Strictly speaking, this has nothing to do with aircraft and first person accounts of aviation adventures. Nor does it have anything to do with learning from someones else's experiences. Still . . . .
See his website and wikipedia article for more.
The picture is the story . . . .
Well, almost. A friend—a former 747-400 captain and current Yak-52 owner—writes:
On Saturday night, I had dinner with the Chief Test Pilot of the Sukhoi Design Bureau (and his family) at their dacha in the forest near Zhukovsky east of Moscow. . . .This guy, Slava (at least at his dacha that is his name), is an interesting guy. He is "Hero of the Soviet Union", and, you will probably recall the absolutely fantastic display that has been going around the web of an Su-30MK doing ultra low speed high AOA maneuvering while putting out good smoke so that one could see, very graphically, what the airplane was doing. He's the guy flying the airplane....and in the back seat was his son, also a test pilot at Sukhoi on the Su-30 program. Last month, he was promoted to president of Irkusk Industry, which is the production company of the Sukhoi fighters....while retaining his flight status and Chief Test Pilot status.
Back in the olden days—the Vietnam War Era, the text books call it now—we developed an effective way to communicate the essence of our thinking with minimum concern that the meaning would be lost or someone's dainty ears would be offended.
They were called Falcon Codes, and we all had a card on our knee-board with a condensed list of the most useful ones. Here's the whole collection.
If you're offended by sailor talk you best stop reading now.
101 YOU'VE GOT TO BE SH!TTING ME
102 GET OFF MY FARGING BACK
103 BEATS THE SH!T OUT OF ME
104 WHAT THE FARG, OVER
105 ITS SO FARGING BAD I CAN'T BELIEVE IT
106 I HATE THIS FARGING PLACE
107 THIS PLACE SUCKS
108 FARG YOU VERY MUCH
109 THAT GDSOB
110 BEAUTIFUL. JUST FARGING BEAUTIFUL
111 HERE COMES ANOTHER FARGING CAG OPS BRAINSTORM
112 BIG FARGING DEAL
113 LET ME TALK TO THAT SOB
114 GET YOUR SH!T TOGETHER
115 YOU BET YOUR SWEET A$$
116 FARG IT
117 I LOVE YOU SO FARGING MUCH I COULD SH!T
118 WE EAT THIS SH!T UP
119 ADIOS MOTHER FARGER
120 THAT'S A NO-NO
121 FARG IT, I GOT MINE - FUJIMO
124 THAT GOD DAMN "O" CLUB
126 YOU PISS ME OFF
136 IF YOU ASK FOR A LOW PASS ONE MORE TIME YOU WILL NOT GET LAUNCHED FOR A FARGING WEEK
137 YOU MAY NOT HAVE ANY FARGING FUEL
138 MY FARGING BLADDER HURTS
139 I HAVE A FARGING PROSTATE OVERPRESSURE LIGHT
140 COMEX MOTHER FARGER
141 THAT FARGING CIC IS DREAMING AGAIN
142 THE FARGING HELOS ARE ALL FARGED UP AGAIN
143 IT'S THE AIR BOSS' FAULT
144 SHUT-UP AND FLY THE FARGING AIRPLANE
209 WHILE YOU WERE GONE THE WHOLE WORLD TURNED TO SH!T
221 FARG YOU AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON
222 YOU MAY NOT LIKE THE FARGING CAG STAFF BUT THE CAG STAFF LIKES FARGING YOU
223 GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR A$$
224 YOU SAY "I DON'T KNOW" ONE MORE TIME AND I'M GONNA SHOVE A SONOBOUY UP YOUR A$$
225 YOU MUST HAVE SH!T FOR BRAINS
226 WOULD YOU LIKE A KICK IN THE A$$ TO HELP GET YOU AIRBORNE?
227 WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET A CLEARANCE OUT OF THIS FARGING PLACE?
228 JUST FLY THE IRON BUS AND LEAVE THE AAW TO US
229 YOU'RE SO FARGING STUPID YOU'RE A MENACE TO SOCIETY
230 THIS BASTARD HAS MORE DOWNING GRIPES THAN THE USS ARIZONA
231 COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS MY A$$
232 JUST OUT OF CURIOSITY GATOR, WHERE THE FARG ARE WE?
233 IT'S INTERVAL, AS FAR AS I'M CIRCUMCISED
269 EXCUSE ME SIR, BUT YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVE ME CONFUSED WITH SOMEBODY WHO GIVES A SH!T
500 THOSE FARGING BLACK SHOE MUTHER FARGERS
501 THOSE FARGING REAR ECHELON MUTHER FARGERS
600 THOSE FARGING ASW PUKES
641 HANG IT IN YOUR FARGING EAR
700 FARGING GRUNTS
728 IF I HEAR "CV" CONCEPT ONE MORE TIME I'M GONNA PUKE
750 THAT FARGER RUNS LIKE A WELL OILED MACHINE
775 YOUR OLD LADY WEARS COMBAT BOOTS
800 I LOVE THIS SO MUCH I CAN'T SH!T
901 IF IT'S SUCH A GOOD FARGING DEAL, SEND ________
902 IF I CALLED FOR SH!T YOU'D COME SLIDING IN ON A SHOVEL
1000 COOL IT THE PADRE IS HERE
This from an active duty Navy Captain, academy grad, fighter pilot, squadron skipper that blogs at Neptunus Lex. If what you read here is of interest, you'll want to visit his site often. He's prolific and opinionated—and often right.
It strikes me as kinda funny that he calls a mission with four 500 pounders a 'heavy.' An A-6 would carry 16 and two drop tanks. But then it couldn't go supersonic or shoot things down either.
I think it’s safe to say that while it’s not true that every night bombing hop ends up as a fiasco, it’s also true that a disproportionate number of fiascoes seem to occur during night bombing evolutions. There is something about hurling yourself at the ground at a 45 degree dive angle at 500 knots while chasing HUD symbology towards a successful release on a poorly lit target in the absence of any visual reference cues while the altimeter unwinds like a yo-yo in the presence of mountainous terrain that tends to capture a man’s attention pretty comprehensively. Sometimes? Between attack runs?
It can be hard to pull your head out of the merely personal and rebuild the “big picture.”
My first night bombing hop in the Hornet occurred when I was a junior officer going through training in the Fleet Replacement Squadron many years ago, back as the earth was cooling and dinosaurs roamed the lands. Our instructor pilot and flight lead for the event was a former F-14 jock whose call sign was “Legion.”
Actually, no. But it might as well have been.
You see, back when the Hornet was brand new and the writing was not yet on the wall we got two sorts of instructors from the Tomcat community: Hard charging guys who wanted a chance to be on the leading edge of a new program and people whom the F-14 bubbas didn’t mind losing to the “other” team. Some of the latter guys had “personality issues” and others were merely slackers. Legion fell in the second category, a essentially capable guy whose destiny it was not to be named a superior flight lead. We are not all of us called to greatness.
Our mission was a four-ship “heavy” ordnance mission against the Bravo 17 live impact area in Fallon, Nevada. If we three students were mildly (or otherwise) surprised to discover that we’d be dropping live ordnance for the first time - and that at night - we didn’t show it. I mean, these instructors were pros, right? They knew what they were doing. And anyway, questioning their authority when it came to physical safety was considered borderline wanking.
They took points off for wanking.
So we tried to take it all in stride with maybe 50 hours in the fighter and - for most of us - no more than about 300 total hours of flight time. Which may sound like a lot if you’re paying for it out off your paper route earnings, but is considered pretty meager for military types. Dropping live ordnance. In mountainous terrain. At night.
For the first time.
“Legion” briefed a 300 knot rendezvous from a 10-second separation, afterburner take-off. I was dash two, and - having waited the appointed interval - plugged the blowers in for to make the expeditious rejoin. Which, in the event, was a great deal more expeditious that I had expected since Legion, sensitive of a thundercloud formation outboard of the rendezvous circle, had slowed his jet to 230 knots, greatly diminishing the turn radius. He also wrapped up the turn from the briefed 30 degrees angle of bank to about 45 degrees or so to avoid going into the weather. Good headwork as far as it went, but even better would have been to communicate this deviation to the plan to the rest of us. This was, as it turned out, asking rather too much our man.
That whole “called to greatness” thing.
I could tell that something was amiss when I found myself at an 80 degree angle of bank turn, peeking over the left leading edge extension while slamming the throttles to idle and extending the speedbrakes in a desperate attempt to avoid hitting my flight lead. At night. Carrying four 500-pound live bombs. I was intuitive that way.
It did not much help matters that, just as I was congratulating myself on having miraculously arrived in stabilized formation, Legion roused himself from whatever deep distractions kept him from, you know, leading his actual flight to ask of dash three in a conversational tone whether or not he had two in sight? At all?
Two was your humble scribe hisself, so, being as self-interested as the next goober, this was a question whose answer I eagerly attended to. “Mrmph!” came three’s cogent reply even as I witnessed the light pattern from his airplane go slashing underneath my jet mere feet away, thirty degrees offset from the lead’s flight path before disappearing into the weather on our port side. Whether dash four was wiser from three’s experience or merely unmanned from having nearly witnessed a three-plane midair collision (carrying live ordnance, at night) he bailed out of the rendezvous attempt entirely, reversing his turn to the left and promising to catch up. In time. If he could. Three ended up joining out of the weather carrying a vicious case of vertigo at about the same time as four caught up on the starboard side some minutes later.
Somewhat troubled at heart but silent on the radios we pressed on to the target. Surprisingly, that part of the mission went famously, leaving us to rejoin again overhead the target when the mission was complete. This I approached with a good bit of caution, but three - distracted by the lights of the nearby metropolis of Fallon (population ~ 7500) - managed to blow the rendezvous entirely taking four with him off into the moronosphere. It was at just that moment when the O-2 that had been arcing around at 3000 feet above ground level in order to 1) spot our hits, and 2) bust our chops in the event of a minimum altitude bust decided that dropping a LUU-2 flare would be just the thing to get us all sorted out.
LUU-2’s had been used during the Vietnam war to illuminate target areas for high angle dive bombing by A-4 and A-7 attack aircraft. They were parachute retarded and brilliantly incandescent. Being up to this moment blithely unaware of their existence however, the sudden appearance of a miniature sun below our aircraft served only to confuse we few, we goofy few, we band of students even more. Both three and four - who had been on the very cusp of gaining a degree of situational awareness - felt their eyes irresistibly drawn to the paraflare below, instantly losing whatever night vision they had arduously built up over the preceding forty minutes. For my own part, glued as I was to my lead, I merely suffered from an almost debilitating bout of nausea-inducing vertigo, as the world appeared to turn upside down, the g-forces holding me down in my seat warring with the sunlight below my wing in competition for the attention of the little bones inside my ear that tell me when I’m sitting upright, or not.
Finally concluding that the briefed mission was irrecoverable, at least from an administrative standpoint, Legion wisely detached the still-mesmerized dash three and four to follow us back to the field. As we turned away from the now-guttering flare, I regained some sense of up and down, at least sufficient to fly Legion’s wing back to the overhead pattern to break downwind and land with three and four behind us a couple of miles.
As I configured the jet for landing, “Bitchin’ Betty” announced to me that we had a “Flight Controls” issue. Indeed, there on the right digital data display I noted that my trailing edge flaps were showing “X’s” indicating that they were not scheduling properly based on airspeed and angle of attack. I suppose I should have taken the jet around for troubleshooting, with lead joining on my wing while I did so, but at that point I wanted nothing more than to be on deck and the jet was flying perfectly well, albeit at a somewhat higher than normal airspeed. I kept my mouth shut, gave lead a little more interval off the approach turn and made my own approach to land on centerline.
I landed hot of course and, concerned about blowing a tire, left off for a moment tapping the brakes, very happy just to be on deck. The tower controller interrupted my sigh of relief by keying his mic and calling on the radio in evident alarm, “Three, you’re overtaking two rapidly on the landing rollout!”
“Three is still on downwind,” came the protesting reply. Still airborne in other words.
Now, math is not my strong suit gentle reader, but I was nevertheless grounded in the basics enough to know that if it was not three overtaking two then the only alternative was that two - your humble narrator - was overtaking one. Who, it turns out, had chosen that particular evening to sample the pleasures of a max-brakes full stop landing. With nearly all of his external lights out. All of them but for a wee-bitty tail light that got rather closer to our own nose than our friends could have wished for, even given the fact that I stomped on the wheel brakes with everything I had.
Fortunately, Legion could work the math as well and gave up his unbriefed performance demo by giving his own jet a shot of power to keep her rolling. We turned off the runway at the end almost together, his eyes as big as saucers in the glow of the taxiway lights.
For many years that was the worst flight I ever flew. But I did learn about flying from that.
Used with permission.
To dance with the clouds which follow a storm;
To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,
To feel the joy that swells within;
To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
And know the warmth of a clear spring sky;
Then back to earth at the end of a day,
Released from the tensions which melted away.
Should my end come while I am in flight,
Whether brightest day or darkest night;
Spare me your pity and shrug off the pain,
Secure in the knowledge that I'd do it again;
For each of us is created to die,
And within me I know,
I was born to fly.
— Gary Claud Stok
The following is a natrative that Col. Meldeau wrote before his death about one of his experiences as a combat pilot while in North Africa. It was never published and was transcribed by his son Anthony after his death.
Having been trained in Canada as a member of the RCAF,and with 55 missions in Spits in England, I transferred to the U.S.Army Air Force in September, 1942. The assignment was to the 309th Squadron, 31st Fighter Group, back in West Hampnett which was lucky as the 31st had Spitfires and unlucky as we were on the invasion of North Africa and my wife of the WAAF was stationed at 11th Group, Headquarters RAF in London. I would not see her again for more than a year.
Arriving at Gibraltar, we put the wings on our planes and flew to Oran in North Africa. Feb.6 found us at Thelepte in Tunisia just in time to get our Aerodrome, captured by the enemy on 17 February during the Battle of Kasserine Pass.
After we retook the airfield, we resumed operations from Thelepte. By April 1, I had 20 missions in Africa to my credit including one Me-109 at El Guittar. The air battle heated up and we had gains and losses daily.
The enemy was now operating from 3 airfields at La Fauconnerie, east-southeast of us. And to make matters worse, they were attacking the base at Thelepte daily with large gaggles of Me-109's and bombers at night. Our losses were starting to grow.
This was due to the fact that our Spitfires Mark VB did well with the Me-109E, especially when we could lure them into an all out dogfight. However, the Germans had sent down from France several of their top scoring aces (I believe there were three ) so as to build up their high scores.
Their aircraft were Me-109G models and were conspicuous with their gold painted noses.
The enemy tactic was to engage us with their Me-109E in volume while the hunter killer aces flew thousands of feet overhead and came down fast after the loners.
By now, Joe Byrd, Lt. Juhnke, Berry, Chandler, Bob Mitterline, Joe Kied, Thomas Barber, Sgt. Early, Lt. Strode, and Strode, and Tiger Wright had been shot down. However many returned on foot only to go down again on another day. April 1 I lost my good friends, Francis Strole and Lt. Juhnke east of El Guittar.
During the mixup before departure Lt. Juhnke took my plane WZO together with my helmet and parachute and I got off late as 13th man flying WZZ.
Lt. Juhnke was shot down by a plane with a "yellow nose". This was the third time he had been shot down, but this time his parachute failed to open. My chute!
After the mission I was given Lt. Juhnke's plane WZZ as a replacement for WZO. I also inherited his parachute, helmet, and mask which were too big and later the mask keep sliding down when pulling high Gs in battle.
That night everyone was despondent by the deaths of Strole and Juhnke, especially depressing was the futility of combat with that Me-109G with our Mark V Spitfires. He simply swept down at high speed, killed his prey, and then went straight up several thousand feet for another pass.
I will always remember one special thing about that evening. A number of the pilots, John Paulk, Henery Huntington, Bryson and others were around the fire to keep warm. The conversation was how to deal with that Me-109G.
Someone suggested that we go for him head on reducing the odds to 50-50. Everyone got enthusiastic about this, but I remember having misgivings. I preferred to stick my nose down and pick up speed until my prop was clipping the shrubbery.
Later I went to my foxhole and had trouble sleeping with Lt. Strole's empty cot and Lt. Juhnke's gear beside me.
April 2 Mission: Escort 48 A-20s and 4 P-39s for an attack on the airfield at La Fauconnerie. The bombers got there [not always the case]. I was to lead an element of Blue flight 309th Squadron (307 and 308th also had aircraft on this mission).
After joining the bombers, we proceeded to target. The advanced P-39s reported no targets on the airfield and no wonder! Visible was an immense dust cloud from the area to the north. The enemy had moved their aircraft and were coming up to do battle.
The bombers dropped their bombs on a useless target and turned full bore westward toward safety. I don't remember what happened to the low P-39s but I suppose they were all shot down as usual.
Shortly after turning west, we were attacked by about 20 Me-109s and engaged in a fierce battle to protect the bombers. One A-20 bomber was badly hit and dropped back in slow flight to await the inevitable. Colonel Fred Dean, our lead, ordered several of us back to defend the bomber. Arriving at the A-20 bomber we found that he was badly hit and slowly losing altitude.
Suddenly we were attacked by another formation of German Me-109's. Did I count them? Hell no! I remember that there were only 4 of us back there. Henry Huntington, Brown, myself, and the other Spit.
Faced with this we turned and tore into the enemy. Henry Huntington got one on the first pass and I saw hits on my target.
The battle really wound up with the Germans willing to dogfight with their great numerical superiority. Planes were going around and around to the left, to the right, and the whole mess was tumbling over and over and over.
As I dove on one aircraft from the main combat area and prepared to help him become a dead hero, I was suddenly fired upon from above. The new enemy was in too close because I received no hits. His tracers were straddling my fuselage at arms length.
As he swept down on me, I saw his gold colored nose and recognized Me-109G (Abbeville Boy). After he passed me going absolutely straight up to several thousand feet above. I lost him in the sun until there he was again moving down at 400 plus with vapor trails coming from his wingtips.
These trails were typical of the Me-109 during high G-loads such as pulling through from a high-speed dive. When his vapor trails ceased, I broke hard right as I knew he had completed his pursuit curve and was on a collision course necessary to fire. Again his tracers passed to my left and back only inches from a hit.
Just after he went by again, I was attacked by several Me-109s but was able to turn left hard enough to avoid a hit. However, all this maneuvering had my Spitfire down to an unacceptable speed. During a opportunity for a shallow dive to pick up speed I remember hoping that the "yellow nose" would pick on somebody else to give me a rest.
I was now down to 3000 or so feet which was good because that useless mask and goggles slipping down was no help. The few seconds break was short-lived. I looked up and saw the wingtip vortices of that yellow nose devil on his way down, I had a feeling that "This is it".
At that moment I suddenly recalled the "head-on" proposal of the night before and, with the pitiful speed I had left, I pulled the yoke straight back and up. Win or lose, I was too tired to take it any more and just wanted to get it over with. My guns now centered on the enemy, I waited for him to get in range. I had to fire first when his vortices ceased but my speed was dropping too fast and I opened fire with all four machine guns and two cannons when he was still at a slight deflection angle.
As I fired, I saw he was in exact range as my hits were solid for all guns. He had not quite completed his pursuit curve as all firepower was going under me. Suddenly he snapped over on his back and went underneath me which was lucky for both of us because the recoil of firing all guns had just about stopped me in midair with no control left to avoid him.
As the enemy went by spewing smoke, fire, and debris, my Spity went into a spin. Luckily, my pass had taken me to about five thousand feet, just about enough room to recover. On the way down, I saw the enemy plane crash in a flat spin and a parachute went by. By this time, the poor A-20 had taken many more hits and was forced to crash land short of Thelepte. The pilot survived to confirm my victory.
This story was writte by Col. Leonard Houston Meldeau and was transcribed from his notes by his son after his death on May 31, 1995.
Okay, it ain't great literature and it ain't finished, but it's what you get when three people take turns writing and twisting the plot . . .
When you go to the Keys, stay clear of Fat Jack's Saloon, the grundgiest dive in south Florida. Hell, even the roaches know they're slumming. I only hang out there because I've won a year's free beer thanks to Jack's tendency to bet on the short end of a long-shot.
Fat Jack's has a dim corner where the rancid fumes of the deep-fryer are less overwhelming. Table there is under the only working ceiling fan in the joint, a big plus given the August heat which had me sweating more than the bottled beer I was sipping.
Leaning back with my flying boots on the edge of the table, I idly watched Jack carry on an animated discussion with one of the locals at the bar. I was pondering two questions. Should I chance the complimentary pretzels in front of me (can pretzels can give you food poisoning?) and more important, when would I get my next charter?
The latter question was actually gnawing at me more than my empty stomach. Airplanes cost money even tied to a buoy and Lucky Duck, my Grumman Goose, hadn't moved in so long a family of pelicans considered it their permanent home.
Approaching thirty five, I was too old to be living hand to mouth. And flying, like sex, is something you have to do every so often or it'll push you to something you could regret. My old man taught me everything I know and the way he put it was, "Flying is like sex. How bad you want to do it depends on how long it's been." In my case it'd been a long time on both accounts.
Five eight, long blond hair, and the longest legs I'd ever seen walked in the door. Suddenly the only sound was the tick, tick, tick of the fan. Even the jukebox had gone silent. Her blue eyes took one quick look around the joint and she walked straight over to me stopping just a tad too close for comfort. Sometimes even good things take a little getting used to.
"Hey sailor, wanna do some flyin'?" she said in a cool, clear voice that communicated a lot more than the words. She knew she was the center of attention in a dive way below her standards. She was in charge and she loved it.
"Maybe. Where ya headed?" I asked gazing at her with guarded but substantial interest from under the bill of my ball cap. Dressed the way she was in red high heels, very short cut-offs and a bikini top this was either a dream come true or trouble on the hoof.
"I'm thinking of buying some property 'round these parts, and figured the best way to get the lay of the land would be from the air. Least that's what my Daddy taught me."
Lay of the land indeed, I thought. Instead I said, "Your Dad a flyer?"
"Yup, taught me everything I know," she replied. Sounded familiar. "Flew fighters in the Pacific. Has a job herding a Twin Beech around the skies for some big shots up north now. Driving him nuts, but keeps him from getting the shakes from not enough flying. You know the feeling." It was statement not a question.
"Ah, yes, as a matter of fact I do. That was one of the things on my mind when you walked in."
Not to seem too eager I sidled up to the issue of charter fare. "Flying boats don't come cheap, but if you fly and know from Beech 18s, guess you understand that."
"I can pay the fare, pal. We goin' flying, or you just gonna sit there?"
A part of me wanted to be put off by her but a bigger part of me (getting bigger by the minute I might add) wanted to throw myself at her feet and tell her to have her way with me.
Fortunately, my thinking parts uncharacteristically won that all-too-frequent battle of mind over matter. But in this case, I wasn't sure which was which.
"Alright then, for $500 an hour I'll scour the coast 'til we find what you're looking for. Fortunately, you caught me just before I immersed myself in the elixir of the devil so we can leave right now if you're game. You got a name?
"My friends call me Chas. Yours?"
"Nick. At your service."
"Well Nick, I have a few things I need to take care of, but L.C. and I can probably be ready by 3. We'll meet you at the dock."
"Hmmm, you didn't say anything about another passenger. I mean, there's weight and balance to consider. How much does L.C. weigh?"
"L.C.'s less than average FAA 170. I've been around planes, your Goose can carry us."
She was right, FAA sez average guy weighs 170. Really pissed me off that she knew my mind was elsewhere, but I recovered nicely by adding that I needed the information for the flight plan.
"All set then, 1500 at the docks. See you there."
Jeez, story of my life. Here I'm thinkin', well never mind what I'm thinkin', but jeez. At least she didn't balk at the fare. More money than I've made in a while. And looks like easy money at that.
Ten to three, I'm standing at the dock, not another soul in sight. Don't tell me at the ripe old age of 35 I'm none the wiser and I've fallen for this old stunt again.
I made myself busy sorting charts, tidying up the cockpit. Tried not to look like a hormone-crazed teenager, even though that's how I felt.
I've got my head down in the cockpit, and tried to reach that lost chart that was stuck under the seat when red high heels appear.
It's okay, I'm a professional. I extracted myself from my contortion and there's a vision of loveliness, looking even more exotic then I remembered. She reached her hand out in traditional, but not very warm, greeting. I tried to restrain my, um, enthusiasm.
"I hear you're the best around. That true?" she says.
"Well, depends on who you talk to. But yeah, I'm good."
"Glad to hear it, 'cus unlike my Daddy, I'm not real comfortable with my feet off the ground."
Hah! When it finally comes down to it, she's a pussycat. My kind of girl!
"Where's your date?"
She gave me a funny look and helped herself to the copilot's seat, but said, "Just stopped to pick up a few things -- right behind me I expect."
I continued fiddling and made a feeble attempted to look important when I felt the bird heel over a bit.
"Must be him now," I said half under my breath. My heart stopped as I looked over my shoulder back toward the hatch.
"Chas, where'd you go?" my copilot said. "I came out of the head in the office and you were gone!"
My head was spinning! One moment Chas had been sitting next to me, then she was behind me entering the flight deck, but all the while still sitting to my right! And "Chas", my copilot, had called the apparition entering the flight deck "Chas" too.
I might be dumb, but I ain't stupid. The mental "a-ha" took only two beats. Twins. And my copilot was L.C. The ol' "switcheroo."
But why? Was it just playfulness? That'd be OK. I can take a joke. Or was it "one-ups-man-ship", an attempt to somehow put me in my place, maybe because of my assumption back at Jack's that L.C. was a guy. That would be less OK. I made a mental note that these two would bear watching. Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
I decided to play it cool as if their little joke had been "water off a duck's back." Not worth noticing.
So, looking over my shoulder as coolly as I could I said, "Hi Chas."
Looking to my right, I said. "L.C., I'll leave it to you and your sister to decide who should fly copilot...I'm going to the line shack for a minute. When I get back, I'll give you a quick briefing and we can get going."
I didn't need anything from the line shack. Just a pause in the fast paced events. Plus, it put me back in charge, just like my "briefing" comment.
The look of the line shack, a rusty Quonset hut framed by emerald palm trees and crouching on blinding coral sand carried me back to Saipan at the tail end of the war. I had been a young Marine lieutenant thrilled to throw my Corsair across the sky at whatever patched-up aircraft the Japs could throw at us. They were pretty much done at that point and after just a few months my youthful adventure came to a close with the sudden, explosive arrival of Fat Boy over Hiroshima's fair city.
There's not much to say about my postwar "career", to use the term loosely. Let's just say it was a mixed bag of flying, leading up to a stint as an airline pilot where, as second officer, I was flying about as much as the passengers. Airline Captains don't have to let their copilots fly at all if they don't feel like it, and mine didn't. Never able to get him to release his death grip on the controls, I quit, went hip-deep into hock, made a down-payment on Lucky Duck and set out for the romantic life of a charter pilot. At least that was the idea.
I had killed enough time. As I reached the end of the pier, unneeded chart in hand, and stepped aboard, I called out to no one in particular, "Well, who gets the right seat?"
L.C., still in the cockpit, was putting away her lipstick and lithely slid out of the seat. As she came back and sat next to Chas I took the opportunity to climb into the cockpit and the left seat.
"Climb on up, you'll be more useful there than I will," L.C. said.
"No you go back up there with Nick," Chas said firmly as she fumbled in her bag, "I'll sit back here and take some pictures.
"Give me some room, flyboy, " L.C. said as she nimbly climbed back into the copilot seat. Her maneuver resulted in her her mane of sweet smelling hair brushing across my face, her ample breast rubbing across my shoulder, and a close-up view of the south end of a pair of very short shorts goin' north.
"Pay attention to business hot shot, " I said to myself, blinking my eyes. Out loud, trying to pretend I didn't notice, I said, "Okay, a quick pre-takeoff brief here ladies. " They both gave me an impatient 'oh, good grief' look.
"Please fasten your seat belts," I heard my self saying as I concluded the brief and pushed the mixture rich and signaled the dock hand to untie us. I felt like an imbecile giving my little speech, probably because L.C. already had buckled up and I knew Chas didn't need to be told. I heard buckles clicking behind me and new I was right.
"One of you gonna give me a hint where we're going," I asked while I primed the left engine?
"Take us up to about three grand after takeoff," Chas said from the back, "It'll be cooler, and..."
"Head southwest, " L.C. said, finishing her twin's sentence.
"Wilco." I stuck my head out the window and yelled, "Clear left!" as I flipped on the master switch and hit the starter button. I counted 4 blades on the Pratt 985, and switched the mags to 'Both'. The radial engine coughed, belched a puff of blue smoke, and settled into the familiar sound of nine big jugs getting ready to go to work. "Clear right!" I called, and repeated the cockpit arpeggio of switches and levers producing the same sweet music from the right engine. The Goose was coming alive.
As we slid away from the dock and a breeze began to waft through the cockpit windows I was back in my element. This was my world. This was where I live. This was where I understood what matters and what doesn't, what works and what won't. And usually I have a very clear idea of what's dangerous and what isn't. But I wasn't at all sure about these two women I had on board. Normally I'd just be thrilled to be able to go fly with two beautiful creatures, but something about them made me edgy. Maybe it was the little too overt sexual overtone I couldn't dismiss (or for that matter ignore). Maybe it was something else.
Taxiing downwind I checked the mags, cycled the props, and ran through the rest of my pre-takeoff checks. "Ready back there," I yelled over my shoulder? Receiving no response, I looked back and got a luscious grin and a dainty thumbs up from the Chas who had somehow managed to change into the tiniest bathing suit I'd ever seen. Now I try to keep up on beach fashion as much as the next guy, but in these postwar years I wouldn't say that the popular bathing suits would exactly knocked your socks off. I flashed my copilot a glance to which she said, "It's from Brazil." I pondered what my copilot's uniform might turn into, and the relative suitability of the cockpit as a dressing room. Seemed like the perfect place to me!
"Alrighty then, here we go," I motioned to L.C. to close her window as I closed mine, and advanced the throttles while I tried to clear the lascivious thoughts from my head and a growing urge from my loins. The building noise from the big radial engines as I got the big bird up on the step and the required concentration as I syncronized the props helped me focus on the job at hand. As we lifted off the water, I pulled the throttles back and then the props, setting climb power. I scanned the gauges and ran through the short post-takeoff checklist.
L.C. wriggled in her seat as she loosened her seatbelt and said, "I'm not the kind of flyer my sister is, but this could be fun." There was a twinkle in her eye that ruined my concentration again.
I heard a knowing giggle from Chas as L.C. intentionally brushed her supple body against me again leaving her seat. As the last but by no means least of her disappeared into the cabin Chas poked her head between the cockpit seats and noticing the sweat on my brow, offered iced tea. "Sounds good to me," I said trying sound captain-like.
A minute later a cold glass was served by the hottest bod I'd seen in a long time. L.C.? Chas? I really didn't know...or care. Only when they spoke could I tell the difference. They were both strong women, but L.C. had a soft edge that Chas lacked.
I gulped down the cool liquid and tried to focus on the job at hand. "O.K. girls, where to now?", I asked. From the back, I heard, "Just keeeeeeeep...."
The last thing I remember was things going black and a thump. Based on the knot on my brow, I knew it must have been my head hitting the yoke.
I woke up to the sound of water sloshing against the Goose's fuselage.
Where the hell were we? And how the hell did we get beached?
My head was spinning as I tried to recount the events. Okay...Fat Jack's Saloon. Long legged passenger. Twin sister. Skimpy Brazilian swimsuit. Heading southwest. Iced tea.
That's it! They'd slipped me a mickey! And here I thought I was gonna slip something in them. CHRIST! There I go again! I swear I will, never, NEVER, NEVER allow my lower half do the thinking again!
Okay. We seem to have landed safely, but where the hell am I, how can I get out of here? These broads are trouble!
I felt the plane heel over. Oh, sweet Jesus, it's one of the evil twins here to finish me off.
"Hey sailor, how's it hangin?" she said.
My head was still doing loops, but I was not about to take this lying down.
"You bitch! Who do you think you are. Where are we? What makes you think you can hijack my goddamn plane and fly it into God knows where? Are you insane? Don't answer that, of course you are! If I could stand up I'd punch you in the mouth. Do you know how much this little caper of yours could have cost me? You could have wrecked this boat."
Mickey or no mickey, I was pissed.
"Don't get your bowels in an uproar flyboy," said a female voice from the head.
"Your precious plane is safe and sound. The landing was a snap - probably better than you'd have made with your mind so possessed by other things."
Yup, that's Chas.
Then L.C. piped up, "What my sister means to say Nick, is that we're sorry we, well, uh...borrowed your plane. But if you'll give us a minute, I think you'll sorta understand, and maybe even be happy we did."
"Yeah, right", I said. "I have a hard time imagining that."
Chas, tired of the banter, threw a handful of hard shiny lumps in my direction. My focus was starting to improve, but I couldn't quite make out what they were.
"Oogle these for a change," she said, "If you can get your mind out of your shorts. Your cut is five percent. It WILL be worth it."
Looking down at my lap I saw that a hand full of grape-sized uncut diamonds had joined my "family jewels"
Or at last they looked like diamonds. I gathered them up in my hand and looked closely. Still pissed I said, "If you think a few pieces of cut glass will make me feel better about being drugged, hijacked and kidnapped, you're nuts."
Chas rolled her eyes. "Stop whining. And they're not glass, bub. They're diamonds and your ticket from Fat Jack's to Fat City , if you've got the cojones to grab the opportunity.
I looked at Chas and then L.C. They looked serious, but I had been fooled before. Remember when I said "Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me?" Well I was long past "twice" and the count was climbing at a furious pace.
"OK, I need some answers. If they are real, where did they come from?"
Chas said, "They came from deep inside the earth, having formed there under tremendous pressure millions of years ago."
I couldn't believe it. They were still screwing with me! But before I could say anything Chas said, "Sorry, I just like yanking your chain."
Damn! While I was going through the wringer, these girls were on a lark!
"You ever hear of General Yamura?," asked Chas, suddenly adopting a business-like tone.
"The Tiger of the Philippines?" I asked, taken back by the turn in the dialogue. Anybody who had served in the Pacific would recognize the name of that Jap general. His record of rape and plunder rivaled Genghis Kahn's. "Of course, what does he have to do the price of tea in China?"
"Then you've also heard of the lost Yamura treasure?", asked L.C.
"The only thing 'lost' around here is your mind" I said, "There was no treasure. The Allies and Philipinos settled that years ago, not long after they stretched Yamura's neck."
"Is that so?", said Chas with a slight smirk. "Well you're holding a tiny fraction of that 'nonexistent treasure' in your hand right now."
"My Dad was stationed in Cavite City across the bay from Manila for a while toward the end of the war," Chas said. "He help repatriate some of the Japanese POWs," continued LC. "There weren't very many compared to the huge number of Philipino and American POWs that had been imprisoned and tortured in Manila, nevermind Bataan and Corigedor. But one old Japanese man stood out because he begged my father to help him find a way to the Caribbean, of all places. Dad figured he was nuts until one day the old man slid one of those diamonds across the table during an out-processing interview. Turned out he'd managed to, um...retain them in a placed where the sun don't shine for over a month. A lot of weird stuff was going on at the end of the war and the old man managed to abscond with some diamonds and the knowledge that the rest of Yamura's treasure had been sent to the Caribbean. Or at least that's what he claimed."
L.C. continued, "Dad told him there simply wasn't any way he could possibly send him to the Caribbean, and...get this...gave the old man back his diamond! We'll never understand why he didn't keep it or at least turn it in, but he didn't. Anyway, about six weeks ago Dad received a small package by courier with several envelopes of diamonds (these are just a few of them) and a note of thanks from, who else, the old man, now an industrialist back in Japan. Included was a vague description of where to find the rest of Yamura's treasure."
"And that's where you come in," said Chas. "L.C. has a degree in Anthropology, and while she has a pilot's license she really earned it to make Dad happy and doesn't enjoy flying all that much except for the freedom of flitting around for sport on a beautiful day. Me, I've got it in my blood. Something about the challenge and precision of it attracted me from the very first time Dad let me take the controls. So I spent my time at the airport and got practically all the certificates the CAA offers. The guys always gave me a hard time, literally and figuratively, but I learned that good genes can be a curse and a blessing. I've never really had an trouble getting whatever I want."
"Okay, but I don't see what all that's got to do with me," I said.
"We were getting to that," said L.C. "Take a look down the other end of the beach, there behind us."
I gingerly pushed myself up through the hatch, my head still reeling from whatever they'd put in that iced tea. I looked back between the engines toward the big tail, and as I struggled to focus my eyes they slowly adjusted to the brightness of the white sand beach. I took a deep breath.
Bobbing at anchor a quarter mile away was a whole friggin' Navy! Three torpedo boats, a PBY, a seaplane tender, and what looked like some kind of research vessel. On the beach across from them was a perfect replica of a South Pacific control tower, an steel mat ramp with two Grumman Hellcats and a Japanese Betty bomber. Strewn around the area were spotlights, reflectors, boom mikes, and other assorted movie making paraphernalia.
Slowly it began to sink in. We were going treasure hunting using movie-making as a cover. As I pondered my role, a small boat pulled away from the PBY and headed our direction.
"Here comes Daddy!" both girls cried in unison.
My mind was still whirling with questions: These two certainly could have pulled this off by themselves. So where do I fit in? And why? Where are we? And why did they drug me to get me here. Things still weren't adding up. Do I beat feet and run? They've probably knocked out my navigating equipment, but I'm sure I could get myself back to somewhere if I had to. Well, maybe not right now, fact is my dead reckoning skills were pretty rusty, even when I can count all my fingers and right now I'm not sure I could do that. Maybe I'll lay low here for a bit. Perhaps "Daddy" will be a little easier to deal with than his spoiled progeny.
As the boat pulled up a slightly rotund figure bounded from his seat just in time to keep the craft from impaling itself into the side of my plane. "Kittens", he exclaimed, "So glad to see my two favorite girls. Glad your friend here decided to come along for the fun. Based on what I've seen so far, we're gonna need him."
"Charlie Gordon, pleased to meet ya'" he said, extending his hand in my direction.
Social norms and his easy going, full of life kind of attitude overcame my hostility and I shoved my hand back in his direction. "Nick Bailer", I responded. "We need to talk."
"Sure Nick. I'm sure the girls have given you some of the details, but I'll be happy to fill in around the edges. But first, we have to get back to the shoot. The villain is just about to cut from the air to the underwater research team. They'll get what they need from the planes later, so we'd better head over there now. They're countin' on me to tell them how long they can drag out the 'gasping for air' scene."
"Fill in around the edges, my ass", I said. "You're gonna have to fill in a lot more than that or I'm out of here." He shot me a look I understood, "shut up and you'll learn something."
But, God help me, only the lure of making a quick buck kept me in the game, so I more or less willingly stumbled into the boat with the "kittens" in trail. They were amazingly quiet now that Daddy was in charge.
Chas broke the silence, "How goes the shoot Daddy? Have you had a chance to sneak off by yourself to firm up the logistics?"
"You betcha, darlin'," he replied. "This Hollywood crowd is all about hurry-up and wait. By the time they're done their morning coffee break, it's practically time for their union lunch. What a joke. I'd have been done and out of here last Tuesday. I just can't get over how much they're paying me to do nothing. Not to mention the gourmet meals, a tent that rivals some of the better places I've lived, and all the quiet time I can stand. If I'd known gigs like this existed I wouldn't wouldn't have spent the last few years worrying about the lost treasure."
(to be continued)