So you know how much I hate to fly, and you know how ironic that is considering how much I used to love love love flying and airplanes and fighter jets and space and JINX SEND GINNY TO SPACE, as Woy often texts to me out of the clear blue sky for no apparent reason.
If you don’t know what movie that’s from, you can’t be my friend, you ridiculously young whippersnapper.
God. I’ve gotten so old. Where the hell did my 30s go? Do you have them? Can I have six of them back?
As I was saying in meandering fashion, I’m old. Wait, no. I HATE FLYING.
Too high. Too fast. Too bumpy. Too burning death-y.
But when the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard invited me to see what it’s like to refuel a jet in mid-flight, I manned up. I put my big girl Depends on. I doubled up with some Poise Pads. I kissed my kids and my husband goodbye and I got into a cavernous plane … and well, you’ll have to go read to see how I reacted when a fighter jet flew within 40 feet of our plane.
And take a look at these pictures. I’m still struggling with feeling less than competent with my DSLR. Hoping Burgh Baby will have a new class soon for those of us who know the basics, but want to go even further with our photography. Ahem.
The briefing. This is where we learned all about the 171st and the planes we would be flying in. We also learned about the airmen (there are LOTS of women in the 171st too. It just so happens that our flight on this day was with all men.) that would be taking us up. Many of them are part-timers who have jobs outside of the Air National Guard. They are teachers, engineers, computer techs, etc. They are awesome. Brave. And can have a plane in the air at a moment’s notice if called upon.
In the plane. We were told to dress warmly despite the fact that it was the middle of the summer. Because it was going to get SUPER COLD up in the air.
When you read the column, this is the pilot who said, “Because it’s us.”
In the cockpit heading toward our rendezvous. SO MANY BUTTONS, JINX.
Up in the air. There’s something oddly comforting about seeing USAF on the wing of your plane.
The fish-eye back window of the plane. This is obviously before the jet approached for refueling. This is the window the airman will look out of, while lying down on his stomach, to use a joystick to maneuver the fuel delivery doohickey stick into the fuel receivership hole of the jet. As you can tell, I’m using official USAF terminology here.
And here’s the plane coming in for fuel. As you can see, I wasn’t exaggerating in my column when I said you could see the pilot’s eyeballs. That plane is about 40 feet away from our plane and both planes were traveling at about what? 600 miles per hour? Dear. God. What if the pilot of either plane had to sneeze just then? I’m just now thinking about that. These guys have nerves of steel. Officially.
Here’s the airman controlling the joystick. (Funny story. I ran into this this particular airman at Giant Eagle near my house about a week after this flight.) This shot also gives you an idea of how close the other plane was to ours. DEAR. GOD.
When it was time to begin our descent into Pittsburgh, I heard, “Montanez!”
And I was like, “SIR, YES SIR, SIR SIR, YES SIR?!”
And the airman informed me I was to sit in the cockpit during landing. Talk about baptism by fire.
At first I was seated here:
And then they moved me up so I could be staring our landing right it the eyeballs.
Safe on the ground with the whole group. I’m standing next to Jennifer Connelly whose husband Scott is a member of the 171st:
Amen and that’s church:
These men and women have served in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guam, and more. They served during 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and other domestic crises. They’re in our towns, in our schools, in our stores, and they spend time away from their families each month to train to be ready to go when called upon.
And never fail to let them know that you do.