MCAS Miramar Air Show (Part 2)

Last week, we wrote about “Writing Together, Writing Apart.” We’ve been thinking about those issues a lot lately, and we’re in the midst of drafting a couple more posts about how we write as a couple and as individuals and how we work together on a writing project and separately on different projects.

This past weekend, our visit to the MCAS Miramar Air Show reminded us that our writing together comes out of some shared activities that helped shape and solidify our relationship way back when. This week, we take some time to recount our Sunday of gaping at the sky (click HERE to see more of our PHOTOS in Part 1), but we’re also in the process of weaving this description back into our grappling with writing as a couple.

The annual MCAS (Marine Corp Air Station) Miramar Air Show, as you would expect from the name, has a decidedly military vibe. Most air shows have a present and past military presence, but Miramar is more of that than any other air show we’ve attended. This year’s show had the added mission of honoring the 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation. The program is labeled “A Salute to San Diego,” with the following text just beneath: “1911 ~ Birthplace of Naval Aviation ~ 2011.” A quick glance might give the impression that the first landing on and take-off from an aircraft carrier took place in San Diego. In fact, those events took place 500 miles away in San Francisco. (Click HERE for a blog post, published on the actual 100th birthday, 18 January 2011, that contains some fantastic photographs of the events.)


This year at Miramar, the day’s signature event was the thirty-minute MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) Demonstration Team. As befitting the ground part of MAGTF, there were tanks, armored personnel carriers, and Humvees careening about on the tarmac. But the real appeal for us were the numerous aircraft: C-130s, F/A-18s, AV-8Bs, and CH-46s just to name a few. Our eyes were pointed skyward watching the F/A-18 Hornets flashed by in high-speed passes at 600 knots. (We think that’s what the announcer said, but, of course, it was a bit loud at the moment he said it.) That’s just over 90% of the speed of sound (661 knots or 761 mph at sea level, which was about where we were, since Miramar means sea view).

We’ve never before seen as many helicopters in the air at once. In fact, this was the first time that either of us had seen an MV-22A Osprey up close and personal. The Osprey is a VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft that the Marine Corps uses to move troops. The Osprey blends (some would say breaks) the characteristics of a fixed-wing aircraft with a helicopter. Or rather, with two helicopters, since the Osprey’s enormous blades and engines are mounted on both wingtips. The blades are so large that the Osprey can have them in the fully forward position only once it is airborne. It’s an odd, yet somehow very impressive-looking, machine.

Harrier, hovering

If we had only two words to describe the AV-8B Harrier, another VTOL aircraft in the Marine Corps inventory, they would be LOUD and improbable. The first time we encountered a Harrier at an air show was at the Quad City Air Show in the early 1990s, one of our first forays to such events together. Back then, a volunteer walked through the crowd to pass out orange earplugs and warn that the air show wouldn’t be responsible for our hearing loss if we chose to forego the offered hearing protection. We had our own earplugs on hand this time, and we admit we used them.

The Harrier is descended from a 1960’s British aircraft, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, and Harrier pilots have been flying amazing maneuvers for nearly fifty years. This past Sunday, part of the MAGTF demonstration featured two Harriers flying, or hovering, really, perched atop shimmering towers of hot jet engine exhaust as they made their way down the runway at improbably slow speeds. That particular demonstration is among the least improbable bit of flying that the Harrier can do. Later in the day, a solo Harrier demonstration featured a vertical takeoff, another improbability that we’d seen twenty years ago on the shores of the Mississippi River. Ready for more? How about slowly flying sideways? Definitely another tick up the improbability scale.  At just about the point that your brain begins to wonder whether this some sort of videogame, the pilot throws the Harrier in reverse and confirms the surreal. These Harrier demonstrations never get old.

The Blue Angels

A full day of sun, sound, and standing on concrete took its toll. The Blue Angels were scheduled to begin their display at 2:45 pm, but they were delayed. It’s difficult to leave an air show before the last act, but by 3:00 pm, we were ready to call it a day. Besides, we’ve seen the Blue Angels several times, and our aching knees and backs were as pressing as our need for lunch. We headed for the exit slowly, lingered at the car with the doors open to cool it, and hoped to catch a glimpse of the Blue Angels before we drove away.

As we’ve written several times at Lofty Ambitions, serendipity sometimes catches us, and that’s what happed on Sunday. Just as we were finishing lunch at a restaurant on the road between the air show and the freeway, the sound of jet engines roared overhead. We rushed out into the parking lot and caught the Blue Angels show from a completely new vantage. We had positioned ourselves at a randomly chosen sandwich shop. In fact, we had stopped at a different place first, but it was closed. This randomly chosen sandwich shop just happened to be on the Blue Angels’ flight path. Roughly five minutes after the show started, Doug heard a gentle rumble behind us and turned to see four jets approaching in a diamond pattern. In just a few seconds, it became clear that they would fly directly over our heads: 200-250 feet above us at nearly 500 mph. The F/A-18 Hornets came over our position as a single jet, a pair of jets, and in the diamond formation at least a half-dozen times. By pure chance, we’d managed the best seats in the house.

All during the Blue Angels’ routine, cars spontaneously pulled into the same parking lot where we stood and emptied of families who plopped themselves down onto any grass they could find. An Indian family emerged from the Indian restaurant. Adults were as awestruck as the children. We all spent the next twenty minutes staring into the sky, looking at fast-moving flashes of blue and yellow. On that first pass overhead, a young boy standing not twenty feet away from us started spontaneously shouting and cheering. Anna was doing the same thing. The sounds that air show crowds make are different from the trilling ooh’s and ah’s of a fireworks display. Air show crowds gasp with punctuated yelps of wow’s and oh-my’s, as if surprised by every pass, every loop, every zipping into the distant clouds.

We are aviation nerds. Despite what we know about the physics of lift and gravity, of thrust and drag, the fact that a big metal contraption can manage controlled flight boggles our minds. One of the reasons that we like air shows so much is that, despite the complicated politics and ethics on display, the aircraft themselves have the power to turn anyone within the line-of-sight and earshot into an aviation nerd, if only for a couple of hours, if only for a few minutes in a strip mall parking lot.

We end this post on a different topic, with a video of Steve Jobs, giving the Commencement Address at Stanford University in 2005. Steve Jobs died today, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. We drafted and revised this post on Mac laptops and are long-time Mac users. We like especially the way Steve Jobs talks here about learning widely and about the role of serendipity.

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