Passing Honors

Posted September 2005

I wave a lot.

It comes, I think, from flying an open-cockpit airplane.  Wave from a closed-cockpit plane, and with the glare, shadows, etc, no one is likely to see you.

But in the Fly Baby, I can stick my arm out into the slipstream and wave to my heart's content.

There's a small park right at the approach end of the runway, at my home field. On nice weekends and evenings, there's usually families watching the planes land.  When I see little ones, I stick my arm out and wave as I coast down final.  On the next pass, they'll usually all be jumping up and down and waving back.

I wave to other airplanes, too.  On the ground, mostly.  When it's really, REALLY hot and I taxi by a Cessna or Piper with doors propped open to get a pitiful ghost of a breeze inside a boiling cockpit, I like to rub in the 'Baby's wide open status.  Sometimes I taxi past with BOTH arms sticking straight out to sides, luxuriating in the prop blast.  After all, I *am* steering with my feet.

I wave to other airplanes in the air, too, though it's usually less satisfying. Normally, I figure they don't see me, anyway, and if they wave back, I probably can't see it.

Today, was pretty cool.

I launched out of Auburn about 12:30, heading for the Blackberry Festival Fly-In at Bremerton, Washington, just twenty or so miles away.  I squirmed under the Sea-Tac Class B airspace at 1500 feet, then turned towards Vashon Island and started to climb en route to Bremerton.

As I climbed out to the West, I noticed a big dark blotch to the North.  Our courses were converging, though it appeared to be about a thousand feet or so
above me.  As it got closer, I recognized it as a C-17 Globemaster III, on final to McChord Air Force Base, about ten miles to the South.

My transponder was replying to ATC's signals, the altitude readout was about right.  I knew Seattle Center had probably called me out to the Globemaster, and that I'd pass safely below him.

But... I know there'd be anxious moments in the big Boeing's cockpit due to our converging courses.  I knew the Globemaster's crew probably would have trouble spotting me ahead and below.  I knew the huge transport had the right of way, anyway.

And...I knew the Air Mobility Command crews have been flying their tails off, with missions to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Louisiana.  They fly thousands of miles, with the prospect of SAM launches and/or NVG approaches at the end.  They didn't need one last complication, on final for home.

So I turned sharply to the north, so our paths wouldn't cross; so Center would tell them I'd pass safely clear.

We passed in opposite directions, about a half-mile apart, with the Globemaster slightly higher.  When we were abeam, I shoved my arm straight up into the prop blast and waved it back and forth.

Nothing happened for a moment.  Then the Globemaster slowly rocked its wings...left, right, back to level.

Vaya con dios, big friend.

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