When I was small – okay, I still do it – we used to hold our breath going through tunnels on a family car trip. My father would call out “Tunnel ahead!” and my brother and I started hyperventilating, drawing in that last deep lung full of air as the car plunged into darkness. Needless to say, conversation of any kind was discouraged until we emerged again into sunlight. As the car rumbled through whatever fluorescent-lit cavern separated us from our destination, we each held silently onto whatever breath we’d managed to keep hold of, waiting, waiting in increasing desperation as the glow of the literal light at the end of the tunnel drew nearer. Waiting until we could exhale, and breathe in new air again.
Sometimes, when I’ve been preparing for a trip, that same feeling of being in the tunnel comes to me. We’re past the panic of trying to get ready – everything that can be done has been done, and there’s just the waiting, the increasingly desperate waiting to exhale at the moment of departure. As I’ve written before, the moment of departure is a fickle thing, and doesn’t always come at the same time – sometimes it doesn’t come at all.
I guess this time, it happened when the back wheels of the Prius hit the street pulling out in front of our house. I put the little plastic fob that passes for a gear shift in “Drive” and bang – I was gone, outbound.
Up 101 to SFO long-term parking with a parking spot five cars down from the bus stop. Bus pulled up just as I finished pulling my bag from the trunk. Delta Airlines, first stop, walked through security barely slowing down (by the way: if you get the chance to get in on the new TSA “Pre-Check” thing? It’s like Business Class for airport security. Keep your shoes, belt, liquids and laptop where they are and walk through the x-ray machine with no line. A Clear card gets you to the front of the cargo class line, but Pre-Check gives you your own line. An empty one. With actual cheerful helpful TSA folks. Well worth selling my soul there….)
Anyhow – grabbed a sandwich, boarded to find that yes, as planned, I’m in that magic exit row seat with a power socket and five feet of leg room ahead of me. On time departure, and away we go, eastbound.
Oh right – I haven’t even told you where I’m going. Daytona Beach, Florida. Early Spring Break? Nope. Aviation stuff. So, you remember how, last Spring I got to fly the Collings Foundation P-51? Collings Foundation preserves and flies classic military aircraft and is probably best known for their “Wings of Freedom” tour, where they work their way around the country giving rides in a B-17, B-24 and P-51. These planes are by and large maintained and flown by volunteers, pilots who put in time, sweat and money to keep them in the air. It gets a bit complicated, but the short story is that, if I can keep up with the big boys and don’t screw up particularly badly, I may get to spend time this summer serving as a B-17 co-pilot for them. And in order to qualify for that, I’ve got to go through B-17 ground school, which is offered once a year in – you guessed it – Daytona Beach.
Now the prospect of logging time in a 59,000 lb, 4,800 horsepower armored behemoth from another century is pretty exciting, but as you can imagine, the learning curve is pretty steep. Most of the other folks in this class are going to be aviation professionals – jet jockeys who’ve spent their entire careers flying even larger airliners behind a fistfull of throttles. For them, this is a bit of a step down in terms of speed, size, complexity, capacity – pretty much everything except the undeniable cool factor. But me? Everything I’ve flown to date could fit in the belly of the B-17. Probably at the same time. So I’m going to be working hard to keep up. But hey, it’s been a while since I’ve had to work hard – I figure maybe it’s time…
[More pictures of the B-17 and P-51, by the way, over here.]