Every generation coins phrases that didn't exist a decade earlier. One of the iPhone Generation's is, "It was a YouTube kind of moment," meaning it was the kind of thing that should have been captured on video to share with the world. Last week, one of those moments had me trying to fish my phone out from under my five-point harness—and failing.
I was parked against one side of the run-up area doing a mag check. On the other side was a Cessna 172 parked right in the throat of the taxiway to the runway. I hate it when people block runway access like that, but as I was to find out, he didn't really have it blocked nearly as much as I thought he did.
We were the width of the taxiway apart with the space between us not big enough for any of the larger corporate jets on instrument flight rules (IFR), timed clearances to get through. The Cessna guy was being very inconsiderate.
Then, I looked back down the taxiway and saw a problem coming: unmistakable, canted, twin vertical tails outlined against a swirling plume of heat. An F/A-18 Hornet was headed in our direction and he was likely to get stuck in traffic because of the Cessna.
First, I should probably mention that we see Hornets in twos and fours every month or so. Usually, they're U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) birds from Yuma but tail codes often show they're from all over the country. To most of us, having them on the airport is a special treat and points out something you don't often think about.
Like most folks reading this, I've seen a lot of Hornets, but they're almost always in an air show/fly-in environment. So, when I'm running-up and a couple of Hornets taxi past to take off, it's an entirely different experience than at an air show.
To be sharing your home airport with a Hornet (or a Harrier, we get those, too) makes the airplane seem totally out of context. In our minds, they normally exist amidst the razzle dazzle of Oshkosh, etc., not right here on our neighborhood airport mixed in with the rest of us. And it's so cool, it's hard to describe.
As the Hornet taxied closer, I heard the tower ask him if he could make it to the runway, which I doubted. But, his oxygen mask-muffled voice replied, "Roger." I looked at the ever-growing image of the Hornet coming at us. I looked over at the Cessna. I thought, "Zowie! This is going to be close!"
I've stood under a Hornet, or I've been parked in the run-up area as they taxied past a lot of times, but I never really noticed how big they are because they weren't that close. However, when you're strapped into your little airplane and one is trying to squeeze past you, it's positively huge! And awe-inspiring! It reaches in and touches a part of your being that isn't often touched.
It wasn't until that moment that I realized what the Hornet driver already knew: Not only are his wings shorter than they look, but the airplane sits so high that, even if the space between the Cessna and me hadn't been tight (which it wasn't), his wings would have gone right over the top of us.
He could have gone through a space half that size. And he made my little airplane appear positively tiny. Model airplane size, by comparison. He towered over us and I couldn't help but grin. And I tried to get at my phone. This was definitely a YouTube moment.
As he came abeam, I had the canopy open. He looked over for a second and, without missing a beat, pointed an emphatic, Nomex-gloved finger at us. He then gave us an enthusiastic thumbs-up, as if saying, "Hey, man. Cool airplane!" I immediately returned the gesture, then he was rolling past the hold-short line, cleared to go. One aviator briefly connected with another.
I'll never tire of the majesty of something like a Hornet taking off. Especially when I'm in close proximity to it. Even though I was strapped into a noisy, running airplane with a David Clark headset cuddling my ears, when the Hornet's throttle went up and he went into burner, it was as if I were standing on the side of the runway bareheaded.
The noise was deliciously overpowering. For a brief instant, it engulfed us in a ball of acoustic pressure and you could clearly feel the noise vibrating in your chest. I loved it!
Then, he was gone. I mean, really gone! In seconds, he was two blue-white cones of flame scrambling uphill as if gravity didn't exist. And, I was proud of the young man at the controls for doing what he was doing for our country.
At the same time, I was just a little irritated because I knew that at that very moment, there were hands reaching for telephones in houses around the airport to file noise complaints. That never fails to make me mad.
Every single time we have a military jet visiting, all of us who live near the airport know for a fact that their departure will bring out the worst in some of those who live around us.
Rather than being awed at their powerful military aircraft and thinking, "There goes another young man who's wearing the uniform of his country and protecting us," they think, "Who does that guy think he is, making all of that noise in my backyard? We should shut the airport down."
And, don't kid yourself: There has been a petition circulating for years aimed at shutting down the airport. The fact that this particular airport has been there since 1942, is home to close to a hundred corporate jets, and brings millions and millions of dollars into the community is neither here nor there. Complainers will always complain. They see that as their role in life, when they should be saying, "Thank you."
To the unidentified Marine in the Hornet at the Scottsdale, Ariz., airport (KSDL): You made my day. And, I salute you and thank you for your service. Semper fi and good luck.