Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Shamu of the Skies

I soar above them by what looks like feet, but is more likely miles. Their blackened hulls are impossible to miss against the greens of farmlands and the reds of village roofs below. They are massive, yet float as if sheets of dark paper, held aloft by the rising heat of daylight reflected off the earth's crust. C-130s they call them; I call them airborne whales.

Two are linked; tip to tip they maneuver like dolphins tied at the dorsal. A third trails, emulating the leaders, bobbing and rolling in time with an unheard metronome. They are playing, testing skill, using trusted power in ways that only raptors might, if they dared.

They are guard, replacements; the last bastion if ever invaded, prized chess pieces for gaming generals, a few of the few indispensable. Slowly, joyfully they sway toward their target, from here a tiny patch of newly mown alfalfa. They move up on their prize as if to surprise it, to wake it from it's country sleep with a roar of droning, big city thunder.

Doors vanish and tiny figures appear in their place, gripping the skin of the hull with hands that have touched heaven a hundred times. Khaki specks leap from the darkness, twirling, riding the wave of onrushing air to some pre-selected intersection.

A score of silken wings burst open, ballooning to shade the users and rescue them from almost certain death. They waft toward the earth, seemingly aimed at perfect rows of blue spruce that line up like an endless parade of cyan caterpillars. And then, the balloons pop, disassemble into a mass of white cloth covering the blue/green field.

Those that have now delivered their package wing left, a tight turn and then flatten out...still tied together by invisible wire. They make their way back home satisfied, grateful to be alive and grinning ear to ear. I feel the same and turn back home, my heart pumping new blood.

Each Sunday morning for nearly a year I would drive to the Flying Cloud airport, pull out my Piper Comanche and take off to rendezvous with the local Air Force Reserve C130 squadron to watch a handful of pilots and their crews practice their craft over rural Scott county. I did stay well away, but that didn't affect my view of planes as big as a house dancing across fields of corn, beans and race horses.

Probably more than any other flying experience I miss those days, alone, out of touch with solid ground, witnessing a miracle of engineering. That something so huge, so ungainly could still exhibit such an inordinate amount of grace gave me hope; perhaps I too could one day wander through a china shop without destroying most of the merchandise. Unlikely sure, but one can only hope.

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