I decided to go ahead and finish the story and just replace the previous post with this one. This event was clearly the most notable of my Day 5, so I think it deserves its own full-ish post. Congratulations to those of you who read the first version – it is now, officially, mega-rare, the rocket firing Boba Fett, the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today Butcher Cover, the inverted Jenny postage stamp of blog posts.
On Friday the 1st, after a couple of days of false starts and missed connections, I met up with my new (best) friend, Jim Cook out of Auburn Alabama, and we had an absolutely beautiful flight in his Yak 9. "How did this happen?" I hear you asking (though it sounds suspiciously like "big deal!") Well, it went something like this: Jim came by the booth earlier in the week and introduced himself, and, thanks to my desire to go up with him in said Yak, we found common ground very quickly. As it turned out, we have mutual friends in people like Snort Snodgrass and Sean Carroll (not there actually are people like either of those gentlemen), and, while Jim was telling me a bit about his background as an Army aviator flying the Blackhawk, I was kicking him in the shins and demanding a ride.
When I met Jim at the airplane, we did a test fit. Jim describes the Yak as a "1.75 seater", and the backseat doesn’t go out its way to favor anyone over about 5′ 11". I slid down in, and found that my knees were about one inch too high to fit under the back of the seat in front of me. This kept from sitting down fully, and would have meant that the flight was a no-go unless I was willing to consider surgery. (I was.) Then, magically, my right foot slipped a little, and my right knee popped under the seat back. I figured out what I’d done, repeated it with my left leg, and, Yuri’s-your-uncle, I was in. Wedged in, but in nonetheless. Then, just to show off a bit, I got back out.
After waiting about an hour for the fuel truck driver (Slacky McLostington) to show up, we gassed up, and it was time to commit aviation for the glory of the Rodina. I worked my way into the seat, repeated my knee adjustments, then affixed the four-point harness. Once I was set, Jim started the engine, and, after whining for a few blades, 12 cylinders of 1600+ horsepower Allison goodness came to life, the relatively small Yak rocking back and forth in time with the idle. Taxiing out, we S-turned along (like most of the best airplanes, you can’t see straight ahead in the Yak 9 when you’re on the ground, so you weave, veering left and looking right, then reversing that) behind the EAA marshallers on scooters. There was quite a crowd lining up along the taxiways, jockeying for position to take a picture, or just wave, especially the little kids. I waved back to as many as I could, not because I was deluded for an instant that they were waving at me, but because Jim had his hands (and feet) full, and because the airplane had no hands. "Stay in school and off the crack, kids, and one day you might be randomly lucky like me, sitting in an airplane like this through no particular hard work of your own, though probably not."
After the runup, we were cleared for takeoff on runway 36L. The power went in, the tail popped up, then the mains, and we were in a climbing right turn heading east over Lake Winnebago. Jim had cautioned me about the noise, recommending earplugs under my headset, but I was glad I’d forgotten, because the noise, the confident growling power of this machine was, in a word, glorious. The views were every bit as spectacular as you’d expect, and the the weather was "severe clear" in almost every direction. The only exception was at twelve o’clock, level: there was a "cloud street" around a mile or so long, with a string of small and obviously fascist cumulus puffs that were, simply put, asking for it. Jim wove us in and around and through the edges, doing loops, rolls, wingovers, and cuban 8s, the long forgotten pressure on my knees relieving any time we were inverted or went negative. The clouds knew when they’d been outclassed, and quietly did their part providing an all-too-rare sense of speed at altitude as we tore past. At one point, we nudged through 5 Gs, I clenched a little, grunted a little, and smiled a lot.
All too soon, it was time to head back to the airport. We entered a long, curving right base for 36L; the curving approach keeps the runway in sight in a taildragger like this for as long as possible, right up until the point when you actually need it and touch down. By then, the theory is that the runway is probably where you think it is, and, if not, it’s fairly close. Rolling out at idle, the engine popped, the short stacks clearing their throats for attention they already had. The tail came down, and we turned off, once again following an orange vest on a red scooter with a volunteer in between who led us straight back to where we started, then proffered us each a bottle of ice cold water once we’d opened the canopy. The water was welcome, a cool jolt that unfortunately wasn’t quite enough to wake up my legs, which had dozed off somewhere over the lake. I clambered up and out, and didn’t so much hop down off of the airplane as bounced on lifeless legs that, thankfully, remained straight.
Then it was time for pictures and handshakes, promises to stay in touch (we have, so far), and a blurry golf-cart trip to our booth for a few hours. I’d literally come back down to earth at this point, but part of me was still up over the lake, giving the imaginary Luftwaffe a bit of what for.
I took a lot of pictures of the airplane before and after the flight, got a few pictures from one of Jim’s friends of us departing and arriving, and snapped some stills and video on my phone during the flight, then put these things together as short video, linked below. Now, I’m not a photographer, and, if there’s one thing worse than a non-photographer taking pictures, it’s a non-photographer taking pictures with a camera phone. And, if there’s one thing worse than that, it’s that same person shooting video with said camera phone. I’d apologize for the quality, but I think the images that need to will apologize for themselves.
Like it says in the clip, Jim – Spaseba, Tovarisch!