them when they’re not. And yes, the controller overshot my turn to final. I was on deck by 0830 or so, having flown more Kfirs before 0900 than most will fly in their lifetimes.
At the early brief that morning, one of the TOPGUN instructors asked me when I had been on the staff. Ninety-six to ’98, I told him, adding that I was just thinking of that myself. For the Navy lieutenants and Marine captains had seemed young men back then, back when I was a commander. And that was 14 years ago. The names change, but the faces almost appear the same. They are at once somber and light-hearted, serious and casual.
Some things have changed, but not the important ones. In the debrief, some trivial bit of buffoonery will require pointed ribbing, and all will take it in good humor. But if there’s something that really needs to be said, and heard, the “who” is removed and the “what” is underlined. No one else might have noticed it, but then again they might have. And everyone learns that way.
They’re hard on themselves, I guess they have to be. It’s the price of excellence. If there’s a deviation from the script, they’ll ‘fess up on themselves, because at least that shows they recognized their error(s). Far better to call yourself out on having made a mistake rather than have someone else call it for you. “Viper 2 came out of block with a visual, but no tally”, meaning the wingman had been in sight but not the foe, a potential safety-of-flight violation. The debrief room can at times feel like something of a confessional.
It’s not absolution they’re after, not really. Not even respect, or recognition. It’s the standard of excellence. The awareness of it, and the desire to asymptotically approach that standard. Knowing that perfection can never be anything more than a goal rather than a destination.
I’m on the early page it seems, with the 0515 brief burned into my forehead. And the late go as well, so long as your definition of “late” is expansive enough to admit a 1215 brief, 1400 take-off, and 1500 land. With the debrief to follow. Well within the limits of crew day, mind. But a 0415 wake-up, day after day, is rough country for old men.
Especially when, as it was today, the whole thing seems to be for naught.
Used to be that Navy had an on-site meteorology staff at every major deployment site to do their weather guessing for them. People that had spent five, ten – even fifteen or twenty years – learning what secrets old Gaea had hidden up her sleeves to trap the unwary or ill-informed. For it’s a dead solid truth that you’d rather be on the ground, wishing you were in the air, than on the air wishing you were on the ground. The corollary to which is that every airplane which takes off will land eventually, in one fashion or another. Sometimes they taxi back to the line. Sometimes they are swept up.
The Sandy Eggo-based weather guessers were full of bad omens and fearful visions. A ninety-degree crosswind at 25 gusting to 35 knots, we were foretold. A situation utterly beyond our capabilities, for the drag chute loves to fair itself into the wind regardless of whether that wind is down the runway, and you only have so much rudder to keep her tracking true once the rubber meets the prepared surface.
And yet, when it came time to walk to our machines, the flags hung limply, with no hint of later vengeance. So too, after we started and taxied to the hold short. Sometimes weather phenomena do not materialize as they have been forecast. And sometimes they do, but only after you have committed to going flying. Mr. Murphy still gets his vote. As does Mr. Finagle.
There are old pilots and bold pilots, but the overlap is minimal. Yet were we aware that our customers would take off if ever a plausible reason presented itself, and it would not be well thought of if the oldest among us proved chary while the youngest checked the X in the block. So at the hold short my lead called the local metro agent, who has been here since Darius stood in ranks, and asked him what he thought: You should be good to go, quotha. The weather not coming in until after 0900.
And so go we did.
Of the mission itself, not much to report. We joined up, held until committed, pushed out bravely and died unmourned. We were rewarded by the fates for our intrepidity by good conditions upon return to base. Gave thanks for our deliverance, and headed over to debrief our observations.
Heading into the debrief, a strapping young lieutenant I did not know passed me at the door, saying, “Seriously? I read your blog every day.” And that was at a distance mind, too far to read my name patch. Some other man, I replied gamely, knowing it was a lost cause. And wanting to add, “and where are your comments, at all?”
Weather guessers are often accurate, but only occasionally precise. Crosswinds did indeed manifest themselves, albeit after their predicted window. We lost the middle sortie.
The afternoon go also had predicted weather. Down the runway, or very nearly, but at 35 knots gusting to 40. In the bandit brief afterwards, the question was asked of our Navy friends what winds they would suffer. Twenty-five sustained knots, the answer came. On account of the ejection risks.
We did a little hangar flying then. When I was leaving the squadron I had the honor to command, a Marine Harrier pilot had the misfortune to lose his only engine on a gusty day in the Owens Valley east of the Sierras. He successfully ejected and was dragged to his death by the surface winds. I was for a time warned that I would lead his Judge Advocat General Manual investigation. I was happy to have the burden lifted, for JAGMAN investigations – somewhat perversely written by line officers, rather than JAGs themselves – are publicly releasable, unlike mishap investigations. What evern I determined in the course of that investigation could have brought no solace to the man’s family. And there was other work for me to do.
Another pilot remarked that a former TOPGUN instructor and his wingman had suffered a similar fate a few years back after a midair collision over Kuwait. It made for a somewhat subdued conversation afterward, but this is how we remind ourselves that for all the larks that are in it, there are tigers in the grass as well.
It seems a strange irony that the egress system which would save your life in an emergency could snatch it away from you based on something so intangible as surface winds. But just imagine being dragged behind a pickup truck at 25-35 miles per hour while grappling with your harness release and you’ll get some sense of our trepidation. The odds of losing an engine on a gusty day are no better or worse than on any other day. The odds of survival, given the conditions, are much reduced. And there would be other days to fly.
We all of us volunteered for this business, but all of us want a chance, should some bad thing arise, especially in a peacetime training environment: You’ll probably never have to eject. But if you have a bad day and are forced to, you’d a whole lot rather have an even chance to explain why you did so later.
Not long after we’d made our decision the snow was falling sideways and the wind howled through every nook and cranny, piercing though our flight suits and forcing us to shoulder through the gusts. I made my way to the O’Club for a pint of Guinness (for strength) followed by a shot of Jameson’s (for courage). Grateful for the day I’d had.
Conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart is dead at age 43, apparently from natural causes:
The websites he founded ran a statement Thursday morning announcing that Breitbart, 43, died “unexpectedly from natural causes” in Los Angeles shortly after midnight. His attorney and editor-in-chief of those sites confirmed his death to Fox News.
“We have lost a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a dear friend, a patriot and a happy warrior,” the statement said. ”Andrew lived boldly, so that we more timid souls would dare to live freely and fully, and fight for the fragile liberty he showed us how to love.”
Breitbart was a happy warrior who engendered pure hatred in those with whom he disagreed. It was possible to find some of his methods regrettable while respecting the unapologetic passion he brought to his politics. One of his cleverer tactics on Twitter was to re-tweet the bile he received to ensure that his haters received a wider audience.
Many of whom it appears, do not have the grace or tact to remember that, de mortuis nil nisi bonum. These haters may think that they have gotten the last laugh simply by outliving a man they could not outwit, but by their spleen we know them
Not all of his ideological opponents took the fast train to the gutter. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo takes the high ground, remembering that behind our differences we share a common humanity, and a common destiny.
"Sign on, young man, and sail with me. The stature of our homeland is no more than the measure of ourselves. Our job is to keep her free. Our will is to keep the torch of freedom burning for all. To this solemn purpose we call on the young, the brave, the strong, and the free. Heed my call, Come to the sea. Come Sail with me." -- John Paul Jones
"Pardon him, Theodotus; he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature" --George Bernard Shaw, "Caesar and Cleopatra"
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."--Friedrich Nietzsche
"A kind Providence has placed in our breasts a hatred of the unjust and cruel, in order that we may preserve ourselves from cruelty and injustice. They who bear cruelty, are accomplices in it. The pretended gentleness which excludes that charitable rancour, produces an indifference which is half an approbation. They never will love where they ought to love, who do not hate where they ought to hate."--Edmund Burke
“You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”--General Sir Charles Napier