Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A 21st Century Kind of Bonding

After a week of not blogging for one reason or another, I was only mildly surprised when a couple of people contacted me to make sure all was well with me and mine. I initially thought that it was mostly the feeling one would have when something that occurs frequently, doesn't. That didn't fully explain it, though, and I thought about it for a little longer. What I realized is that it is quite possible these days to develop a kind of bond with people that you have never met simply through reading their shared thoughts and experiences over a period of time.

This wasn't an epiphany at all, to be honest, because I have had the same experience. For a number of years now, it has been an almost daily lunchtime routine to check in on a blogger that writes under the pseudonym Neptunus Lex. There are not many bloggers that I read that regularly, and no others that elicit the thought, "Man, is he smart!" on a routine basis. His writing skills are such that I can only aspire to writing as well.

As I do, he often wrote about his flying experiences and mixed in stories about his family. He had married his high school sweetheart, fathered a son and two daughters, and had a stellar military career as a naval aviator, reaching the rank of Captain and serving as a carrier air group commander prior to his retirement. His love of flying was contagious, as was his utter devotion to his family. As I do, he gave nicknames to the family members, the most amusing of which was his reference to the "All Girls Spending Club" when speaking of the distaff branch of his clan.

At the end of the day, though, it was the way that he could provide a stirring narrative about his flying experiences that kept me coming back for more. As an example, here is a brief story about a flight he made on Sunday. Just for your understanding, he was a retired F-18 pilot that had found the ground-bound workaday life not to his liking and had found a job flying retired military planes for a civilian-owned company that provided training opponents to active duty military pilots. Sparring partners, if you will, albeit armed with lesser equipment and resigned to almost always losing:

I supposed it had to happen eventually, everybody has one in time. And I had mine yesterday.

It was a good hop, really. Raging around down low, hiding in the mountains, waiting for a chance to pounce on the unwary. Although this is graduation week at the (prestigious) Navy Fighter Weapons School, and there are very few unwary students left. Still, good clean fun, and your host can say “Copy kill” with the best of them.

Cruised on back to the field for the recovery with few cares, being very nearly the first to land. The students being further away from the field at the knock-it-off, and the instructors taking advantage of whatever fuel they had left to whirl and flail at one another in the best traditions of the service. A tolerably precise landing, there’s the seven thousand feet to go board, and at 150 knots indicated I pulled the drag chute lever aft, bunting the nose slightly out of the aero-braking attitude to ensure a tangle-free deployment.

Which is precisely when nothing happened.

Ordinarily you feel a pretty good tug on the shoulder harness as the drag chute deploys. Not like an arrested landing aboard ship, mind. But the sensation is unmistakeable, as is the effect, particularly at higher speeds. Which I was still traveling at, the chute having either failed to deploy or parted behind me, there was no way to know. Look, there goes the six board. Still about 150 knots indicated. I’ve mentioned to you before how much runway the jet takes up during the take-off roll with the afterburner howling behind you. It takes up a surprising amount of pavement at idle, too. Especially with no drag chute. Time to go.

The procedure calls for full grunt, and drag chute lever forward to cut the chute if it’s a streamer. It takes a little while for the engine to make full thrust from idle, time spent nervously watching the departure end come up. At least I was still going pretty fast, so there wasn’t that far to go to get to fly-away speed. And I was light.

Tower cleared me to land on the left runway, which is a few thousand feet longer. Much to the dismay of a student whose need to land was at least as great as my own, the right runway being fouled by a drag chute, and hizzoner being low fuel state as he subsequently admitted under protest when he was asked to go-around and make room for me. But based on the timing he was now second in line for special handling. There’s a good man, wait your turn and ‘fess up first in the future. I hope you’ve learned something from this.

I was already pretty low on fuel myself, so I didn’t need to burn down gross weight. Flew about as slow as I could without risking a tail strike or hard landing, she does not like to fly slow. Still about 185 knots in the round-out. With no drag chute the book calls for aerobraking until 130 knots, and judicious use of the wheel brakes from that point on, balanced across the length of the runway remaining. You’re a long time holding the aero-braking attitude with no chute. You go by a lot of runway. Depending upon headwinds or tailwinds and runway length, one might even shut the engine down to reduce residual thrust.

I didn’t in the event, but the brakes – and anti-skid – got a pretty good workout. When I taxied back to the line the maintenance guys told me to go away for 10 minutes. Just in case the brakes might, you know: Catch fire. Which they didn’t, so no harm done.

It’s funny how quickly you can go from “comfort zone” to “wrestling snakes” in this business.

But even snake wrestling beats life in the cube, for me at least. In measured doses.
He died in a plane crash yesterday morning.

I learned about it today when I sat down to enjoy my lunch and read about his further exploits.

I was somewhat surprised at the depth of my reaction. I had never met the man, and other than a few brief email exchanges, he didn't know me from Adam. Despite that, I found myself crying at my desk as the full impact of what I was reading hit me. It was very much like a punch to the gut.

It is certainly an interesting time that we live in, a time when we can develop such deep emotional bonds with people that are unlikely to ever meet in person. In the long view, I suppose this is a good thing, but right now?

I'm not liking it so much.


Life, and Death, on the Fringe
Crash kills pilot who blogged as Neptunus Lex
Pardon Him, Theodotus


Hugo said...

At last check, there were 683 comments. Not a bad legacy.

I often bemoan the passing of my online friends. I have actually met a few, in person, but most I would never recognize if I passed them on the street. Many of those have died have left websites that are forever frozen at a point in their lives. Too many, though, have disappeared.

Steve said...

Wow, I had never even read his blogs and by the time I read what you posted of his - and then read your comment below - my heart sunk, too.

Crazy indeed how we come to know people via the blogosphere that we've never met in person. Hope he rests in peace.

Jeff said...

Well said there Dave. I had never commented on his site,never the less,I read there most every day. My browser homepage is Vansairforce,when done there it's over to Lex's place,a quick check to see if you have put anything up then finish at DP review. " like a punch to the gut " is right on the money. I want you to know that I appreciate your writing style just as much as Lex's and look forward to all your post's. I never told him but I CAN tell you. Thanks for the effort that goes into all of it.


Leon said...

You turned me on to Lex. When I saw whisper's comment I searched the web for news stories and then came straight here. I've been busy the past few days so I just found out this morning. You said it all better than I ever could... thanks. Yes when he wanted to he could write like no other, I'm really going to miss that. Like Jeff said you don't do too bad at that writing thing either(you and sippican will still have to inspire me)...THANKS. I'm going somewhere quiet for a while.

Leon said...

ps is my picture showing up all i see is an exclamation mark

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