Saturday, July 04, 2009

Things Flying Fast and Low - Some Good, Some Bad

The Good

Sitting under the trees at the Mountain Valley Gliderport, I heard a "whoosh!" and quickly looked left. A small, fast-moving blur just a few feet to my left. Faster than any radio control plane I've ever seen. It zig-zags between some of the trees, and I catch a glimpse of a darkish bird with pointed wings. It must be a peregrine falcon! It's banking and swooping like a TIE fighter in Star Wars, probably after some of the blackbirds and larks that are flying around. In less than 2 seconds it's past the other end of the glider parking area, about 300 feet away, and then gone. I do the math... it was flying at 80 to 100 MPH at 3 feet off the ground. Amazing!

The Bad

Our morning pilots' meeting is interrupted a few times by the roar of small jets... and by pilots getting up to go watch them. It's a flight of three L-29 trainers, the kind that are often privately owned. We assume they're in town for an Independence Day exhibition, though there's no real "air show" listed in the local paper. They fly around the valley a few times, sometimes in a delta formation and other times following each other. Though we're glider pilots, we still love fast and noisy things flying low!

Later that day, we see them take off again, one after another, from the municipal airport a few miles away. They make a turn around the valley and form up again, no more than 2000' above the ground. We see a tow plane and glider at a higher altitude than the jets, but not really close to them. We hear some chatter on the radio but don't know that it's the jet pilots. I look away to watch a glider coming in for a landing. Among the chatter on the radio we hear "Abort" a couple of times, and wonder if it has something to do with the glider that's landing. When I look back west, there's a dense cloud of black smoke just over a ridge, just a couple miles away. Smoke appearing that fast can only mean one thing, and it's not good. The smoke rises and dissipates quickly... this is no brush fire. We see no parachutes. On the radio we hear pilots talking about looking for "number three", going around the valley again, and eventually going back to land. Then nothing more.

Later in the day, the news comes in. The jet crashed on a road just south of town, fortunately missing houses. There are no survivors. The pilot was the Tehachapi Municipal Airport manager; the passenger is not identified. One of the glider pilots/tow pilots here knows the guys that fly the jets.

Glider pilots who were in the air at the time later relate that they saw the jets and later the smoke, but had no way of knowing they were related. Some of our wives were out for the day, touring the valley and visiting produce farms. We learn that they were on that road about 15 minutes before the crash.

1 comment:

Bruce Porter said...

Thanks for your post. The unidentified "passenger" on the L29 was Bob Chamberlain, Col. USAF (Ret) I am the Chaplain of the fire dept here in CO where Bob served as pres., Board of Directors. Bob was a good friend, UAL Captain (ret) and one of the finest men and pilots I've ever known. (I'd flown with him as a fellow pilot) All of us here are in mourning as his wife and family cope with this shocking news. Bob was a deeply committed Christian, wonderful father, grandpa, and husband to his wife and family. We will all miss him dearly, but are comforted by the fact that he left this world doing what he loved most-- flying. We are also comforted in knowing that in Christ we will one day enjoy his presence again.