Angels and Demons.
That phrase just seems to fit, quite poetically in fact. Sometimes demons work in your favor. As it turns out, today was such a day.
I was getting ready to leave the hotel in Amarillo this morning to fly to Titusville, Florida when my cell phone rang. It was Steve. One of our computer servers decided it didn’t want to play nicely with others. Damn. Why today? Doesn’t it know I’m a thousand miles away?
Steve, the jack-of-all-trades that he is, couldn’t fix the problem. This one, it seemed, was all mine. Suffice it to say, two hours of server manipulation from a remote-desktop session in Texas got the server fixed but put me way behind schedule. Titusville was definitely out. Where to go now? Atlanta? No, too far north. New Orleans? Don’t open that can of worms again, please. Pensacola? It’s in Florida and would still doable if I made a hasty departure from the hotel. Flight plan filed, destination Pensacola.
The Ambassador hotel in Amarillo is 13 miles from the airport. Unfortunately, I took a hotel shuttle last night when I arrived. Therefore, burning the tires off of a rental car wasn’t an option for me. Crap. Thankfully, Mark, the Ambasador Hotel’s version of “Steve”, is concierge/bellman/valet and a NASCAR shuttle driver. When he saw the rather anxious look on my face he offered to get me to the airport in “Texas time”. Mark, sir, you rock. And roll. I think Mark set a new land speed record for an 11-passenger cargo van.
As a testament to his most proficient driving skill, I happily punch the keyboard of my MacBook from my Pensacola Beach hotel room instead of being stuck somewhere much further away in Alabama or Mississippi. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those two states. I’m sure they’re each nice in their own way. They just can’t compete to Florida. Sorry Alabama and Mississippi, thanks for playing.
So the demons of the morning caused me to take an unplanned layover in Pensacola. Well, to those demons what do I have to say? I say thank you.
As I taxied up to the Pensacola Air Terminal today I parked my plane in a long row of other aircraft lined up wingtip to wingtip. What was parked next to me? An F-18.
Yes, sir. The real deal.
Pensacola, my friends, is the home of the Blue Angels. Their base, their training ground, their family.
Did you know the Blue Angels final performance each season is their biggest and best show they put on all year? It is.
Where’s the show? Pensacola, Florida.
Any guess as to when? If you guessed tomorrow give yourself a big, fat “A” on your paper with a smiley face.
This weekend Pensacola is transformed into a Disney World-style aviation theme park where all the rides are “E” tickets and burn a truckload of Jet-A per minute. Hot damn, I’m smack in the middle of it. Fighter jets, bombers and all the goodies are here. I love the smell of kerosene in the evening. But I digress.
Anyway, a little history… When I was much younger I remember going to airshows. The highlight of one show in particular was a performance by the Blue Angels. What kid doesn’t want to be one of those superstar pilots? I know I did. In fact, my deeply held passion for aviation is perhaps most attributable to those early Blue Angels performances I watched from my two dollar bleacher seats.
Fast forward thirty years or so. I’m at the Reno Air Races for the first time this past August. I took my young son to watch the air races and found out when we arrived the Blue Angels were performing that afternoon. I sat with my son as the Angels put their F-18 Hornets through each maneuver, so gracefully and with such power and precision. When the show was over my son told me how “cool” their performance was. Yes son, it was. Apparently, he will be flying one of those jets when he gets a little older, or so he says.
You know, he just might.
If not an F-18, though, my guess is he will certainly fly something. The Blue Angels have a way of creating an emotional connection deep inside you, a passion. A love, of sort, for aviation in all that it is and can be. For him, his moment probably came when lead solo #6 came over our head from behind at 5oo miles an hour before climbing vertically out of sight in a near instant. “Wooooowww…“, he said in amazement. “I wanna do that.“ His aviation seed is firmly planted and growing by the day.
So tonight as I shut my plane down and gazed at the F-18 parked next to me I paused for a moment to reflect.
This trip to NASA is a 5,000-mile journey across the USA and back. Just me, alone in my plane. Some might think such long hours of flight are surely boring, but not me. I am drawn to aviation. The freedom, the speed, the rush of adrenaline I get on takeoff and the desire to make perfect landings each time I fly. Aviation is my passion. Due, in no small part, to the Blue Angels. They planted that same seed in me as a child, too.
Aviation is a glue, connecting those who dare to venture up into the sky and beyond. Jet pilots, glider pilots, balloon pilots, astronauts. We all have a common thread. We love to fly.
As one of 100 NASA tweetup invitees, I feel compelled to make this journey to the Kennedy Space Center for Monday’s launch of Atlantis on STS-129. To have the honor of being even a small part of this space shuttle launch will be a lifelong memory for me. For the honor I have been given I hope to return the favor by helping to inspire just one young person to learn to fly. My videos, the Twitter site and this blog are my starting point. The astronauts of tomorrow are in grade school today. And who knows, maybe in thirty years I’ll have the honor of watching my own son or daughter fulfill their dreams as they blast into space aboard the shuttle of their day.
So, as it turns out, demons are the reason I’m in Pensacola tonight. Angels are the reason I’m here, too.