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Phantom takes flight (Chapter 2)

Posted 06-30-2012 at 08:12 AM by PhantomCruiser
Updated 07-04-2012 at 04:00 AM by PhantomCruiser

During the whole climb to altitude Kirby worked on the rather important task of, not panicking. Making conversation with Cleveland was secondary, but he managed to accomplish both goals. The lush green forests of Indonesia contrasted with the azure ocean again and again as the mated craft circled and climbed to altitude. Cleveland and Kirby had known each other for years, and the “employer-employee” relationship had long ago been blurred into a healthy friendship. After all it was Kirby who’d introduced Cleveland to Nancy, and that marriage had lasted more than 20 years, with no end in sight.

After what seemed to be an example of what eternity might be like, the Antonov had finally reached the target altitude of 27K. A single SU-27 chase plane that had been keeping station on the right wing began to ease off, and with all systems nominal, release was imminent.

“You know, for a white guy, you look paler than normal, you really ready for this?” Cleveland asked calmly from the left seat. Cleveland’s grin seemed to take up most of the available space under the flight helmet, or at least the space that wasn’t being monopolized by the “too-cool” aviator styled sunglasses.

Kirby swallowed the lump in his throat and commanded his butterflies in his midsection to calm down. “Yeah buddy, let’s do this thing!” Kirby knew that his attempt at bravado was going to fall flat, but he managed to sound almost convincing; even to his own ears.

Cleveland let loose his normally subdued Jamaican accent “No problem mon!” followed by a string of Patois that Kirby couldn’t quite keep track of. Then, back to his southern Alabama dialect, “We got this brother; we’ll do this just like in the simulator. Just focus on the instruments and give me the numbers that I need.”

The two gave each other a big cheesy grin and a thumbs up as the radio chatter from SRC’s mission control began to increase. “All stations report ready. Pushover in two minutes” sounded in their headsets. “Copy two minutes”, was Kirby’s repeat-back as he thumbed the mission counter. As the other players in today’s drama reported in over the comm., Kirby felt his mind quiet down as his focus narrowed in on the MFD and accompanying gauges that he was responsible for. This enabled Cleveland to focus on flying the craft, which, admittedly was something that was pretty important to the both of them. As the timer reached 20 seconds his hand reached for the red guarded release switch on the center console.

The Antonov made a small heading adjustment, and as the timer reached zero, began to pitch over into a shallow dive. Kirby hit the timer stud again, pressed the Master Arm button and flipped up the guard on the release. “Airspeed climbing; 200, 220, 230, now 240.” Kirby was surprised that he was doing such a credible job of keeping his voice steady.

“OK boss-man, let us loose”, can Cleveland’s voice.

“Copy, release in 3, 2, 1” Kirby flipped the release. On command the explosive bolts shattered and the small craft easily departed from the back of the enormous carrier. The Antonov lumbered on for a few seconds, and then began a lazy left turn.

“Positive control, I have control” came Cleveland’s voice, as he commanded a small nose-up attitude for the bird.

“Roger, positive control. Airspeed 235, 225, VSI 800 down” Kirby called out. Cleveland gently increased the nose up even more, getting a feel for how the new ship felt as her airspeed began to bleed off. Kirby’s volume started to rise as the airspeed continued to fall “200, 1200 down, 180, 1600 down”.

“OK sweetie, I got a good feel for you now”, Cleveland let the craft “fall” for a few more seconds. When Kirby called out an altitude of 22 K, he pitched the nose back over to gain back his airspeed. “She feels good.” Cleveland said over the open mike, as he started a turn back toward the waiting runway. “Nice and clean on the handling, not very heavy, and miles better than the simulator.” Keeping eye on the HUD and his ears on Kirby’s call outs he reversed his bank angle to line up with the HUD pipper.

Kirby managed to relax enough to both maintain his focus on the indicators and steal a glance over the visor. He knew on an intellectual level the length and width of the runway ahead, but darned if it didn’t look like a postage stamp at the present moment. Everything stood out in sharp focus, from the launch gantry with an enormous Energia launcher waiting patiently for her launch window in the morning, to the chase-plane off the starboard wing. His voice provided a detached, steady rhythm of airspeed, altitude and vertical descent.

Cleveland held the velocity vector on a fixed point near the end of the runway, playing around with the attitude, and jockeyed with the speed brake a bit, still getting feel for new craft. The “voice” in his head was trying to convince him to try a barrel-roll. Knowing that wouldn’t be a good idea, he put it out of his mind. Maybe in the simulator, just for kicks, he thought, after all it is information we might need one day, right? With an inward grin, Cleveland began his pre-flare. Looking over he saw that Kirby’s hand was already in motion toward the landing gear lever.

With Kirby’s callout of 200 meters Cleveland voiced “Gear down”. Kirby’s hand snapped the lever down and he heard the whoosh of the now-turbulent air under the craft.

“Roger, gear down – and locked” came Kirby’s reply as the down and locked indicators all showed their barber pole indications.

At the same time Cleveland saw on the HUD tiny squares flashing, then steady up to indicate the same thing. With the speed brake in full-open position, the tiny craft and chase plane shot over the decision bar. Cleveland deepened the flare and felt the craft float along the ground effect. Still tweaking the attitude he heard the chase plane pilot radio supplementary altitude call outs to match Kirby’s. “10 meters, 5 meters, 2, 1, touchdown!” With a satisfactory thump of the wheels on the hard deck, his trademark dazzling smile began to appear again.

He continued to hold the nose up, bleeding off more of the speed. As he gently eased off the back pressure the chase pilot lit off his afterburners and radioed “Hasta la vista, Comrade!”

Kirby continued with speed callouts until they fell below 30, then he sagged visibly in the seat harness. Looking over at Cleveland’s grin seemed to bring him back to life though. A few milliseconds after Cleveland radioed “Wheel stop”, both of them commenced with hoots and high fives.

In their few moments before being mobbed by the ground crew, the pair methodically went through the checklists to safe the little craft. As they emerged from the crew hatch, Cleveland looked up to see the SU-27 perform a perfect slow roll right along the runway heading. As the ground crew smiles match their own there were handshakes and high fives all around. As they made their way over to the waiting transport they noticed the clicks of several cameras, I-phones and other gadgets. Uh-oh, Cleveland thought to himself. They both stopped in their tracks as they realized several press corps members had been filming or shooting the entire thing, they gave each other a troubled look. Kirby looked crestfallen, “Nancy’s going to kill us both.”

Cleveland actually started to turn pale (not easy given his skin color). “No you should be fine. It’s me that she’s going to kill.” Slowly the grin returned, “In the meantime, beer and darts?”
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  1. Old Comment
    Wow, I think your writing style might be my favourite so far! This was really flowing and easy to follow.
    Posted 06-30-2012 at 09:54 AM by george7378 george7378 is offline
  2. Old Comment
    PhantomCruiser's Avatar
    Thanks! I've been working on this for several days to get it "right".

    Now I've got to figure out how to get Cleveland out of hot water with Nancy for letting Kirby talk him into flying with him.

    (little back story info) Nancy used to work for the Kirby family as a babysitter in her teenage years for young John. So she's literally know him all his life, she also understands the family schism (which is good, because I'm still working it out myself).
    Posted 06-30-2012 at 10:17 AM by PhantomCruiser PhantomCruiser is offline
  3. Old Comment
    ky's Avatar
    Anticipated Chapter 2 for a while, this is great! Good luck to Cleveland when he gets home
    Posted 06-30-2012 at 11:17 AM by ky ky is offline
  4. Old Comment
    RacerX's Avatar
    I wouldn't want to be in Cleveland shoes! Great read! Looking forward to next chapter.
    Posted 07-01-2012 at 08:01 AM by RacerX RacerX is offline
  5. Old Comment
    Marvin42's Avatar

    oh, yeah

    building up nice.
    Posted 07-02-2012 at 08:32 AM by Marvin42 Marvin42 is offline
  6. Old Comment
    Aeadar's Avatar
    Very Nice!

    Posted 07-04-2012 at 12:32 AM by Aeadar Aeadar is offline
  7. Old Comment
    Scav's Avatar
    Another from me.
    Posted 07-08-2012 at 06:58 PM by Scav Scav is offline

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