Monday, August 3, 2015

A Stealth Experience

What is it about the Stealth airplane that intrigues and tantalizes the adult mind into a childlike wonder? I found out a few years ago in New Mexico.
         I was excited to see this still super secret Stealth. Up close! Not too close...secrets, you know.

         It was an air show in arid southern New Mexico. Alamogordo. Even the name sounds ominous. It’s hot, remote and surrounded by secrets. The first Atom bomb was tested at nearby White Sands.

         Alamogordo, the home of Holliman Air Force Base and the 49th Fighter Wing and the 117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter.

         I was going to have a face to face meeting with the mythical angular composite dragon and with the men who flew the beast.

         I’d never seen the Stealth 117 fighter or the B-2 bomber in person before. My previous experience and exposure to Stealth technology was still pictures, sanitized distant video and scientific words that painted more of a myth than an explanation. Secrets again.

         Air show day at Holliman.  As I walked across tarmac, already pre-heating in the morning sun, I felt apprehensive. The same kind of feeling you’d get just before meeting a blind date, knowing you going to look her over and wonder.

         This was a place of dichotomies. The past, present and future airplanes existed all in one place. Bi-planes, propeller aircraft, military and civilian, old jets and the new.

         Then there they were! Two black geometrics with the look like gargantuan wasps dangling their spindly legs. They were a riveted collection of ebony triangles and trapezoids corralled by a double barrier of ceremonial crimson ropes. Secrets. A four-foot no man zone loomed between the elegant rows of red.

         Behind the second rope, armed guards with M-16’s eyed the onlookers with seeming suspicion. Maybe that was part of the mystique, maybe it was PR, maybe it was real, but people still gawked and leaned way over that first line of rope defense.

         Each plane was stenciled with the name of the man who flies it. The pilots were nearby, ready to answer questions. They looked chiseled, sculpted and trim in gray flight suits. When they started to sign autographs, I knew they were human. They were both younger and older that I expected, actually I don’t know what I expected. Who really knows what kind of pilot flies a secret geometric machine, accept probably the best that America can train.

         Before the awe could wear off, so I could ask some serious questions, there came a collective hush. People all over the tarmac stopped and looked. Even children listened and watched, somehow knowing the hush was special, and something more than Mom saying -- “be quiet.”

         It was the softest hush, with the most power, I ever heard as the B-2 bomber approached. Silent!  A thin line out of the distant thinness.  No warning!  No wonder they call it the “Spirit.”   This deltoid wing was ghost-like, an apparition, and perhaps, to the uninitiated, something seemingly extraterrestrial.

         Once on the ground it was certainly omnipotent in a brief presentation.  A mystery shrouded in black composite robes, receiving homage from the excited multitudes and attended to by a stoic, priest-like military. I hadn’t seen this kind of adulation since the Pope came to America.  People, old and young, pushed and jostled just to get closer to see it.

         The B-2’s engines stayed running. The high-pitched engine noise added to the myth and called the throngs to vespers.  The plane flexed its ailerons and flaps, blinked its lights at the crowd, but stayed aloof and just far enough away from the exuberant fans who wanted to rush and touch her. MP’s stood guard. Alert! Weapons ready.

The B-2’s brief stop on the taxiway was designed to acknowledge and perhaps even placate the blind tithing of the taxpayers. Three Billion dollars plus per plane. Maybe more!

         That was enough for me!  The mystery disappears when you add up the cost, but not the appreciation for the human intellect that conceived and created this machine. A masterpiece!

         There are probably secret needs and deterrent reasons for this airplane that I don’t understand, but can you image what that kind of unfathomable money could do to fund a thousand other worthy causes: making a cripple child walk, a blind person see or even feeding the world’s hungry. 

         Enough Pollyanna!  I did like that airplane!

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