Friday, July 04, 2008

Top Secret SUV

As I walked out to my airplane at the FBO today, the whole parking line behind my aircraft was filled with snarling fighter jets, almost cartoonlike with their painted teeth, and very real guns and missiles. They were cordoned off with a low nylon rope around orange traffic cones and there was a very small sign with the word Warning on it, propped in front of the middle airplane. I put my camera in my pocket and walked up to read the sign. It said, roughly,

This is a restricted area.
No entry without direct permission from the commander.
The use of deadly force is authorized.

It didn't say anything about photography plus or minus, but the potential administrator of the deadly force was behind the rope, in a beret and desert fatigues, with a large pistol holstered on his thigh. I pointed to the sign, to indicate I'd read it, and held up the camera. "Is it okay to take photographs?"

He said yes, but indicated I was not to photograph the sign, nor the black SUV parked between two of the airplanes. Apparently it's okay for me to read the sign, and they can't stop me from memorizing it, but I mustn't show it to others. Perhaps there were hidden defences embedded in the sign. The SUV I hadn't even noticed, but of course the forbidden draws attention. It appeared to be their guardhouse. He wasn't alone on the airplane guarding beat. There were others, and presumably snacks and water, inside the vehicle.

I took my photo and went back to my own airplane, to add oil, clean the windshield, and other Aviatrix tasks. As I continued to watch the jets, the guard crossed his perimeter rope and came over to talk to me. I told him about my mission and asked him if he flew one of those airplanes. He said no, he was a cop. I asked him if he had been there all night and he said no, there were shifts. I realized there were shifts, what I was trying to ask was whether he was going to have to stand long in the sun, or was going to get a break. I started to clarify my question, but then figured it might be interpreted as a sensitive security issue, so I aborted that line of inquiry and asked if he got to travel different places for his job. He said yes, he had been all over the world, and that he liked his job.

"I've been doing this a long time," he said.

Regrettably I couldn't help blurting out, "you don't look that old!" and he didn't. Heck he was young enough that I bet he gets IDed in bars. He was young enough that my words were an insult. So that was the end of our conversation. As he turned and walked away I realized that he had a much larger gun, an automatic rifle, slung over his back. He looked great, like a recruiting poster, a Fourth of July exhibit, or many a boy's dream. I wish I'd asked, "Wait, may I take your picture, please." But he probably would have said no, anyway.

Oh and I found out this year that John Adams proclaimed that July 4th, the American Independence Day, "...ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations." Go for it, guys.


nec Timide said...

Ah yes, walk softly and fly a noisy Warthog!

I often thought that the expended casings from the A-10 (which are sometimes for sale at air shows) would make good beverage tankards.

As long as you aren't worried about burnt cordite.

Or depleted Uranium.

Anonymous said...

Cool story, great photo!

Scott Johnson said...

I hate to be pedantic, but I must point out that an A-10 is not a "fighter." In the US the first letter of an aircraft's designation is its intended purpose: A for Attack (bombing or air-to-ground), F for Fighter (air-to-air), C for Cargo, K for tanker, T for trainer, etc.

Attack pilots and fighter pilots have an ongoing rivalry and neither likes to be mistaken for the other. Likewise for the planes. :)

The A-10 Warthog is a very cool plane. The pilot sits in an armored "bathtub" that keeps him safer than he'd be in most attack aircraft. The high-aft mounted turbofans are more survivable, and the plane can carry enough ordnance to unleash serious hell on earth. :)

Anonymous said...

I used to work on A-10s. They basically built the aircraft around the gatling gun. Very impressive in action. One pair of A-10s eliminated a column of tanks during Desert Storm in 1991. You do not want to be on the receiving end of an exchange with a Warthog.

Just to muddy the waters, our unit was the 926 Tactical Fighter Group out of NAS New Orleans, LA. I have been in some of those "discussions" about what constitutes a fighter.

is probably similar to the sign you mention.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about that. It looked right in preview.

Guy said...

Hmmmm. If someone asked me what an A-10 is, I probably would call it a fighter as well... It's small, short-ranged, single-occupant and it aims its primary weapons by physically steering the aircraft. It is arguably much more of a fighter than, say, the F-117, which is a bomber that was called a fighter for political reasons.

Anonymous said...

While the early Hogs were sans instrumnts to a large degree, I would seriously pity any flier crossing a hostile A-10's line of fire if the pilot was a good shot and had a few rounds to expend.
Our Nebraska unit has RF-4C's, strictly camera carriers but designated "fighters" as opposed to camera carrying KC-135's etc.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, "had" RF-4C's. Now they fly tankers.