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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Memories from the road: Jasper, Alabama

Johnny Cash's rendition of I've Been Everywhere could be a good soundtrack for the cross-country phase of my training at ATP. While I don't even come close to having visited half the towns he rattles off in the song, those trips took me to a few places I probably would never have seen otherwise.
Among those is Jasper.
Ron, my flight partner (not the angry Red Sox-hating jet pilot), and I were dispatched out to the quaint Alabama town from Atlanta. The flight there was awesome as we found ourselves once more playing among towers of puffy cumulus clouds.
After landing, dispatch told us the aircraft was to be used for a checkride, so we had the afternoon pretty much open. Now, at this point in our training we were both eager to get home to our wives so the news initially irritated us. We walked into the shack that is the FBO and were greeted by two nice gentlemen, one of whom was the examiner for the checkride in question. He was also a warm and engaging person, FedEx Captain, former F-4 pilot and owner of this majestic military trainer.

With time to kill and empty stomachs, Ron and I inquired about local eateries and were kindly shown to the airport's crew car: a 1980s Cadillac stretch limo, seen here behind a Super Decathlon that flew in for the afternoon's air show.

Eager to return before the show, we hopped in our pimpin' ride to cruise to downtown Jasper. As we passed a few local pilots, they waved and with obvious amusement warned us about the car's many shortcomings. A couple of miles from the airport a roadside restaurant promised the best food in town. Good enough, so we pulled over. Parking a limo is fun.
Minutes later, I was in heaven with a giant plate of pulled smoked pork and homemade barbecue sauce and a bucket of ice-cold sweet tea, which I rapidly grew very fond of during those two weeks in the south.
Full of food, we headed back to the airfield for the show. As we pulled in, two Pitts crossed a mere few feet above the runway before coming back to land. Dang, we missed it.
The next hour was spent paying for such a big lunch. All that food combined with the heat and waiting around made us groggy. So I ventured outside in search of something to do and stumbled upon this: an old decrepit British jet trainer behind the main hangar.

My food-induced coma was, however, short-lived. While sniffing around the old jet, the Pitts pilots readied for another demonstration of their extraordinary skills.

Within minutes, they were airborne. I stood by the side of the runway, completely enthralled by the aerial ballet they performed.

The performance was followed by an equally breath-taking series of stunts by another pilot in a Super Decathlon. Much of his routine, however, took him only a few feet above the runway. With every pass, I was sure he'd smack the aircraft into the ground. My sentiment was echoed by the Pitts pilots. Hammerheads 500 feet off the deck just don't seem like a good idea but they're sure fun to watch.

As the sun set and the air cooled, we took off to return to Atlanta.
While waiting around for a whole afternoon wasn't what I had hoped for, the day in Jasper turned out to be pleasant. We met great pilots with a lot of good advice and enjoyed an amazing display of piloting skills. More importantly, it was nice to be away from the large fancy FBOs with sparkling new crew cars, sprawling sofas, plasma screen TVs and the inevitable couple of bragging corporate pilots.
The people in Jasper were genuine and true aviation nuts, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants pilots with amazing stories and the talent to back them up.
The Pitts drivers were down to earth guys who were out to have fun, not show off. What they did that day truly inspired me.
Maybe one day, I'll be fortunate enough to have the skills to take a little red biplane up for a similar ride.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice pictures, Capt'n. Sounds like a fun trip.
I've quietly followed your progress. Good job on getting your training done and good luck in the future.

9:34 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Stibbe said...

Looks like a Folland Gnat. I think the British came up with one aircraft great name - the Spitfire - and then gave up after that. We've had Viscounts, Vanguards, French-spelled Concordes and who would want to fly a plane named after a tiny insect. Whereas, in the US, you have Eagles, Raptors and so on.

2:19 AM  
Blogger Capt. Wilko said...

That is a curious name for a fighter trainer. Then again, at least Britain has a respectable air force. I don't believe Ireland, my home country, even had fighter jets!

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the stories, a nice blog.

The photos you have are not Pitts, they are Christen Eagles. Nice planes just the same.

11:00 AM  

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