Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Wild Grey Yonder

My old roomie came to visit last week, and one of the things we did was take in the Capitol City Airshow out at Mather Field. They called it an airshow, but I think it was actually an elaborate ceremony meant to guarantee rain. We had a blazing, painfully unclouded summer here, until the week of the airshow, when it began to get grey, and the wind began to kick up. As far as I know, however, none of it was so inclement as to warrant an interruption of the flying, so in a way we had our cake and ate it too.

There were plenty of photo opportunities, but the best of them required a fast-draw style that I have not yet acquired with the camera. I managed to catch some airborne acrobatics faintly here, above the tail of the plane on the ground.

There were a few old warbirds there, including a P-38, which was very exciting to see, however the pictures I got of that in flight might as well have been the Loch Ness Monster for all you could tell what they were ("It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a. . .spot on the lense!")

When we first arrived, there was an F-22 Raptor running through some of its tricks. I don't know that I've ever seen anything that was both so graceful, and so powerful. It commanded your attention, and drew you right along with it, so you were, at the same time, more conscious than usual of your feet, planted firmly on the ground, while it seemed your heart and soul were spiraling off into the sun. Again, no good pictures on my part, but I found something better on YouTube--here's a short video clip of an F-22 in action at Nellis AFB.

Of course, the top billing of the day was the Air Force's Thunderbirds in their F-16's. Precision flying is pretty neat to begin with; when you see it done in graceful little crafts that are going upwards of 400 miles an hour, it leaves you quite bereft of any words to describe it. I hadn't been to an airshow in at least ten years, and in that time my mind had acquired a new simile for that kind of perfect flying. I was a little unnerved when the thought crept in, "They're like SFU!" Which is like comparing apples and oranges (or worse, comparing Naills and F-22's) but there is a certain something that sort of precision has in common, a single-minded pursuit of excellence that leaves one much the better for having seen it.

Then add to such excellence, the breathtaking (an overused word, but honest, I don't think I was doing much breathing at the time) sight of a trim aircraft carrying the impossible cargo of a single human soul straight up for miles, dwindling until, at last it is swallowed by the huge, silent grey desert of sky. An astronomer might tell you that the pilot has not even scratched the surface of the universe, but a fact like that does nothing to banish the phrase that is running through your mind, and probably many of the minds around you: "I have. . .put out my hand, and touched the face of God."
On the walk back to the car, your legs feel a little odd, as if you weren't entirely earthbound the whole time you were watching the flight, and your feet need to get used to the asphalt all over again.

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