We were driving across Florida through the Ocala National Forest. It was one of those afternoons good for driving, not so much for flying, unless you held an instrument rating and had filed. We were passing near R-2910 and I was thinking back to my days in jets when I enjoyed seeing the sun as others remained trapped under the overcast.
I thought back to one day in particular. The guys running schedules had me slotted with the base commander for a ground controlled approach (GCA) hop. I thought there was a good chance someone or some entity would cancel the flight because the weather was really awful. Metro was calling it sky obscured, with a quarter-mile in fog. I was fairly confident either Ops or the instructor himself would cancel.
I had never flown with the base commander before. In fact, I had not met him, but I understood that when the administrative bull would become too much, he would come over and fly with a student naval aviator on a training hop every now and then. I could understand that—if I were in command of all the T-2s and TA-4s based at the field, I would probably fly one at least daily.
Just not this day. With the weather all the way down to the ground, let’s just say conditions were not ideal. Even the ducks weren’t flying. I was certain the instructor pilot would not want to take a chance in this weather. After all, he was an experienced naval aviator.
And then I met him.
He was experienced all right. He appeared to be about three, maybe four days younger than God. He had creases in the corners of his eyes that told of his time at sea; his hair was graying and his hands were steady as a rock. I could tell his mind was analyzing the weather as only a professional aviator could. There was no doubt in my mind we were going as soon as I saw his nametag—his call sign was “Zero-Zero.”
We briefed, suited up, and pre-flighted the jet in air that was so thick with water and cold I was surprised it wasn’t frozen in place. It was dark underneath about 18000 feet of cloud cover and I had a feeling I was going to gain a lot of experience in instrument flying on this hop.
After we were in the jet and started up, the captain said, “Go ahead and pull the bag over your head.” As I released the Velcro on the canvas bag and positioned it overhead, I thought, He has to be kidding. I was looking forward to obtaining some real instrument time and a bag over my head would make this flight the same as any other instrument training flight. The inside of one bag looks like the inside of any other.
Clouds, however, real clouds, that was something very different. And I was looking forward to gaining that experience.
We roared off into the gray, clouded sky up to the clearance altitude. As we neared FL 240, the cockpit became lighter and brighter.
“Okay, you can take down the bag.” As the captain flew, I peeled back the bag and looked around the sky. We were right at the edge of the clouds and blasting in and out of the tops with the sun shining on us.
It was interesting to see the sun. Clouds had covered the south for the last week and a half. It was stimulating and delightful to see the sun when most of those on the ground would remain in darkness for another week. I realized while basking in the light at FL 240, I had missed seeing the sun over the last couple of weeks.
My time in the sun was short-lived, however, when a moment later Center handed us over to Approach. The Approach controller quickly cleared us for the Hi TACAN penetration to the GCA pickup for multiple PARs (precision approach radar). The jet was flying great, but I still kept a very close eye on all the engine instruments.
We went ’round and ’round for about nine circuits or so, trading approaches. From where I was sitting in the back, I did not have the chance to see the runway environment very well at the Decision Height. The captain called the runway in sight with each pass, so I was feeling comfortable with the mission.
When the captain called for the full stop, we had both had a good workout on the precision approaches. It felt good. I felt as though I was ready to take on any low weather with confidence after that flight.
That flight and following flights always left me feeling privileged and humble to see the sun when others could not.
©2012 J. Clark
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