Friday, October 31, 2008

Fourteen crashes later!

Last year, at birthday time, I was in Namibia and celebrated with a sky dive. This year, I am home in Northern California. As birthday time approached, I received a notice about twelve hours of simulator flight training at the Hiller Museum at San Carlos Airport. At the same time, I got a discount coupon for a flying lesson at the Palo Alto Airport. Aha! Possibilities!

You must understand that in my salad days, my goal had been to fly, travel and write. During my freshman year in college, I blew tuition money on several flying lessons, stopping when I realized I couldn’t afford both flying and college. For better or worse, my father’s common won out and I went on to collect the Bachelor’s degree.

(And then became interested in sports cars, but that’s another story!)

So I signed up for both the simulator classes and the flying lesson. The simulator classes were three hours over a four week period. Besides me, there was a mother-son and a father-son combination. I have the feeling that the kids - and likely the parents - were brought up on computers, computer games and simulators. They got the picture from ground-zero. They were taking off and landing the virtual Cessna during the first session.

Me? I was busy over compensating. My niece, herself a pilot, warmed me that there was lag time with the simulator which could throw you off. and even knowing that, I was stalling and spinning - great air show tricks maybe, except I kept crashing. The only thing I really learned from the session was how to get the simulator back in position. Between JFK and SFO, I managed some thirteen crashes in my attempts to land.

My niece now started calling me “Crash”!

The second session wasn’t much better. The other four took off nicely from SFO and San Carlos. Not me! First, I couldn’t reach the rudder pedals, much less the brakes. Skidded out on the floor in my secretarial chair. I don’t know how one kid did it for he was considerably shorter than me, but he did. In fact, he came over and looked at what I was (or wasn’t) doing and shook his head in disgust. There is nothing like pre teen disgust! At best, I was swirling all about the airport runways. Crashed on takeoff. So I decided to just fly around. The rest were working on instrument flying and planning trips from one airport to another. I was certainly far from that and after two hours, picked up my toys and went home.

The third session was a total wipe out: I forgot my reading glasses so was unable to focus on anything. - nada - nothing. Without glasses, I am desperately near sighted. With my regular glasses, I am comfortably far sighted. Since I have avoided bifocals, I was S.O.L. I left!

I did attend the fourth and last simulator session, well behind the herd. They were planning cross country flights. My cross country flight was from San Carlos to Santa Rosa, which I managed, but just barely. Then someone got the bright idea to put me in Piper Cub, which was the airplane I had flown sixty years ago. Viola! No complications. I was able to stay reasonably steady, fly out of the Kabul airport, head out to Bagram Air Field, check out the Panjsher Valley and ease over to the Salang Pass. Had I realized it, I could have cut a flight plan to Teheran. A fitting conclusion. And I was issued a certificate, for whatever that’s worth.

Next, Halloween and the realtime flight lesson - back in a Cessna, but older with a less complicated dashboard than the simulated one. Walked around and checked out the aircraft before the interior check. Climbed up on the wings to make sure we were sufficiently gassed. And then took off from the Palo Alto airport. Cloudy day with some active air pockets, which made it interesting. Got to fly some, bank and yaw, battle the currents and fight the sun in my eyes. Flew about the southern Bay area and certainly did better than on the simulator’s Cessna. Like, I didn’t crash or stall or spin. All together, two hours well spent. And I now have a Pilot’s flight log book.

I may do this again, the flying that is. Not the simulator - think I got everything I could from that. But I will have to get bifocals.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Weekend at Oxford - Sep 2008

It was to be 10 days: a weekend for the TE Lawrence symposium and five days survival training at Heckfield. Only Heckfield was canceled - long story - and is now rescheduled for a session in Virginia late January; so more on that next year.

But the long weekend at Oxford was well worth the long trip over. I stayed in rooms at St. John’s College where AE Housman and Robert Graves had been, saw the West End musical Seven brides for Seven Brothers (good, though I did miss Howard Keel), traveled to Dorset to TE Lawrence haunts, and then had two days of talks about TE Lawrence, then and now. About one hundred fifty attended, a surprisingly number from the US and Canada. Interesting bunch.

Got into Heathrow early afternoon Thursday September 24 and promptly caught the airport bus for Oxford which took little over an hour. The bus station was close to the campus, so walked over and registered. Then picked up a ticket for the evening performance and had supper. Performance was good and the audience was an enthusiastic bunch of the gray haired set. Nice choreography though not up to Michael Kidd’s - since seeing this, I checked out some of his work in the film on You-tube.

My room was large, really large, but with a small single bed tucked in one corner. I had a sink and counter, small portable refrigerator, chairs, desk and book cases. Facilities? The toilet was across the hall and the shower upstairs. With the room went access to the computer lab and the bar - yes, St. John’s has it own pub. Lovely old college with magnificent spires.

Friday was spent with forty others, traveling to Dorset. First, to the Bovington Tank Museum. TE had spent two years there as a ranker before getting back into the RAF, all following his Lawrence of Arabia exploits. There were some memorabilia but I was impressed with the tanks: WW1 and WW2 vintage with various armed cars including the WW1 Rolls used in the desert. Tanks are big suckers!

From there, it was a short journey to Clouds Hill TE’s garden cottage: small, basic and charming. Two Broughs (the motor bike used by TE) were parked there; one may have been an old one of Lawrence’s. The bikers in our group - and there were some - were impressed. I had my picture taken astride one. It was a moving experience, the thought of walking about where TE had been.

From there to Moreton to the local church and TE’s grave and finally, to Wareham where the Kennington Effigy is housed in the ancient Saxon Church of St. Martin-on-the-Walls. It was a full day and a great prologue to the two days of talks.

There were eight presentations, some outstanding. I had been enticed to this gathering by two speakers: Neil Faulkner who was the co-director of the November archaeological dig I had volunteered for, and James Barr, author of a recent book on TEL and the Brits during WW1. They both lived up to expectations and I had a chance to talk with them during the weekend, at length with Dr. Faulkner at the college pub.

Faulkner talked about Lawrence’s precepts of guerrilla warfare and the impact the Arab Revolt had on the desert campaigns during WW1. The Great Arab Revolt Project is an archaeological effort that, so far, supports the military importance of the Arab efforts. Barr talked about TEL and his influence/relationship with the French and its impact on Middle Eastern history.

The other presentations ranged from Lawrence’s relationships with various friends, publishers and writers; his love of the Brough bikes with a hypothesis about the final fatal crash; the Metcalf collection, and a discussion of the Imperial Camel Corps - the later was one of the more interesting reports.

People in attendance were varied: several had been at the Huntington Library gathering last year - I had attended and. surprisingly, was recognized by several. One man was from Georgia, had been a Chief Probation Officer and was into motor bikes, really into them owning six and restoring others that he sold at swap meets. Another rather dapper man, small boned and an inch or so taller than me, dressed in shirt, tie, brown suit and vest, shave d head and with Kaiser Wilhelm waxed mustache, was in the Security business, spending most of his time in the Emirates.

There were two retired servicemen: one with twenty years in the Engineers, twenty with a private firm and now considering his third life - he was also a diver who had a home near the Red Sea in Egypt and gave me good information about arranging a trip to St. Catherine’s. The other had just retired after 26 years as a Warrant Office in the Navy and was interested in museum work. Then there were the two men in their late seventies, one living in Seattle and the other still in the UK, who met sixty years ago in Germany while in the service; they have continued their friendship and meet yearly.

Coming home was a delight! I was upgraded from mid-middle back of the aircraft to business class! All because I had asked to be switched to an aisle seat. Turned out it was easier to switch me up front.

Glad I went, even for just the weekend. Next time, will add on a couple of days to bum about Oxford and take the Morse tour.