February Reading - Telling
Over water airlift missions, whether in the older propeller driven aircraft or the jet powered airlifters, involved long hours of flying. Flying from the west coast of the United States to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii took thirteen hours in a C-124, “Old Shaky”, the venerable piston driven workhorse of the 1950’s and 60’s. The flight from Frankfort , Germany to east coast bases involved nine hours of flying time in the C-141 Starlifter jet. The navigator had a lot to do on these legs. The pilots monitored aircraft performance and did little more than make occasional heading changes and transmit hourly position reports. Consequently, they would welcome any opportunity to break the boredom.
Before the hijacking of commercial aircraft became a problem in the late 1970’s and the cockpit had to be secured, passengers were invited up into the spacious C-141 cockpit. Pilots gave them a briefing on how the airplane worked. The visitors sat in the jump seat located just behind the pilots’ chairs. This scenario provided an opportunity for some aeronautical hijinks.
One routine went like this. The pilot explained the mission and extolled on the airplane’s ability to do things automatically. He talked about new advances in aviation. The pilot would then say: “This aircraft will respond to voice commands. You can tell the plane what you want it to do.” Then he would demonstrate. In a loud voice he would say: “AIRPLANE … TURN LEFT.” Then they would sit there, neither pilot touching a flight control, as the airplane rolled into a left turn. Then the pilot would say: “AIRPLANE, TURN RIGHT” and the plane would bank back to the original heading.
The visitors did not see the navigator, who was sitting behind and to the left of the jump seat. The navigator had turned the heading reference marker knob on his compass to the left. The engaged autopilot then chased the heading reference to the left, and the airplane turned to follow the compass reference. When the pilot told the airplane to turn right, the navigator returned the heading reference back to the original heading and the auto pilot chased it again … and the airplane turned to the right.
Then the real fun began. The pilot would ask the visitor to tell the plane to turn. Usually the visitor would say “Turn left” in a soft voice. Nothing would happen. The pilot then told them that they had to use a “Command Voice”. The result was often quite humorous. We had people screaming at the airplane before the navigator finally moved the heading marker and the airplane turned. The outcomes of these visits were always different. It depended on the demeanor of the visitor. Guys with big egos and shy gals were usually the most fun. Finally, we would share the joke with them and they usually left the cockpit with a smile on their face.
Another ruse went like this: The pilot would say that the airplane could sense when we reached the equal time point on an ocean crossing. This has been erroneously called “The Point of No Return” in some literature. The cockpit visitor usually would doubt this assertion. The pilot would then say something like this: “Airplane, should we continue on the McGuire AFB or return to Frankfurt ?” The panel engineer would then flip on the boost pump switch and a light on the pilot’s instrument panel would illuminate to state “PRESS ON” (To indicate pressure in the system). The pilot would then confidently point at the lighted sign and say: “See that … the airplane is telling us to ‘ Press ON ’ to McGuire.” This usually brought a big grin from the visitor.
Getting the job done and having fun while doing it … that has always been the hallmark of airlift aviators! But years have now passed and voice recognition commands have become something less than fun. We encounter the technology when we try to reach someone on the telephone. A mechanical voice asks us to speak a command or press a button on our phone to complete a task. I find that now I am the one yelling in frustration. Sometimes I wonder, am I being paid back for the mischief at 35,000 feet?
It's In The Can
by Clifford N. Bohnson
For whatever reason, we seemed to be constantly on the move when I was a child. I attended at least five different elementary schools and three different high schools. Often, the moves were reasonably trivial—from the standpoint of my parents, since they were frequently just a short way from where we had lived before. But to a small child, it might as well have been across the continent. New kids; sometimes a new school—it was nearly impossible to make friends. I remember one particularly difficult day, when the move was accomplished while I was in school. I left one house in the morning, and had to return to a new one in the afternoon—and I didn't even know what the new one looked like! I was seven at the time.
When I was in seventh grade at P.S. 80, I met my nemesis, Judson. Judson was also in the seventh grade. I was eleven, but Judson—due to the short-sightedness of the school administration in deciding that a student shouldn't be promoted until he had passed his grade—Judson was fourteen.
Another boy and I were appointed the school movie monitors. This basically meant we didn't even attend class (I suspect we were appointed because we were the brightest bulbs at the school, not for our technical abilities) — we simply spent our time showing movies for whatever teachers required our services, splicing the frequently-breaking films, or repairing the equally-frequently-breaking projectors. Our base of operations was an otherwise-unused classroom. Somehow, Judson discovered this, and terrorized us there, demanding lunch money. Eventually he expanded into terrorizing me after school. Each day he would wait for me, and, in front of a crowd of jeering classmates, dump me unceremoniously into a garbage can, where I would stay sniffling as surreptitiously as possible, until Judson and his buddies had left.
Then I would have to walk home, clean myself up as quickly as possible, and rush off to catch the bus to get to the boychoir rehearsal at my church.
Now, the one unbreakable code of boyhood was that you didn't tell. Telling was squealing, and that was as unthinkable as could be. Besides, school life was a completely separate life from your after-school life, or your home life—all safely compartmentalized—and one simply did not allow any leakage between compartments.
One day, however, something snapped, and I learned something about myself—and about life. There is nothing as dangerous as a devout coward, once aroused.
Yes, I admit it: I was a devout coward. Nothing could convince me to fight back—or so I thought—until one fateful day, when something snapped. I crept out of school, trying to avoid Judson, but there he was, sneering as he lounged over to me, picked me up, and dumped me in that smelly garbage can.
And then it happened: somehow, without conscious thought, some primitive passion arose in me. I struggled out of the disgusting can, screaming epithets and curses in German (I'm not even sure where I learned some of those words!). I attacked a stunned Judson—kicking, biting, scratching, punching. Somehow I knew that he could kill me, and I no longer cared. I would die fighting.
I didn't fight a clean fight—it was down-and-dirty street fighting. I beat the tar out of that rotten bully. Judson's “friends” seemed to have changed their minds: the kids surrounding us were cheering me on.
I left Judson lying on the ground, bleeding, gasping — and considerably chastened. I never had another day of torment from him—or anyone else in that school (although I did continue to worry about reprisals until the day I graduated)!