Friday, July 25, 2014

Papa Joe

I've always wondered why I can't just be content with my job. By all standard measures I've got a great one. I make good pay, receive great benefits, and have a good boss. So why am I so unhappy with it? I used to think something was wrong with me and I should suck it up, but after last weekend, I finally understand my problem.

My grandpa was an Air Force pilot. 
This is the type of jet he flew.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to see it in action for the first time in my life.

I've always been proud that my grandpa was a pilot, but never knew much about the plane he flew. Witnessing his machine in action for the first time was eye opening to say the least. The F-80 ushered the Air Force into the jet age. It has a top speed of 600 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 41,000 feet, and a range of 1000 miles. Even cooler is that it looks like something out of Star Wars.


While not impressive compared to the super-sonic stealth jets of the modern day, for a short period of time, it was the cream of the crop, and it was my Grandpa's job to bring it back in one piece.

It takes a special type of person to fly a fighter jet. You've got to be quick, you've got to be smart, and you've got to be bold. In the early days, when the technology was new and unproven, you had to be especially bold. Flip through the pages of Grandpa's flight-school yearbook and you'll find notations next to the pilots who were killed in training accidents. There are close to a dozen. The dangers of the job were always present. In the end, it was a technological malfunction that ended Grandpa's flying days. While flying at a high altitude, his oxygen mask failed and rendered him hypoxic. Hypoxia is a condition where the brain is starved of oxygen and cannot function properly. To give you an idea of the effects of hypoxia, watch the following video.

I will admit it's pretty hilarious, but there's a reason pilots go through this training. Imagine trying to drive your car when you're too drunk to successfully identify a playing card. Now imagine trying to fly a jet in the same condition. As the effects took hold, Grandpa's plane began to fall out of the sky. His friend in another jet likely saved his life when he started yelling at him over the radio. It took a bit, but Grandpa regained consciousness, managed to control of his plane, and was able to land it safely. Unfortunately, the hypoxia was severe enough it had lasting effects and his flight career was cut short. Grandma said it was like they had taken away his child.

Last weekend, as I watched the F-80 pilot bank and curve his aircraft, the same kind of aircraft my Grandpa used to pilot when he was my age, I instantly understood my problem. I inherited the blood of a fighter pilot. 

I'll never be an actual fighter pilot. Poor vision nailed that coffin shut for me a long time ago. On the other hand, I know I wasn't made this way by mistake and I've got to do something to fulfill my nature. I'm tired of trying to squelch out things I feel are important in favor of things that are safer or more acceptable. I'm ready for a new challenge. I'm ready for a little danger. I'm ready to dive into something that requires me to be quick, smart, and bold, and I don't think I'll be content until I do so.

I only have a couple regrets in my life. One was that I didn't really get to know Papa Joe. He passed away from cancer when I was young. I remember his chuckle, I remember him grilling steaks, and I remember him taking us to the park in the Monte Carlo, but I don't remember any of his words. I don't remember talking to him. I would love to talk to him as an adult and hear his stories first hand.

I imagine he'd have a lot of good tips for living life as a fighter pilot without a fighter jet.

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