Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Flying Fifi


Around the patch in a Superfortress


The flight engineer is controlling the throttles, so you just tell him what you want, which is a weird feeling. But like I said earlier, you've got your hands full just flying this airplane, so even though it's hard to get used to, it's nice to have the help. We're on final now with 45- degree flaps…need to keep it at about 140 mph till short final…then comes the command to go around. I call to the engineer for takeoff power and flaps 25. It doesn't take long for this giant piece of sheet metal to transition from a descent to a max rate of climb.

All I have to do is get her going up at a positive rate of climb, and then I call for gear up, flaps 15, and now I'm looking for 150 mph…flaps up, climb 1 power, now 170 mph, climb 2 power. Capt. Bill says, "Left traffic for a full stop, same as the first, but this time keep it all the way to touchdown."

Before I know it, I'm on short final starting to slow her down to about 120 mph. The sink rate is high, so I start arresting it at about 75 feet. Capt. Bill nudges me a little to the left to get on centerline, and then she touches down.

All is silent on the rollout, and we make the turn off the runway. I'm sweating bullets. The silence is broken by Capt. Bill's reassurance: "If that is as bad as it gets, you are going to be okay, Buster! Now taxi back, and do it again." We approach the end of the runway. Man, those brakes are tricky, and I have to work my tail off just to get her back down to the end. They clear us for takeoff.

I get her straight, set the brakes, call for 30 inches, and Rick the engineer says, "Go." I drop the brakes and steer with the throttle. There goes 65 mph and "engineer's throttles." It doesn't take long, and here comes 100 mph. I ease her back to takeoff pitch just like Capt. Bill had done. At 115, 120, 125 mph, then we're off…positive rate of climb and gear up.

I'm watching my speeds and calling for checklists. After a few more landings, Capt. Bill congratulates me: "Ok, greenhorn, you made the grade." I'm so happy that I could jump out and do cartwheels on the tarmac, but I keep my cool.

Many thanks to everyone that made that possible for me: Steve, Neils, Rozie, David, Gerald, Mike, the B-29 crew, Dave and Rick. I'll turn a wrench on Fifi anytime you need me to. Last but not least, Capt. Bill, you're firm but fair, and a great aviator!

Aaron Tippin is a musician, pilot, farmer, winemaker, outdoorsman and avid bodybuilder. He runs his own record label and is currently travelling the U.S. on his Red, White and Loud tour. Learn more at www.aarontippin.com.



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