Last time I was out in Florida to get my P-51 checkout, we got in almost two days of flying before the weather shut us down. I had my procedures down pretty well, take-offs, directional control, air work – everything except my wheel landings, which were just a little (WHUMP!) too firm for Eliot’s liking. We thought we’d be able to work in a few more sessions, but it just didn’t happen, so here we are, almost year later, and I’ve forgotten damned near all I knew about flying that plane.
Well, the weather gods are taunting me again. We got one quick hop in the Mustang late last afternoon before a warm front moved in. This morning teased us with blue skies far above and, just when we thought it might all be moving along, another solid drenching. So Eliot, Ashley and I took turns peering out from the hangar door, up at where we thought we’d seen blue just a minute earlier, then moseying back to the plane, hands in pockets and pulling out yet another “Did I ever tell you about the time I…” story. Flying is about as good as it gets, but when you can’t fly, there are a whole lot of things worse than just hanging out around beautiful airplanes and talking about flying.
I tried to make good use of the time, getting re-familiarized with the non-intuitive layout on the P-51C. Those coolant/oil/hydraulic fuel pressure and temperature gauges that that you’re supposed to be constantly monitoring are arrange around the cockpit in Where’s Waldo fashion, including between your legs, behind your right hip and right where your knee will hit it if you’re not careful. Left main fuel tank selection is adjacent to the right auxiliary; right main is, of course, on the other side, adjacent to the left auxiliary. But Eliot, patient and unflappable soul that he is, went over the flow with me again and again and again until it just freakin made sense. It does, in a weird way, make sense.
I guess it was around noon, amid the fourth or fifth deluge of the morning, when we decided to call it for the day. The weather was not going to be flyable, and it seemed a shame to make Eliot and Ashley burn an entire afternoon waiting around for something that was just not going to happen.
Sigh. Maybe tomorrow.
But not being one to waste opportunities, I had cobbled together a Plan B while staring out into the rainfall: the Kennedy Space Center was just (Google, Google, Google) 58 minutes away on I-95, and I was in the car and headed south before you could say “Jack Swigert”. An hour’s drive and another hour on the tour bus later, there I was, staring up at an honest-to-Bob Saturn V laid out in all its 363+ foot glory. It was one of those things where people tell you that it’s hard to appreciate how big it is until you’re standing under it and thinking about how the whole shebang (all 6.5 milllllllion pounds of it) left the earth straight up and and topped something like 5000 mph before they even dropped the first stage. Geek tourist heaven.
Only complaint – other than the glorious blue skies and fair winds down at KSC – was that the tour guides were tuned for the Disney World crowd. So there was no one to ask about how the F1 engines gimballed, why they chose kerosene for the lower stage but liquid hydrogen for the upper two, or why the H2 tanks of the upper stages were much larger than you’d expect for a simple 2 H2 + 02 -> 2 H2O reaction. Fortunately, out at the “Rocket Park” area, I noticed a couple of guys pointing knowingly at the fiddly bits of an engine they had mounted outside. I guessed that they were actual rocket scientists and pummeled them with questions (Answers, by the way, are: 1) two electro-hydraulic struts per engine, 2) weight and ease of handling, and 3) not sure, but may be to allow for boil-off, given that the O2 on the other side of the common bulkhead was over 100 degrees warmer, so it would have been like the H2 was sitting on a stove.)
Anyhow. Forecast for tomorrow is low clouds and rain. Forecast for the next day and the day after is (you guessed it) more low clouds and rain. Forecast for the day after that is for your patient author to have become very, very grumpy. Stay tuned…