When you have a plane that is a major asset to the nation’s global power and strategic deterrence mission, you protect it. When it costs $2.2 billion dollars, you really protect it. And when you have 20 of these aircraft in one place, you protect it at all costs. One such security measure is Boris. He is a Military Working Dog with the 509th Security Forces Squadron / S3K at Whiteman AFB.
After 18 hours aboard a KC-135 to reach Transit Center at Manas in Kyrgyzstan, I had my feet on the ground for exactly 38 hours before I would be back in the air once again. But this time it was different. This time, I would be on a combat mission over Afghanistan supporting the Operation Enduring Freedom by refueling US and Coalition fighter jets that were covering troops on the ground.
Been offline for over a month now, but not because I’ve been sitting idle. I have been very fortunate to be able to have gone flying nearly every weekend and when I wasn’t, it was an Airport-Funday. Because you know what they say, any day at an airport is a good day! And when you add to the fact that your roommate is an amazing formation qualified pilot who flies for the famous Patriots Jet Team. Well, a you get a chance to do some phenomenal air to airs! In those 5 weeks, I logged over 11 hours of flight time in a Cessna 182 (5.6 hours), North American Aviation P-51 Mustang (0.2 hours), and McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender (5.2 hours).
Continue reading “Five Weeks of Flying”
On an unassuming block in a gritty part of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, folks lined up outside Vacation based of a cryptic text tweeted by @Franz_Ferdinand for a surprise concert. For the cost of 5 lotto scratcher tickets, fans of Franz Ferdinand were treated to an intimate concert in the basement of Vacation. Fitting less then 50 people, the basement was hot, sweaty and loud. But Franz Ferdinand filled it with some sweet, sweet music. New songs, old song, it didn’t matter, the crowd got a rare treat. And as if that wasn’t cool enough, they did a second set just for the fans outside who didn’t get a chance to make it in. Needless to say, this was a great moment in music.
The business end of the mighty B-52 is to deliver conventional and nuclear weapons. Sure it’s got a great set of pilots, and an world class Electronic Warfare Officer But at the end of the day, the BUFF is there to drop bombs. Day 3 at Barksdale AFB was a chance to see the various munitions load teams and see how they meticulously load the B-52. It can carry approximately 70,000 pounds mixed ordnance — bombs, mines and missiles, including up to 20 air-launched cruise missiles.
With the speed of the demise of historic Hangar One at Moffett Field increasing, I decided to get some aerial images and video of the current state of the storied hangar. With permission from Moffett Field Tower, we orbited the 198 foot tall hangar and captured various angles of the US Navy Contractors removing the panels of the massive hangar. The panels are contaminated in PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) and need to be removed. But while the US Navy is tasked with their removal, it’s NASA’s responsibility to restore the historic landmark. But with the federal funds not allocated for the restoration, it’s unclear if we will be stuck with the world’s largest birdcage or not. And while the pictures don’t do the Hangar’s size justice, know that it is 1140 feet in , 308 feet in width and 198 feet in height. In the video below you can see the how tiny the workers are compared to the hangar.
On the horizon I saw the deepest shades of blue that I had ever seen in my entire life. As my eyes tracked upwards, the blue’s blended into the darkness of space. As my pilot, Lt. Col. Jon “Huggy” Huggins just said, at this very moment, out of 6 billion human beings, I was the highest person in the entire world. The only other humans higher then me were the 6 astronauts in the International Space Station. And naively, my eyes looked into the darkness of space to see if I could see them.
The only noise I could hear in my space suit was my own deep breaths, much a kin to the sound of Darth Vader. A faint and distant roar reminded me that behind me was a single engine, whose thrust was the only thing keeping my pilot and I aloft at the edge of space. With Huggy’s seat 18 inches below me, I was the highest person in the whole world cruising along above 70,000 feet at just below the speed of sound. And in doing so, I had just become the first Indian to fly in U-2 Dragon Lady and became the fourth highest flying person of Indo-American decent (following Rakesh Sharma, Kalpana Chawla (who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia) and Sunita Williams).
In the next few weeks, I will be blogging on my incredible adventure with the men and women of Beale A.F.B. and their incredible mission flying the U-2 Dragon Lady. While this is an amazingly unique airplane, one that has been reinvented over the past 55 years, it is merely a finely crafted hunk of steel. One that soars to the sky thanks to a crew of hundreds of anonymous Airmen, ranging from the pilots, to maintainers, life support, physiological support, intelligence analysts, egress trainers, fire fighters, air traffic controllers, public affairs, to countless other members of Team Beale.
In addition to images, thanks to Walter Colby Productions, we will be sharing a rare peek into what it takes to send someone to the edge of space. From a checkup with the flight doc, to egress and parachute training, to an explosive decompression in a hyperbaric chamber, we will show what it takes to strap on the suit and become the highest person in the world. But until then, here is a teaser of this incredible flight aboard an amazing airplane.
Flying the U-2 “Dragon Lady” is a challenge at best. You treat her good, and she’ll act like a “Lady.” But let your attention slip just a little and that lady turns into a “Dragon.” And after a mission flying at the edge of space, one of the hardest parts still lies ahead; landing the Dragon Lady. With only two wheels, limited visibility due to wearing a space suit, and a plane that flies just above stall speed, landing is just as hard as flying it. But while you fly alone at 70,000 feet, when you come down, your life is in the hands of one of your fellow pilots in a Pontiac as he drives 100+ mph next to you and calls out how high you are above the ground. 10 feet…7…5…3…2…1. Contact. And like that you’re back on the ground.
To fly at the edge of space, not only do you have to be in top physical shape, but you have to realize the bigger the adventure, the greater the risk. Even though the technology of aircraft has improved over the years, the human body is still a fragile organism. Realizing this, the Docs at the 9th Medical Group, Beale AFB check and verify that the pilots are fit for the rigors of flying the U-2. The video below speaks about some of the hazards that pilots face at 13 miles above the earth.
Fifty Five years ago on a dry desert lake in the remote parts of Nevada, this beauty took to the skies for the first time. Since that day, this marvel of an aircraft is constantly being reborn to adapt and excel in its’ ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) role. Here’s to the men and women behind this beautiful aircraft and to all of their hard work to keep this aircraft flying.
Day two was setting up to be a busy one. Our goal was to squeeze in two flights and get an intro to Spins and Aerobatics. With the same format as the previous day’s flight, we did a through briefing, hopped into the plane, Tim demonstrates a maneuver, Sagar demonstrates, repeat, head back to the airport and then debrief. It was hard to keep all of the information straight as each maneuver and flight built on the previous ones. But Tim was quite patient and reminded me that this was just an introduction.
You look outside and all you see is the ground flying past you; greens and browns all blurring into one shade. A second ago you were performing an immelman in your new Pitts Special S-2B, and now you and your plane are in a spin hurdling towards the ground. Your instincts kick in, you pull the power back to idle, let go of the stick, look over the nose and figure out which direction you are spinning, full opposite rudder, stop the spin, and recover.
Last week, I had the chance to get some air to air images of San Jose Police Department’s Air Support Units’ EC-120. What made this a special shoot was that over the past few years, I’ve gotten to know the men and women of the Air Support Unit and consider them friends. If they are not patrolling the skies over San Jose, CA, they are selflessly supporting the community through programs helping kids with cancer or their fellow police officers. But today the camera was pointed at them.
Flying to me is like being a kid and wanting to go out and play. At first you are allowed to open the door and stare outside, BUT you can’t actually go outside. This was the first few days of my training. I read the books, sat and starred at the airplane, but it was just there…tempting me. Eventually, you are allowed to venture into the yard, but are kept under close supervision by Mom, or in my case Josh Smith, my instructor at the West Valley Flying Club. I went up with Josh and we stayed in the “yard” and learned the basics. And eventually the time came that I was allowed to play in the “yard” all alone. This was once I solo’d! I could be out there alone, but still, I could only go up the the fence of the front yard.
Hello everyone! Well, a major announcement today for all the readers of the blog. We have just signed up on YouTube and are now gearing up to bring you a dynamic and first hand account inside aviation’s most unique stories. While we will still offer world-class photography and personal accounts, these videos will add another dimension that a camera wont be able to share. You can find us on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/user/HorizontalRainBlog So subscribe, tell your friends, coworkers, your sister and your mother too! 🙂 Videos featured on the YouTube channel will be embedded in the blog posts here as well.
And in honor of our first Video Post, here is the view from the back seat of an F-15E Strike Eagle as we do a break for landing at Mountain Home AFB, ID. After finishing up our air to air photo mission with the Indian Air Force SU-27 Flanker, SNORT3, and F-15C from the 390th FS “Wild Boars”, and JABBA3 (F-15E from the 391st FS “Bold Tigers”) approach Runway 12 at Mountain Home AFB for the overhead break for landing.
My friend Mike took some amazing shots of the SJPD Helo last week that I just had never seen before. He was hanging out the side of the helicopter, with the door open and shooting backwards! Somehow in all my flights, I had never thought about doing this before. Probably because it involves sticking my camera out into a 90-120kt wind and possibly having it fly off and hit the tail rotar; which would end very, very badly for everyone. But I had to have this shot and spoke to Bill and Rob from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Aerial Support Unit to see if this was doable. Well, with an expert pilot like Rob, and a lot of safety straps, I was cleared to do it. 🙂
But that’s not what this blog is about. It’s about the video I took! Continue reading “Santa Clara County Sheriff STAR1 Video”