"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Monday, October 06, 2008

Heard the debate; but I prefer the sounds of freedom

It's been a long and very busy weekend, so this may up being a long and busy post. You've been warned.

Like so many others, I tuned in to the veep debate on Thursday with a heightened sense of anticipation sprinkled with a touch of dread. (redacted)

OK, no more playing in the mud. I spent most of my weekend not listening to Beltway pundits, but to the sounds of freedom as Miramar held its annual airshow. This year was a little more work for us as we were actually participating in the Marine Air-Ground Task Force demonstration (I mean the collective we, not me personally, since I recently had a small problem with my swim qual unexpectedly expiring). But as always, the show is truly awe-inspiring, and more than just really cool aircraft is on display. The show is a microcosm of the best that America has to offer. At the top, some of our greatest minds get together and design aircraft that defy imagination. Their creativity is unparalled, yet taken for granted because they consistently top themselves. And you have to wonder where they come up their ideas. Is it as simple as thinking hey, let's turn a boat into a huge floating runway and then build aircraft that can take off in a fraction of their normal distance? Or hey, let's just go ahead and turn a normal cargo plane into a giant flying gas station, and configure existing aircraft so they can refuel in flight, thousands of feet in the air (KC-130, KC-10). Why not build something called a helicopter, that can take off and land vertically in the most confined of spaces while carrying dozens of troops or thousands of pounds of equipment, and by the way, it's not the engine that moves, but the very wing itself (and, as my CH-53E can, recover one its own if it crashes). And let's take it up a notch, and design a contraption that takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like a cargo plane so you can take those troops and cargo and go hundreds of miles with them (V-22). Oh, you like jet planes? How about one that does the whole vertical takeoff/landing thing, so you can launch it from virtually anywhere without a runway, but carries the payload of a standard fighter (AV-8B Harrier)? Or one that has the maneuverability of the highest-performance aerobatic showplanes, and by the way is invisible to radar and equally lethal against ground and air targets (F-22; if you've never seen it, it does things no fighter aircraft should be able to do)? These eggheads come up with these things as easily as breathing, and each one is almost a work of art.

Then they pass it off to the pilots, who, it's true, have a college education but not the big heads and fancy degrees of the men and women who dream these up. And we then demand these pilots become a jack-of-all-trades in order to fly the damn things. You don't just learn how to turn the plane on, and make it go forward and backward and up and down - you can train a monkey to do that - but you need to understand aerodynamics, mechanical systems theory, meteorology, be able to navigate equally well with highly accurate GPS and nothing more than a map and some landmarks outside, discipline yourself to think and act quickly when the weather turns to crap, your engine quits (or catches on fire), or someone's shooting at you, and know hundreds of pages of FAA regulations while doing all this so you don't commit a flight violation by booming through LAX's airspace at rush hour.

Finally, under the radar and the unsung heroes of it all come the maintainers. We ask these teenagers, fresh out of high school, to take these multi-million dollar aircraft and make the eggheads' design run smoothly so that the pilots can focus on tactics, navigation, lousy weather and flight rules without worrying about the plane falling out of the sky too. They're paid a pittance and are on the lowest end of the rank totem pole, but they know their stuff and do their jobs well. If an aircraft goes down, nine times out of ten, it's because the pilots did something wrong, not the maintainers. That's the American microcosm at its best: men and women from all places, all backgrounds, all educations, doing their part to help the home team win.

The airshow also illustrates the sheer beauty of the flying machine. Yes, everything we fly is a tool of war; but there's an inherent grace in the lines of the vehicles we use to break the bonds of gravity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the 'vintage' aircraft of World War II. We had performances by an F4U Corsair and P-51 Mustang, one the scourage of the Pacific theater, the other the skies of Europe. As one watches them fly by the grandstands at a stately pace, you realize that they are, simply, beautiful. From propellor to tail and wingtip to wingtip, they are elegant as well as functional. Something was captured in those warbirds that our contemporary air fleet, with its sharp angles and brute utility, lacks.

I always enjoy the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) demo; it shows that we can do things no other service can do. Marine jets and attack helicopters provide close air support to soften up opposition on the ground; Marine assault support helicopters and amphibious landing craft insert the troops and deliver artillery and other combat power to the front or behind enemy lines; Marine tanks provide extra punch. They're all Marines, all trained to the same standard, and chances are those helo and jet pilots know some of the platoon, tank, and battery commanders on the ground. No other service can say this; no other service can deliver all this. Yes, we rock.

Well, I've kicked off the week. Pray for the Dow. Watch the next debate. Vote early and vote often.

1 comment:

Winefred said...

You might want to check your source on Biden's claim of 422 to 600 McCain votes -- I read that somewhere too and I seem to recall that it was satire. But then, how would we know? Biden's elastic grip on reality is almost beyond parody. Gives him something to think about while he's eating imaginary fettucini in the wing place where Katie's Restaurant used to be.