Friday, September 25, 2009

No More Automatic Promotions

Slim Buttes
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD
USA 9.09

This fall, when promotion time rolls around, some of you…many of you…well, all of you…are going to wonder why the ‘automatic’ principle doesn’t still apply.

Reason is, is because you simply don’t deserve it. Tell me what you’ve done to deserve it. Go head. Tell me. I want to hear it.

The automatic principle does, in fact, still apply for your wings…16, 16, or six…those who’ve flown 1600 hours, sixteen months, or six shoot-downs, you or them, and you automatically advance from rookie/cadet to full-blown pilot.

That’s standard flight rank/status designation, standard SOP, standard operating procedure. That hasn’t changed. 16, 16, or six, whichever comes first, and you’ve earned your wings.

What has changed, however, is the criteria determining whether or not you advance in pay grade. That’s a whole another story. To advance in pay grade, you must first distinguish yourselves through the performance of meritorious voluntary service to God and your country, in the capacity of ‘combat pilot’* in the Slim Buttes 335th Aviation Detachment.**

Any questions?

Ain’t gonna be no more automatic pay increases like before, just for rolling in for routine maintenance, oil change, lube job, reserve Air National Guard duty, governor, and maybe go on to become president. Those days are over. Just because people die and slots open up, don’t mean you’re automatically getting a promotion.

You might ask why we’re still flying cardboard bi-planes into combat in an age of rockets, shiny robots on Mars, and all kinds of other super-fast shit whizzing in orbit around the earth.

Good question.

Manny always used to say you’ve got to work with what you’ve got, and if you haven’t got any God-given natural talent, you’ve got to buckle down and work hard, and if you’re a lazy-ass, then you’ve got to depend entirely on luck.

If you’re out of luck, or down on your luck, born under a bad sign, or the only luck you’ve got is bad, then you’ve got to go with who you know, or your name. If you don’t know nobody, and your name is mud, then your only option is to go with what you’ve got, or try something else, he used to say.

Does that answer why we’re flying bi-planes?

Ok, then…well, when they flew…back in the day when they flew the machine you’re so fortunate to be flying today, the pilots were cut of a certain uncommon cloth, possessing a certain flair, a certain élan, a certain esprit de corps, a certain elite eche’lon superieur, an esprit de cal, an elle’ gance…an…you get the picture…a whole bunch of French words that describe a pretentious, pompous, affected style.

And that’s why many of you…almost all, I’d say, aren’t receiving a promotion.

No, not because of no style. Wanna know why? Ok. When’s the last time any of you asked about our squadron strength? How many of you asked about those guys who went down? Our guys, not theirs - the Germans, Holtz, or those guys up in Wisconsin working on the trigger mechanism – these were our guys, the 335th, at the air show, and the other two, playing tag. Have I seen any of your names lately on Daily Mission Ops?

Need I say more?

Yeah. So when you’re looking at that pay check, saying, “Hey. I’ve been flying for over a year. Why isn’t it reflected in my pay check?” well, Charlie, you’ve got to do more than barnstorm the family picnic and do kiddie rides at State Fairs.

Or you might say, “Those guys died. The slots were open. I should’ve had the promotion. I was here a full year before Carlson!”

Don’t matter no more. You gotta see the big picture. You gotta look at the war effort, the squadron, the company, the command, the country, inner self, the trees, the forest, the whole mission, beyond your own skin, predicament, what it means for our allies, the other guy.

You gotta do more than just clock in, clock out. You can’t just be sitting around, waiting for slots to open up. You gotta have the drive, the OVERdrive, gotta have ‘what it takes’, the right ‘stuff’, get yo’ mojo working, café latte, double chocolate def wish, double doberman cappuccino, wound up, hopped up, wired, whattimeizzit, meechuatnoon, Go-get-‘em style.

In addition to the necessary combat missions, you must begin to demonstrate an interest in the company. We need ‘company people’ here. We need team players, game-changers. You can ask yourself, ‘am I a team player, or am I out there, a loner, loser, loose cannon floating around in the universe, government salary, flying my little cardboard toy, spinning on a thread?”

UP2U. Gravy train’s over. Get on board.

You might ask, what has any of this to do with style? And you may wonder about the discordant association of cannons, loose or otherwise, to floating. Cannons don’t float. Cannons are found on ramparts, museum displays, and seabeds.


Well, the style went with a certain artistry. A ballet up there. Spinning and diving and climbing in a spiraling love/hate duel, sometimes two-on-one. You could feel the air, smell the engine, hear the rattle of the guns, cumulus fog on the goggles, sometimes a hot brass bullet casing searing into your flesh.

The very first combat aviators. We actually attended the services for the fallen. And that was the enemy. We knew who we were up against. We could see them. They looked like us.


*As any good self-serving journalist or military officer knows, to advance your career, you need a good war. Not just a skirmish or an obscure and irrelevant military intervention. Peace-keeping force doesn’t cut it. You gotta have a good war.

**abbr. officially, ‘Slim Buttes 335th Post-Modern Contemporary Symmetrical Aviation Detachment, USAF.’

Friday, September 11, 2009

Trigger Gizmo Solved

Pine Ridge, SD
August 2009

Heyyyy Brrrrro,

How do you like your new aircraft? Pretty nice, huh? You can see we worked out your problem with the guns shooting through the propeller. Now you won’t have any more of your people shooting themselves down out of the sky, nor all those wood splinters and bullets ricocheting back at your pilots.

Remember, no shooting over 6,000 rpms. Anything beyond that, and the whole technology goes out the window, and your plane goes down with a prop.

We can’t take credit for the breakthrough, however. Unlike us or the French, the Germans did all their chickenshit testing on the ground, as opposed to live combat, and figured out the mechanics, and then the Brits got it from the Germans when Friedrich Holtz, the Baron’s wing man, got shot down over Alsace, and then we naturally got it from the Brits finally after they naturally sat on the designs for six months. I guess our governments are going to naturally let the French figure it out for themselves.

They, the Germans, synced, sync-ed, sync’d, sinked, synchro…coordinated the engine camshaft and blade with the trigger mechanism gizmo so the guns will fire only when the prop blade is in the horizontal position. What a novel idea! Why didn’t we think of that? I still feel sorry for all your guys. I guess you could call them the original test pilots. Somebody should do something for their families.

We learned that some of your aeroplanes fell into a state of disrepair after impact with the earth, so given the terms of your contract, we can provide supplemental support for your wings, struts, fuselage, and landing gear, but as you know, the one-year, 5,000-hour engine and drive-train warranty has expired.

Anyway, uh, somebody suggested…well…claimed outright that the $499.99 price we were asking for a ‘singleton’ was a bit overpriced. Well, hugely overpriced. They all laughed, the focus group, when I said how much they were. What’s your take on it?

The way I see it, they’re limited edition, right? Gonna stop at 500. That’ll make ‘em more valuable, a future hot ticket item on Craig’s List, say, or among aviation enthusiasts.

“You serious?” Tom asked, seriously, when I told him the production cap at 500,* maybe display ‘em all at once in a big air show, art show, like a big gallery or something, then sell ‘em off, auction ‘em off in a charity event or something. Probably not, though. A children’s hospital or something. They all, the people I ran the idea by, the focus group, looked skeptical when I voiced the concept.

“Nobody’s gonna give you five hundred dollars for one of these,” Tom said, derisively.

“Four ninety-nine, ninety-nine. You know anybody else who’s doing this?” I asked. He and everybody else here at the time all shook their heads no. Manuel, Louie, Bo, Misty, the White Drifter.

“Right!” I exclaimed. “Nobody. I gotta flood the market with these originals before the Chinese get a hold of the design and undercut me at Wal-Mart. These’r made in America, by God! When’s the last time you seen that?”

“That’s four good reasons, isn’t it, Bo?” I asked. “Made in America…one of a kind…limited edition…flood the…what’s the fourth?” I asked, holding up three fingers.

The people sitting here drinking coffee, raised their eyebrows and nodded, like it was worthy of consideration. Tom was wondering how flooding the market would get me my asking price. Bo said he’d give ‘ten, twenty dollars’ for one, a tri-plane, the blue one.

That’s bullshit. That’s ridiculous, don’t you think? The crew is already five bucks under minimum wage. Plasticized cardboard or not, you’ve still got production and shipping costs. Despite NAFTA and a Myanmar refugee labor force, you can’t turn a profit like that.

So, after taking into consideration the feedback, we adjusted the promotional offer so now it’s either $499.99**……or free.*** Most folks, almost everybody…well, everybody, has chosen the second, consumer-friendly option, with one buyer/owner saying he’d get back to us later with the full sticker price, yea.

“I’ll get back to you later with the full sticker price,” he said, going out, flying a brand new Fokker tri-plane, all black. John, a friend of Ted’s. Vietnam vet. Navy man. Pilot, I think. No. He was on river patrol down in the Delta. Now he’s a pilot.

$499.99. That’s for one of our ‘singles’, the singletons. A bi-plane; Sopwiths, DeHavilands and Malibus. The LaRois are out of production, so already, the folks holding one of those have got a little nest egg for their grandkids. Don’t know yet what kind of figure to fix on the Fokker tri-planes or two-plane deals. Gotta be more, right? They’re more than twice as cool.

Last month in a call with Li An Song Nu Kyi, our Myanmar crew boss, you might have met her, I told her, “from now on, we’re going to go strictly with the bi/bi-plane,**** dual, double, two-plane production arrangement,” and she asked, “You say we work two time now, same pay?”

I told her yes.

“Now make two prane for onee one pay?”

I told her yes. She grew quiet as a stone, and shortly thereafter terminated the conversation. It could be problematic later, like, when I get back, especially since the company isn’t picking up the crew lunch anymore, and she’ll have to tell them what I said.

Anyway, half our inventory, except for the Pizza Hut plane, went out this past week, mostly for grandchildren. One adult. And one toddler who probably won’t be able to fly or appreciate it for many years.

Since those horrific but spectacular accidents at the air show, we’re focusing on re-building the squadron back up to strength and getting these punk rookie pilots combat- ready. Did you see the video? The memorial services are on Sunday, if you want to fly in, otherwise I’ll tell the widows the flowers are from all of us.


Lt. Col. Brovic
Squadron Commander
335th U.S. Aviation Detachment
Slim Buttes, Oglala BIA 41 S.
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

*500 is the target numerical from the concept boys in the front office, saying we can hit that figure in two years, but just last month the Myanmar crew were rumored to be murmuring about already ‘being sick’ of the project.

**Four ninety-nine ninety-nine. Sounds good, doesn’t it? One potential almost buyer, reaching for his wallet, said, “Sure, I’ll give you five bucks for one of those.” I laughed. “Aha, Sir…” I told him, clearing my throat, “Perhaps you misunderstood. That’s four hundred, ninety nine…dollars, ninety-nine cents.” He decided to take one for free.

***It’s not such a wild idea. The flowers do what they do for free. The birds sing for free. These meadowlarks out here aren’t asking anything for what they do.

****what would you call two bi-planes together? For production crew jargon, we’re saying something like, ‘We need four more bi-plane dualies out here!” but for marketing purposes, something like ‘dual bi-plane mobiles’ would work, don’t you think? They’re telling me I can get my asking price down in Colorado. “OH YEAH! The yuppies will eat this shit up!” Devon, a Boulder resident, said.

Ps. Hey, get a load of Li An’s note:

‘Sawadee Ka, Mr. Big Boss,

When you comeback? I hab someting to tell you already. Reason I goto my home in country papa sick. Close and lock shop already. crew people glap home already same same me being sick. say big boss ding dong. want 2 plane for onee one pay. same same sa-nake. I hab idea already. maybe I nosee you longtime maybe copy idea to China to much. You remember plane pattern I make in dirt? Leum? When you comeback? I hate you already.


Li An

Nong Sa helf me with letter toyou her say hi.


When you say, or hear, ‘mid-air collision’, you sort of naturally think the worst, right? like two aircraft, airliners, impacting one another head-on at five hundred miles an hour. That would be bad. Even the passengers back in the rear wouldn’t make it.

Or maybe getting T-boned by a jet fighter, slicing your 737 wide-body passenger compartment in half. “HEYYYYAAA. WHAT WAS THAT?” That would be bad, too. In fact, almost everything that happens up there is bad. Bad food. Bad seat. Bad air. Bad service. Can’t smoke.

We had one before, and another at the air show, mid-airs. We couldn’t really call them mid-air collisions, per se, even though they were. It was more like a mid-air ‘mishap’, or mid-air ‘encounter’, neither of which by the way, you would want to experience, either as a pilot, or as a passenger.

A mid-air mishap or encounter is just as bad and messy as a collision, and going down in a ball of flame, though spectacular, results in the same end as a loss of power, loss of a wing or tail rudder, fluttering down in a whining spiral, then poof.

Although quite theatrical, having it occur at the air show is embarrassing and not nearly as heroic and final as a clean-cut battle death. There’s always a whale more explaining to do, to many, many more people than just the immediate family. Like, investigators.

Investigators and military aviation authorities. Always got ‘em in a non-combat related aerial mishap, and in this case, two days before the show, a couple of our young punk new guys were horse-assing around playing tag with their girlfriend’s scarves attached to their tail rudders.

The guy who was ‘it’ would chase the other and cut the scarf sheet with his prop. Zzzzzzzzt, “You’re it!”

Well, who knows what really happened up there, but the chase guy chewed up the tail rudder of his buddy and shredded his prop in the process, so they both went down in a tangle. Chewed up and screwed up. These things happen from time to time. Non-combat related aerial fatality. It happens all the time.

Same in the navy. Man overboard. “Go back and get him, Skipper?”

“Screw him. He’s not critical to the mission. You know what it costs to turn an aircraft carrier around?”

But we’re not the navy, and each of our guys, whether they’re married with kids or not, is critical to our mission, not to mention the aircraft they were horse-assing around with.

The other two at the air-show, pilot error, not horse-assing, was really bad, partly because it involved numerous spectators (it’s not entirely our fault. They came to the show, didn’t they?)* and lawsuits, but like I said, these things happen from time to time.

Lookit the Blue Angels. Best in the world. Again, pilot error. Leader took the whole six-bird formation straight into the ground. Lookit Columbia on liftoff and the other one, on re-entry. Same with the Russians. How many guys did they lose? And the French. How many spectators have they killed at their air shows?

Every time you turn around, the French are killing spectators at air shows. You got a better chance running the bulls in Barcelona on a skateboard.

Anyway, a lot of stuff can happen up there in the air…just ask Niel Armstrong and Sergei Whathisname, so it’s not just us, and most of it you can’t blame on the Baron, though we’d like to attribute to him all elements of evil and misfortune, and implicate him as source of all our own stupidity and blunder.

Four aircraft and as many pilots in three days. Bunch of civilians. I don’t know what they came up with for the final tally.