The full moon’s up in the wrong side of the sky as I finish packing for my flight this morning – the next leg of my first of two sleep-deprived jaunts across the country this month. Ground school has gone well, but it turns out that being surrounded by awesome can be pretty exhausting. Yesterday morning was an hour or so of human factors, then as much systems, operation and technique as any brain can handle on how to fly the P-51 without damaging yourself or any of the expensive little pieces of metal that keep it aloft.
Afternoon? Well, we finally got to head over the the airfield and spend some time with the big pieces of metal in question. The hangar itself was what the aviation corner of Santa’s workshop must look like – a Corsair and TBM tucked in the corner, pieces of F-86 and TF-51 gleaming in partial assembly, and probably an acre of other projects underway.
Betty Jane (the P-51 I flew last summer) was getting some touch up paint when we arrived, so I made a beeline to Nine-O-Nine, the Collings B-17 – after a day of diagrams and Powerpoint slides, I was eager to see what the front office really looked like. Holy cow. It wasn’t the proverbial “fist full of throttles” we always talk about – it was three or four fist fulls. I sat myself down in the right seat and Jeff, the crew chief for the plane, kindly took a few minutes out of the work they were doing to brief me on what the systems looked like in the flesh, er, steel. Ah, that’s where the chip detector lights are – no, I never would have found them on my own. Tail wheel lock? Better disguised than I would have guessed.
There are some very clever bits, though (non-airplane folks? You can skip this bit.) For example, it can be a bit unwieldly to mess with all four of the actual throttles separately when you need to apply differential power. So the actual throttle quadrant is a stacked arrangement with three different places to grab (see photo over there ->). You grab the top pair of levers and you get engines 1 and 4; grab the bottom pair and you get 2 and 3. Grab the middle and you’re tickling all four of the R-1820-97s, with
32 36 cylinders and 4800 horsepower at your fingertips. Pretty cool.
A couple of times through the briefing, Kaysha, attending to the prop governor on the #4 engine, hollered in for us to slide the corresponding r.p.m. lever through various positions.
Am I a bad person for feeling compelled to chat up every pretty young woman who knows her way around a warbird? Don’t answer that. But aviation goes way back in Kaysha’s family. Her father is an engineer for Airbus, and her grandfather flew B-17s in the war. She likes to think that by helping keep these planes flying, she’s helping keep his memory alive. Also, she says, she just loves geeking out around all these incredible aircraft. She’s lived all over, thanks to her father’s travels – New England, the UK, France, Switzerland – but the Tennessee accent she keeps under her hat comes out when she’s excited. Which, like most of us here is pretty much any time we’re talking about airplanes.
Then it was over to the B-24 which, impossibly, has even more levers and knobs than the ‘17. The rivalry between the Collings pilots who fly these two is a thing of beauty: “Nah, I don’t have favorites. I just prefer flying what’s obviously the better airplane,” and “Hey Jim – when are they gonna let you fly something without training wheels?” Maybe it’s my taildragger bias has always led me to hold the B-17 closer to my heart, in spite of the ribbing I get when I admit this preference. Not that it doesn’t have its faults – I think it was Mac, the primary instructor for the Collings B-17, who said “The B-17 doesn’t do anything fast. No, scratch that. The B-17 doesn’t do anything good fast. The bad stuff it’ll do in a hurry.”
If all goes well, I’ll get to come back in a couple of weeks to get some first hand experience in preventing the aforementioned “bad stuff”, getting practical experience right-seating these planes for real and finishing my P-51 checkout. Stay tuned on that front.
But this morning – and I’m only vaguely convinced that it’s really morning – I’m off, improbably, to Louisville for the day. I’ll explain that bit later. For now, I’m still working on pronouncing the name right: everyone laughed when I voiced all three syllables (lou-ee-vil). Apparently it’s a lot closer to “low-vill” or “love-ill”. Oh, and it’s freakin’ cold there – it might get as high as freezing today, and it’s supposed to get down 7F or so when the next cold front hits. Criminy. When will this California boy ever learn that latitude != temperature?
Okay – time to hit ‘send’ and go catch a plane. Here are some more pictures.