Sunday, August 15, 2010

Showing My Inner Geek: Air Force Research

Had another whirlwind weekend. Friday night we went to Cirque Du Soleil, followed by dinner right on the water at False Creek. Saturday I cleaned up the house and yard to get ready for my RWA chapter summer get together on Sunday. Then a bit of a monkey wrench.

We were supposed to go to the air show just before lunch, but due to hubby having to go into the office for a few hours, that didn't happen. By the time he finished up, we had less than two hours left before the show closed. I was not impressed. I desperately wanted to see some aircraft featured in my current WIP, and I didn't want to drag two fighting kids around with me while I did so. I let my displeasure with my hubby be known, and we finally headed out to the show. The kids fell asleep on the way, so they stayed in the van with DH while I went in myself. Was I going to pass up the opportunity to see Hercs and Globemasters up close just because my family wasn't interested? Hell no. Their loss.

It was over ninety freaking degrees outside, and probably close to a hundred on the tarmac. What I didn't count on was being able to meet the air crews, and actually talk to them. It threw me. I felt like a total dork because I was all by myself with this little yellow sundress on (not exactly air show attire), but whatever. I needed to see these planes firsthand. There are plenty of Canadian military aircraft around, but I ignore all of them and head straight over to the planes stamped USAF.

First stop was the C-5 Galaxy, pictured at left. This thing is monstrous, and I have no idea how it gets off the ground. In this shot they're unloading a Pave Hawk (special ops version of the H-60 Black Hawk), but unfortunately I didn't get to see one of those at the show. Probably just as well because I would have drooled all over it :)

Next stop was the C-17 Globemaster, which was impressive in itself. Could easily park a semi in there and still have room to spare. The sides of the interior are lined with jump seats (see below), and it regularly flies with two loadmasters on the crew.

But what I really came to see was the C-130, or Hercules. It's the four-prop workhorse of the military, and it's been around a long time. The heroine of my Bagram series is the co-pilot of the souped-up heavily armed version of the Herc, known appropriately as the Spooky. There aren't many of them around, so I intended to take a close look at the 130 and imagine the rest. So, no surprise I made a beeline for the Herc sitting with its tailramp down. Trying to ignore my sudden nervousness, I approached the men from the Alaska Air Reserve standing there in their flight suits.

The back end crew were in their forties or fifties, and very sweet to me. They gave me a tour of the cargo area, politely answering all my questions about the Spooky. The loadmaster showed me where the weapons and electronics systems would be, and talked about its range, average air speed, etc. Then he called the pilot over to answer some specifics about the flight deck. This is where I got tongue tied. He was young and damn good looking and I just about completely froze. (Katie, where are you when I need you!!!)

Him: "Hi, ma'am. Can I help you with anything?"

Me: Uh...
Oh my God. I'm all sweaty and gross, and here's this gorgeous pilot in front of me.
Say something! You look like an idiot! "Um, can I see the cockpit?"

"We've closed it off because it's too hot up there, but you can take a look through the floor if you like."

I follow him forward and get my first look up at the front seats and the bank of electronics and instruments. It's so hot the backs of my knees are sweating. I can feel my dress sticking to me, and I just know my hair's gone all wild and curly.

The pilot faces me with a smile, his deep blue eyes crinkling slightly at the corners. "Ever been in a Herc before?"

"No, this is my first time." I'm absolutely not blushing because he's easy on the eyes and mildly flirtatious, I tell myself. My heart is beating hard and my face is red simply because I'm about to have heat stroke.

"Well welcome aboard."

Oh yeah. He's got that alpha-male, charismatic thing down pat. And man, he's really good looking.

Say something intelligent. "Uh...What altitude to you generally fly at?"

"Depends, but I like low and slow."

He says it with a distinct lowering of his voice. Now it's even hotter in here, and the twinkle in his eye isn't helping. Oh my God, I'm a cougar.
"In the day we can go as low as 200 feet, and at night with NVGs--You know what NVGs are?"

"I do."

Another grin. "With NVGs we can go to 500 feet."

That's pretty freaking low, especially in a place like Afghanistan, with all the sharp mountain peaks in the northeast half of the country. We chatted a bit more about the kinds of missions he flies. Air drops mostly, to resupply teams in the field, or civilians needing aid. But they can also do troop transport, medevac and recon missions. I asked if dropping from higher altitudes made for a low success rate. He said no, because the parachutes used to deploy equipment actually have GPS systems in them. Who knew? And, as it turned out, this particular reserve Captain has been to Iraq once, and 6 times to Afghanistan.

Anyone who's read my books knows how much I love talking about military action in Afghanistan. I'm practically vibrating inside.

After taking all this in, I flounder for something sensible to say. "When you fly medevac over there, are the patients transported to Landstuhl?"

"No, we take 'em to Bagram."

I open my mouth to say I meant after Bagram, wishing I'd phrased it differently so I looked like I had a clue.

"From Bagram they're transported in bigger aircraft to Landstuhl or Ramstein."

I nod, still stuck on the magic word Bagram. My heart starts beating even faster.

Here it was: the perfect opportunity to ask him everything I'd ever wanted to know about Bagram, flying in Afghanistan, and maybe find out if he knew any PJs over there. Did I ask him any of these burning quesitons? Nope. Too wound up inside. My mind's gone blank.

We chat a bit more about flying, his career, etc. Then he tilts his head and gives a little smile. "What do you do for a living, if you don't mind me asking?"

"I'm a massage therapist." Why does that suddenly have less-than-proper overtones for some reason?

His grin widens. "Just seems like you know more about all this than the average person."

"Oh, well I'm...I'm a writer." I clear my throat and glance away, up into the safety of the cockpit. It's waaay too damn hot in here, but he doesn't seem to notice. I have the impression he'd stand there and answer my questions all day. "The character in my book is a female Spooky pilot." I don't dare tell him it's a romance.

"Oh. Wow, that's really great."

I think it's great, but I'm a geek.

I asked him a few more inane questions, then someone from the air show came up to talk about his itinerary. I waited a few moments and picked my moment, thanked him quickly, wished him well on his upcoming deployment. Then I left. The second I exit the aircraft a breeze hits my sweaty skin, and thank God.


I turn around to see all three crewmen standing on the tail ramp, waving at me. My face gets even redder as I smile and wave back. Who knew I was still this self-conscious around a bunch of good-looking men? I hurried back across the baking tarmac on my way to the parking lot. As I turned the corner and glanced back, they were still standing there. They waved again; I waved back. The Snowbirds (Canada's version of the Blue Angels) were performing overhead, but I didn't much care. I was too busy kicking myself for freezing back there. When am I ever going to get the chance to talk to a 130 pilot again? There are so many things I wished I'd asked him.

Still, I'm glad I got to see the aircraft and get a feel for it, because that'll only make the scenes more vivid when I write them. But I learned an imporant lesson. Next year I'm taking a list of questions with me!


Zosia said...

I would have just been standing there, staring like an idiot. I guarantee you; no words would have left my mouth.

Kaylea Cross said...

Lol, Zosia. Maybe I should have done the same :) Next time I'll be better prepared!

Katie Reus said...

Low and slow! Bahaaa! That's awesome. I was grinning reading this entire thing!! Great story! I think you're pretty freaking amazing for even talking to them all so kudos to you :)