Flying into Beale Air Force Base Air Show – May 1

May 8th, 2011

As I said previously: I was talked out, listened out and my ears hurt. Not the best time to be at a public function as the wife of an honoree.

I had gotten in late Saturday night. And we got up early Sunday to fly into the Beale Air Show.

It was a bit windy for me as I was pre-flighting the airplane. I had checked and it said 10 kts gusting up to 25 and then becoming calm. But that’s at altitude. I hoped the winds would become calm for our return flight and landing. I said to General Yeager, I’m not so sure about me flying with this wind.

He said: What wind?

I smiled and said I was serious and concerned.

He said: If it’s a crosswind, the runway at Beale is wide enough you can just land across the runway .

I smiled – he was probably right. Or at least HE could land across the runway and stop in time.

He agreed if I was or became uncomfortable, he would fly.

I was flying because the plane is one I can fly and Gen Yeager wants me to continue to gain all the experience I can.

We got in the airplane – no easy chore. Why no one of the brilliant minds in aerospace has come up with a better lay-out of a cockpit…

I always get a little concerned re starting this plane cold – especially when the shop is closed so no battery back-up. However, today, I primed it just the right amount and with a few attempts, got it started right up.

Gen Yeager breathed again. :-)

I followed the checklist and started moving to get us away from the planes – we were parked pretty close to one – and checked my brakes. The General checked his.

And off we were taxiing. We listened to the AWOS. The General said: Take off on 7. Usually we supposed to take off on 2-5; but today the winds were 10 kts at 90 degrees – almost straight down 7 and I didn’t fancy doing a downwind take-off.  What can happen is you think you are going fast enough to lift off – and you aren’t, so you may lose lift or not have lift and land badly out of control.

Did the run-up, took the runway and took off.

No problems so once we had enough altitude – which was fast, we did a 180 and headed to Beale.

The General: You don’t have to gain any more altitude.

Our airport was at 3150’ and Beale was about 2000’ less.

Fairly quickly I switched frequencies to Beale Tower.

Me: Beale Tower, XX-3DC.

Beale came straight back.

Beale told me winds, pressure setting, squawk numbers. Then-

I stated my position and intention.

Beale asked me to identify type aircraft.

For a nano-second I wondered if I had missed saying it on my first and second calls. No, I hadn’t. I re-stated the type.

Beale asked again and my position.

I was the only one in the sky at that point. The General who understood far more than I simplified it for all of us: Tell him you’re white and you’re little.

I repeated this: I’m white and I’m little. (Probably the littlest coming in that day).

After a pause, Tower: Got you. Check initial at 1600’

I repeated this.

It was a glorious day for flying – you could see forever and it was a little cool so good density altitude.

I started for downwind out of habit. The General said: Head for initial.

I knew what that meant – head directly for the numbers of the runway on which you are going to land.

The General reminding me: You’ll have to lose a lot of altitude.

Me: Roger.

We got on initial. The General: Break at the second taxi-way.

How lucky I was – a novice with the most experienced pilot giving me instructions, guiding me!

I broke as instructed. I marveled at how comfortable I was becoming re safe, steep turns. On downwind, I checked my checklist. I had never turned off the fuel pump because I was never “cruising”. I had been climbing or descending.

On final, General Yeager said: Tell them Gear down and welded.

Me: Tower, xx-3DC, Gear down and welded.

We got down low over the runway with a little power on – wind had picked up a bit – but we had over 10,000 feet of runway and lots of taxiing if I landed on the numbers.

When it felt okay to land, I let her down the final couple of feet. General Yeager breathed again.

We taxied almost as much as we flew. I was on the right side of the runway – General Yeager was about to tell me to get in the middle till he looked and saw we had plenty of room on both sides of the aircraft and the middle of the runway….Well let’s just put it this way: even I probably could have landed crossways on the runway and still had time to stop.

We didn’t need to waste the fuel to go back to the middle just to turn right within the next 50’.

So he corrected: You’re fine.

Tower told us which taxiways to exit and then cleared us to call Ground.

Me: Beale Ground, xx-3DC.

Ground: Taxi mumble mumble mumble Follow Me

Fortunately General Yeager knew what the intent was and guided me.

We taxied in, saw the Follow Me sign and followed him until we saw the fellow standing in front of our parking space guiding us with arm signals.

Shut down the aircraft. The maintenance fellow and Gen Yeager knew each other so a warm greeting.

We knew our escort whom we hadn’t seen in a while so another warm greeting.

And away we went to get some coffee and to look at all the static displays.

Little did we know this was going to be a very big day for the United States and all the families around the world who had had members lost in wars.

General Yeager talked with several pilots and others along the way.

And then we went to sit in the VIP tent.

And that’s where I realized I was peopled out. However, I knew that it was a time to dig deep and smile.

I had several people come up to me: I don’t want to bother the General, but…

I smiled. Whenever someone says that, and they’ve said it to people who are sitting with us, I often feel like joking with them, and say why it is okay to bother the people he’s with…but truly none of these people are ever a bother. And I find them most interesting. How can I not? They admire General Yeager.

One said: Oh! It’s nice to see you smiling.

He had been trying to bother the General for 4 autographs at a crowded gathering after it was announced no autographs. I remember smiling and politely telling him no and to please go to the website. So I guess a smile with a no doesn’t count for him.  :-)

He laughed and replied: I guess you’re right!  (He had gone to the website and gotten his autograph).

Two of our invited guests showed up, P and N. N has more energy and is pleasantly loud for the hearing impaired. That day we were all hearing impaired – airplanes are noisy. I knew she could fill in when I was napping with my eyes open.

As a very loud plane went by – maybe an F-18, I handed her a set of ear plugs for which she was grateful.

We headed towards van on top of which was the air show commentator – our escort, our 2 friends and us on the golf cart. General Yeager went on top. We stayed below as the show “opened” with a parachutist jumping out of the airplane with a United States of America flag and someone singing the National Anthem over the loudspeaker system. And N and I singing it too. I had to point N to the flag floating down with the parachutist. This was N’s first air show in 20 years.

After the National Anthem was finished, N had a few questions. Can the parachutist steer? I mimed how he could and said: He’d be limited trying to head into the wind since he has no power. A member of the parachutist’s team confirmed this.

Then some introductions and it was General Yeager’s turn to speak. Lots of cheers. I filmed the second half on my phone but was in the wrong place re sound – or the right place if you want to be creative – I had him and the echo of him – showing the speed of sound thru the speakers.

After General Yeager finished, big ovation and cheers, he climbed back down the ladder. N remarked: Did you see him go up that ladder?

Me: No, why?

N: He was like a billy goat! He’s 88 years old!

Me, smiling: I knew he’d be okay and had his escort and others around so I wasn’t watching.

A few kids and people had asked at the fence if they could meet General Yeager and take his photo. I said I’d try but please don’t ask for autographs, please go to the website. So after General Yeager got down, I asked – he walked over and shook a few hands, stood for a few photos. They were all thrilled.

While sitting at the table eating lunch, someone kept talking at me asking questions right after I took a bite. I smiled at him, considered all sorts of things like showing my food. We both laughed.

I explained that I was a bit tired having just returned from back East and apologized that I just needed some fuel and then could possibly answer his questions. People can be very kind. He understood and realized just sitting with us might be enough. And he was he said later rewarded: General Yeager started commenting on the planes. Fascinating!

We saw the General who commands Beale AFB. He looked very alert. We found out why later that night. May 1, Sunday night.

The Heritage flight was beautiful – a Warthog called that because someone thought it was ugly. I actually like it and like the way it looks. But then I find warthogs, the animals, hilarious. As the quickly waddle away with their tails in the air.

The P-51 always looks wonderful.

The one airplane that lands on a truck and does some take-offs, simulates trouble and lands….that isn’t our cup of tea. That’s too close to the edge where something bad can happen and has happened to people.

We toured the static displays again.  A very cool morning turned into a very warm day and lots of people were camped out under the wings of the cargo plane. What a sight! The plane has more uses than we thought.

N and P took a tour of the plane.

We told them to head out before 3 – to beat the crowds exiting – air show was to be over just after the Thunderbirds finished and they were to start at 3.

We went over to where the Thunderbirds were starting their engines (F-16s)– even that is part of the show. Very crisp maintenance fellows all in sync.

We headed back and waited for their show after which we were going to leave. And waited. And waited.

We learned later that a life flight was flying thru the air space so we the Thunderbirds were delayed.

They did their usual routine including the four ship fly-by where it looks like they are going to hit but in fact are probably 1000’ apart. This really isn’t much if you realize how fast they are going – about 1.5 seconds apart although I’m not so sure on my math because I’m not exactly sure how fast they are going.

After this, we headed to file a flight plan and then to our plane. Our plane was in a restricted area and I noticed some serious guns on the guards. Very serious. Someone else had noticed a lot of guns on the security forces roaming the crowd. Little did we know until late that night why.

Our escort (G) pulled it out. I did the exterior pre-flight while General Yeager talked more with G. Again, with effort, we got in, and I did the interior checklist. Again I was concerned re start-up, but it was fine. Gen Yeager and I both breathed a sigh of relief this time.

We called Ground.  Several times.

Ground eventually: Mumble, mumble mumble.

Me: This is xx-3DC. Say again?

Ground: Take this, this this…

Me: Could you guide me?

Ground: Take a left then….

Eventually we got cleared to follow the Flight of Six F-15s. I kept my distance and thought this is going to be interesting.

I will have to take off before their take off spot but won’t be able to climb like them so will have to turn to try to stay out of their wash…oh boy.

Ground: Can you do a mid-field take-off?

I didn’t understand a word he said but General Yeager did. Tell him Yes.

Me: Affirmative.

Ground told me to turn right at this taxiway to runway and cleared me to contact Tower.

Tower cleared me for take-off.

I gained the runway and took off, headed East.

I wasn’t exactly sure of the exact direction but knew I’d get my exact bearings soon.

Tower asked if I needed flight following. General Yeager said: Negative.

I repeated to Tower: Negative.

Gen Yeager pointed out a few landmarks – we were headed towards our airport. General Yeager said not to go any higher. I smiled and told him that’s how I’ll find our airport – get really really high and…

General Yeager did his funny scowl at me.

And as I gained some (not a lot) altitude, there it was. We were heading straight for it.

A few minutes later Tower handed me off to flight following. I thought I said negative?

So I called in – it had been a while since I had had to call any “Approach”. But I still remembered the language.

However I was out of practice understanding these guys.

Approach: Mumble (at Mach speed).

Me: Say again?

Approach gave me the numbers for following. I punched them in.

Approach: Ident (ify)

I was pleased I remembered all this really :-). I pushed Ident.

By this time we had the airport in sight, Approach asked me another question I didn’t understand, General Yeager did: Negative.

So Approach handed me off to VFR and our airport.

We checked AWOS.  Winds were now 10 kts at 270 for our 2-5 runway. From Beale we were already on that downwind path. We called in.

A bit choppy around our airport.

We called final. Very choppy so I kept a little power on. And I forgot my second set of flaps.

There was an airplane about to take the runway after all my calls including final. But then he stopped just short.

I decided we probably could get down with plenty of runway but maybe none to spare and I was concerned about that airplane so I called a go-around.

I came around again – no one on the runway, one plane called in behind me.

I got low enough, kept a little power on.

We were bounced around on final and I heard in my head – General Yeager’s voice: Just fly your airplane.

Gen Yeager said: Crab.

I did.

As we got low enough I just flew a few feet over the runway with a little power. The wind died down for a little bit so I chopped power and landed. The plane wasn’t sure it wanted to stay landed – by not letting the nose down too quickly or hard where it will rattle – but we stayed on the ground and taxied off the second exit.

Me: 3DC clear the runway.

I cleaned up the airplane and we taxied to the parking spot.

After we shut down the aircraft and got out, General Yeager pointed out I was nowhere near the center of the white line for parking.

He was testing me. I pointed to the other planes – had I been in the center I would have hit one of them.

He smiled.

We closed up the airplane, put away the keys, and left. The plane was able to be used the next day.

Two excellent landings today.


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