Thursday, July 30, 2009

No Floatation Device Under Seat

Pine Ridge, SD
July 2009

Heyyyy Bro,

Your aircraft is just about ready to roll out of the factory, and when I say ‘just about’, I mean, all we’re waiting for are the tires.

She’s ready to fly, man. Beautiful lines. The crew did a nice job on the paint job. Looks cool. Incorporated new design changes to a seamless fuselage construction at the suggestion of the Myanmar crew leader,* and major structural changes in the tail. I think you’ll like it.

Frankel brought his plane in for a thorough overhaul and rehab, after he laughingly said it had crashed. Everybody knows a plane doesn’t survive a crash…there might be a few usable parts, but most of it is scrap, much smaller than a breadbox, so you just can imagine the crew in the maintenance hangar shaking their heads when they saw the old first edition BV33 being dragged in.

Total rehab from head to toe, prop to rudder; new beefed up engine, new landing gear, new rubber, new wing struts, new cowling, rear landing gear, weapons platform, guns,** and new paint job.

I asked him, ‘Do you have any idea of what this is going to cost you?’ and he said to proceed forthright, the sky’s the limit, you know, so that’s what I told the team, and they did a helluva job. You wouldn’t recognize it. Sumbitch is fast.

Well, in the process of firing up the maintenance hangar for Frankel’s extensive rehab job, the crew got started on a couple new planes, primarily because of a recent spike in demand. You remember Alonzo, who shocked me last year by shrugging off an offer for a free, take your pick, plane?

Yeah. Stays with Bo and Misty. Jolted me bolt upright in the seat, causing me to exclaim loudly, “WHAT?”

He sees me this year, and first thing he asks is if I still have the planes.

“Yeah,” I told him. “I still got ‘em.”

And Dewayne, up in Porcupine, he wants one, too. This is after refusing an offer for a plane last year, saying, ‘Nah, I could do that.’

Funny. The two onliest guys who ever refused our aircraft turned around and ended up ordering one a year later.

After countless flight hours amassed over one year, we brought the two LaRois in for routine maintenance, tune up, lube job, wash and wax, armaments check, and new wing supports for one of them.

They looked cool in the squadron lineup with six of the newer Solaris and two Lao Poste ‘close air support’ models,*** sort of like the Pearl Harbor flight line before the attack. Except they’re biplanes, of course. I’ll send a photo.

So, after wrapping up Frankel’s rush job immediately after the sun dance, the crew began construction of a new model with new materials, sleeker and faster, with bigger engines and bigger guns. You’ll see them at the air show.


*Li An Song Nu Kyi. Holding her position only because of her limited knowledge of English, spontaneously came up with the idea of seamless fuselage construction, after constructing several dozen aircraft.

“Maybe can sabe ti,’ she said, squatting, drawing a template in the dirt with her index finger.

“Ahhhh, yeah,” I told her dismissively, thinking that basically, Li An was ignorant of anything close to aeronautical design, having grown up with little schooling in a small village in the sticks where her father carved coral aquarium sea dragons for a living, and had only come to the aircraft factory for the job opportunity.

Also, I didn’t want to relent my superior social standing as Big Boss by acknowledging that she might actually may have something valuable to offer, so I told her to go ahead and have the crew do things the way we always have, since by doing so, admitting she had an idea, would have caused severe loss of face, for me, a terrible thing in Asia, and everyone, the whole crew, was right there, eating and watching. She showed me during their lunch break.

I didn’t have time for bird signs or drawings in the dirt. I needed to fake the appearance of a busy man, and wondered why it appeared the crew was watching us so intently and apparently taking bets.

When she hired on, I asked her where she learned her English already, and she just nodded and smiled with a vacant, unfocused, incomprehensible expression that clearly indicated she was faking it, and kept pointing at the dog. The neighbor told me
later she was asking for one of the pups.

“Pups? She don’t have no pups,” I told him.

“Yeah,” he said. “When she has pups. When she has pups, she wants one.”

Anyway, when I got home, here, I traced out that pattern she showed me one night out of boredom, and for crying out loud, we tried it, and she was right, it saves time. The planes are more stable, stronger, and easier to construct, cutting the production time by a third. We should have been doing it this way from the start, sixty aircraft ago.

Same way with the tail section. Suddenly, the solution to an inherent and historical design flaw was astonishing and excruciatingly apparent, just today during the construction of a Solari. “Hold it!” I told the crew. “Hold everything.”

Everybody put down their cutting torches and just stood there. Me too. I just stood there.

**You might ask, ‘Why’s he gotta have guns?’

Are you kidding? Everybody up there has got a gun. What are you gonna do, send him out there without a gun???

***That’s ‘one Solari, two Solaris’, a sleek version of the old LaRois (that’s one LaRoi, two LaRois). The Lao Poste is the ‘workhorse’ of the squadron; slower, heavier, and more cumbersome than the fighter aircraft, but reliable, so far.

Unfortunately, shortly after the photo of the lineup, one of the Solaris was damaged in a near mid-air...if there is such a thing…sure, you can ALMOST have a mid-air, but in this case, it wasn’t head-on, but rather, the wing tips touching ever so slightly in close formation during preparation for the show, just enough to cause one of the team of Solaris, flown by one of our young punk cadets, flying cover for the Lao Poste aircraft, to spin out of control and go crashing to the ground. Officially, we’re saying the accident is still under investigation, but we know already what happened.

Did the pilot survive the crash? Well, technically, yes and no. You know, of course, we’re prop-to-rudder legit, so, no, there aren’t any parachutes.


So now, we’re just training the new punk cadets and working on getting the squadron back up to strength, which in our case means about fourteen, sixteen aircraft. That way, when you lose one or two during operations, you can bounce back next day without missing a beat.

Not the same as when there’s only a half dozen guys in the air. Guy calls in for air support, and the only thing you can tell him is you’re stretched to the limit, your guys are flying on four hour’s sleep, half your birds are shot up, and he’ll need to tell his troops to hunker down and order more body bags.

With a dozen or more aircraft on station and operational, you take a couple of hits, a couple of guys go down, you attend the funeral services, get drunk, tell a few 'remember when' jokes about the deceased, go silent for a while, coulda been you, and next day you’re back up flying missions, get back on the horse that bit you. You got a nation to defend. Baron’s still up there. You think the Baron is taking the day off?