You have not wings upon your back, you know not of which I speak.  Yet, it is to you that I speak.

Fallon, Nevada.  There is a flying range.

EA-6B.  Has there ever been a plane in which the front seats and the back seats were further apart?  The Pilot is a frustrated fighter-jock; the Guys-in-Back want to be on terra firma.  The Prowler is an electronic warfare platform, designed to fly in with the air-to-mud boys, protecting them from radar’s insidious probing fingers on the way into, and the way out of, the target.  Those attack airplanes are single-seaters, the pilot and the airplane as one – one heart, one mind, one objective, one being.  The Prowler has a pilot who, if he is any good, becomes one with his craft.  It also has three passengers who are along for the ride, and two of these cannot see the pilot, his instruments, or what lies ahead.  they have their ears welded to the headphones listening for High PRF and death; eyes welded to computer monitors searching for information that spells success or failure; and, hands glued to a keyboard hopefully sending electrons just that one split second earlier than that missile that is seeking with its electronic brain to find and destroy.

And so it was, that day on the range.  Merely practice, but you would never know if from the way I was breathing, my heart beating, or my mind concentrating.

The nameless pilot, flying as fast as he could, as close to Mother Earth as he could, as directed from the crew behind his back, flung himself and his crew in apparent defiance (without regard) of all the laws of physics on a rollercoaster ride that no man could ever build.  The right-seater, co-pilot in all but title, monitored engine and flight instruments, while his pilot focused outside the cockpit on the brown, hard earth – sometimes below, often not.  In the back, two others absorbed as much information as they could, which was far less than the black boxes further behind them.  But, unlike the black boxes, these two human computers added intuition to the equation and were thus the inseperable difference between another statistic and another round back at the club.

At the end of the training run, for it was only a training run, when the wrung out craft and the wrung out crew could at last entertain something other than merely staying alive, and wings were once again level, and the distance between them and Mother Earth could be measured in yards instead of feet, only then did they realize they were freezing cold, bitterly cold, soaked thru and thru with sweat, even as the Prowler’s air conditioning system had been sending conditioned air into the tiny cockpit as cold and as fast as its designers had planned.  Frost had caked on the steel-toed flight boots.  Oxygen masks off, the breathing slower, deeper, the crew finds themselves IFR inside the cockpit.

Now, a round of smiles; later a round of beers.  Life is good when you’re the best there is.

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