In yesterday’s blog, I touched on the peculiar sense of solitude found only in flying alone. I have spent my fair share of flight time flying solo. In my Part 135 days, I was alone from Sunday night to Friday morning in the skies of the southeastern United States hauling checks to Atlanta, Miami, Pensacola, Jacksonville, Charleston, and other destinations. Each night, I typically crammed six to eight hours of flying into a 12 hour duty period.
All of my solo flights before or since pale in comparison to one flight I flew in the Navy. This particular flight is truly The Solo Flight of my life.
The boat is about half way between California and Hawaii. The mission is to go out and map all the surface contacts within 700 miles of the ship. The Air Plan calls for a launch about 45 minutes before sunset giving us an easy day catshot with a night trap. This promises a dying light on the western horizon which will help with spatial orientation.
We brief and the air wing is ready to go. We suit up and man the airplanes. As a section (two aircraft flying together in formation), we are assigned different sectors around the ship to patrol.
As it comes closer to launch time, things start happening quickly on the flight deck. As each pilot finishes their pre-taxi checks, he calls up and ready. As I listen on the frequency, an odd thing happens. The Tomcats go down. Unless we make changes very quickly, we will not be able to cover all the sectors around the ship.
The next thing I know, my lead pilot calls me on the tactical frequency and splits the flight. He tells me to cover our original area to the north; he will take the sector assigned to the Tomcats. I could not believe we were going to go out and fly “alone.”
Before long, the yellow shirts are directing me to Cat 2. I rogered the weight board, and got ready. Shortly afterward, the force of the catapult shot presses my helmet back against the headrest and I am on my way north.
I climb to altitude and get away from the ship. I begin looking for surface contacts. As I drone north, I am in awe.
The sun is setting to the west and all around me all I can see is water. After a while, the ship is 400 miles behind me, Hawaii is 1000 miles to my left, and California 1000 miles to the right. This is the absolute definition of solitude.
I do not believe I have ever been so alone in my life. There is me, God, the sky, the sea, the A-7, and that wonderful TF-41 turbofan engine turning tens of thousands of rpm behind me. As long as the turbofan continues to turn, life is good. However, if it stops, I know I will have a full night in the open waters of the Pacific.
The TF-41 keeps turning and on the way back to the ship, I connect with the tanker, taking on extra fuel. I spend minimal time in marshall prior to my push time and before I know it, I am back aboard the ship.
After all these years, occasionally, I will dream of this particular flight. Only, now I know I am never really alone.
© 2010 J. Clark