I’ve taken a swing at a backdoor slider; windsurfed on the Barnegat Bay; tried my hand at glass blowing; attempted to play guitar (and sing like Dave Grohl); and — most recently — fly a B-52 Stratofortress.
Fine. I was the co-pilot in the B-52 simulator at Barksdale Air Force Base. Still, after an hour in the left-side seat, I was more than convinced.
Flying a 185,000 lb. airplane with a 185-foot wingspan ain’t easy.
Taking my seat
The world is my oyster and I’ve found the pearl.
The B-52 simulator is essentially a large box perched several feet above the floor. It shares a large indoor room with other simulators for various crew. As I excitedly made my way across the catwalk to the entrance, I had flashbacks of my first visit to NASA as a 12-year-old Boy Scout.
But this ride wasn’t made for tourists.
‘Alrighty, Brian. How do I get into that seat?’ I asked the pilot.
‘See the red handle to your left?’ he responded. ‘It’s just above the window.’
I couldn’t detect a red handle, so I just started pointing my finger at various accoutrements waiting for him to confirm that I’d found it. My ego was already pretty much shot, since my wife now knew that I couldn’t find a red handle in a cockpit full of black and grey.
‘No, your left,’ he politely instructed me. ‘Your other left.’
I eventually found the handle and, feeling like a beached whale, angled and squeezed my way into my seat. Hopefully, no one noticed that I had my headset on backward — for about five minutes.
Well wishes are raining upon me. This is my moment in the sun.
My wife and I, having taken our seats (she was in the cockpit observer’s chair), were given a quick rundown of the instrument panel and what exactly we’d be observing during our ‘flight.’ Brian warned us that we might experience some dizziness.
But, I was mostly concerned about the malfunctioning mic in my headset. I had gone over my pilot-speak script several times.
‘Ehh … Welcome aboard Flight 1970 … This is your co-pilot Adam ‘Flyboy’ Holland … Ehhh … Whiskey Bravo Five … We’ll cruise at about 30,000 feet today into headwinds making their way down from San Juan Capistrano … Ehh … Visibility is about 5 miles … Ehh … No expected delays … X-Ray Uniform Alpha … Ehh … So sit back and enjoy the ride. Flyboy, over. ‘
As I interrupted his orientation of the cockpit, Brian assured me that the mic wouldn’t be necessary and that he could hear me just fine.
‘OK, guys. Any questions?’ Brian asked us.
‘Yeah,’ I responded. ‘What does this red button do?’
With that, our patient pilot — who was nice enough to let me sit in his seat — smiled at my question, then radioed the guy in the control room that he was ready for the simulation to begin.
I’m really doing this. Beginner’s luck? Instinctive skill?
Brian got us up and flying — from releasing the air-brakes and ordering a particular payload weight, to … heck if I know. He told us what he was doing as he did it, but I lost track at ‘flaps up.’
‘If you’ll look out at about 11 o’clock, you’ll see the Eldorado Casino,’ Brian told us, as he gently pulled back on the yoke. ‘What do you guys say we follow the Red River for a little while?’
As we continued our climb over western Louisiana I watched our pilot as he studied the instrument panel, flipped this lever and toggled that switch. With each move, he explained what he was doing and why. All the while, we seemed to glide effortlessly upward. Defying gravity with gracefulness.
‘Would you like to fly, Adam?’ he asked me.
‘Uh, yeah. I guess so,’ I responded.
‘You sure?’ he said, offering me a reassuring smile. This was, after all, only a simulation.
‘Yes. Absolutely,’ I answered. ‘What do I do?’
‘Just grab the controls and fly us wherever you want to,’ he said. ‘You’re in control.’
I looked over my right shoulder at Catherine, who gave me a ‘this is what you wanted’ grin. I’m sure she was glad that we were only in a simulator. I’ve never had a car wreck, or even a ticket. But, this was different and she already knew what I was about to figure out.
‘Sorry about that excessive bank turn,’ Brian told the control room through his radio.
‘Did I do something wrong?’ I asked.
‘You’re fine,’ he reassured me.
I had apparently attempted a 60-degree bank on the plane during a climb. Not good. And, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to just level her out (the story of my life). I was either climbing like a rocket, making turns like your friendly neighborhood NASCAR driver or diving like Greg Louganis.
Touch down brings me ’round again
And then … Dad let go of the bicycle. I was on my own as I crashed — shoulder first — into the pavement that covered South 12th Street.
What goes up must come down. Even if it’s only a mock flight.
‘Alright, Adam,’ the pilot said, sounding confident. ‘You’re going to land this plane.’
‘No problem,’ I responded, confident in my ability after making it through Las Vegas with only a clipped wing.
‘I want you to make a plus sign with that black and white gauge right there,’ he instructed. ‘As long as you keep the plus sign, we’ll have a smooth landing.’
And that’s when the B-52 began veering westward.
‘Bring it back a little. Just a little,’ he said. ‘Bring the nose up a little. There you go. You’re doing fine.’
But the large aircraft veered left again. And every time I tried to make the plus sign, we ended up diving … and banking excessively. So, I overcorrected.
‘OK. I’m just going to help you out a little and line us up with the runway,’ Brian politely told me.
I felt like a child without dexterity. True aim. Necessary strength. I was helpless. In real life, we’d be goners.
He lined the plane with the runway — still two miles out — and handed the controls back to me.
‘I want you to drop the nose just a bit,’ the pilot said. ‘There you go. Now, just a little more.’
My eyes were glued to the instrument panel. I couldn’t help but to look up at the front glass, where the realistic image of Barksdale’s runway glared back at me, like a bull that refuses to be ridden.
‘Drop your altitude just a bit and I’ll lower our air speed,’ Brian said. ‘Not too much. That’s it. Good job.’
We touched down. And then we bounced like those red rubber balls used in junior high physical education class. Zero altitude. Fifty feet. Back to zero.
‘That was a little bounce, but that’s OK,’ the pilot reassured me. ‘We’re going to engage the air brakes and then the drag chute. You know, we use the drag chute with every landing.’
And just like that, the painted stripes of the long runway passed us very slowly. Then, not at all. We were home — safe and sound.
Thanks to the guy who knows what he’s doing.
If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. I’d also love for you to join me on Facebook (click the ‘like’ button), Pinterest and Google+. — Special thanks to Megan E. Hawkins at The Underground Writer for editing this piece.
Through the centuries, the word churrasco has evolved. It originally meant barbecue. These days, it translates to paying $50 per customer for an all-you-can-eat experience, during which formally dressed waiters walk around and cut slices of meat (beef and lamb mostly) from giant skewers onto your plate. — At Casa de Holland, it means a variety of meat marinated in a fusion of sub-tropical and equatorial herbs and spices, then grilled. Though we tend to use our Weber Q, this dish tastes better cooked over hardwood coals or charcoal.
Churrasco Mixed Grill
2 lbs – Skirt steak (fajita meat), trimmed of excess fat w/ membrane removed
1 lb – Jumbo or Colossal Shrimp, shell on
1 lb – Cured link sausage (I used Longaniza)
1 cup – Orange juice
1/4 cup – Lime juice
1/4 cup – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 – Garlic cloves
1 bunch – Cilantro (stems included)
1 TB – Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp – Ground Cumin
2 tsp – Dark soy sauce
1/4 tsp – Ground Coriander (the seed of the Cilantro plant)
Place all ingredients in a blender. Process until smooth.
Pour about 1 cup of marinade over skirt steak. Allow to sit for at least 3 hours (overnight is best). Reserve remainder of marinade to baste sausage, shrimp and steak while grilling.
Over a medium-hot grill, cook sausage and steak simultaneously. During the last 5-7 minutes of cooking steak to desired doneness, add shrimp to grill. Baste everything frequently with reserved marinade.
Allow steak to sit for 8-10 minutes before slicing.
Serve with warm flour tortillas, sliced avocado and a mild tomato-based salsa.