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Friday, July 12, 2013

The Last Chapter

As I look back, there are many memories that rise to the surface, but somehow one innocuous, forgettable flight keeps coming to mind. It was 2001, in the summer. Before September. I was a new pilot in the KC-130 flying a day helicopter refueling mission over the shimmering waters off of North Carolina. Jacksonville and Wilmington were off our right wing. Cherry Point was on the tail. And somewhere over my left shoulder was the fishhook of Cape Lookout anchored by the iconic black and white pole of a lighthouse. I was entirely focused on the dials in front of me: airspeed, altitude, vertical velocity. Trying to keep all the needles pointed in the right direction, as motionless as possible in order to steady the hose bouncing in the airstream some hundred feet behind me, where I could hear the rotors of a CH-53E beating the air in an effort to claw its way into the basket for a good plug and drink of fuel. At 120 knots in a wallowing, heavy Herc, keeping steady requires concentration. I’d flown this mission before and I would fly many afterward, but this one sticks out. My sweaty hand squeezed the yoke and my brow furrowed in concentration. Then, for some reason, it dawned on me just how amazing my job was. My brow unfurrowed, my hand relaxed a bit on the yoke, and I took in the beautiful day and the Carolina blue skies above us through the arc of greenhouse windows that open the cockpit of a KC-130 to the world. I wish there were more such simple moments that I’d taken in over the years, but that is life. We are often too busy to appreciate the everyday things that make it truly exceptional.