I did a bunch of stuff in the past ten days, including getting a learner’s permit to learn to drive, (a skill I must refine) and filing papers to start my own small business, Fix-It-X. Next come the tax and insurance papers.
But the thing I did that excited me the most was watching three planes fly up the Hudson River.
I’ve been plane crazy since I was a kid, I have no idea when it started but I suspect it had a lot to do with war movies on TV.
When I started drawing I drew a lot of airplanes, some of them made up from things I saw on TV and imagined I saw in the sky. Whenever an aircraft flies overhead I automatically look up. I noticed most people don’t.
That means most people miss seeing a lot of interesting things in the sky that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing by simply looking up at just the right moment.
Just in the past few months I’ve seen a flight of three U.S. Army Blackhawks going up the Harlem river, two F-22 Raptors flying over Harlem, a Navy P-2 Neptune flying over the Hudson and just this past Thursday, I saw an F-22 Raptor, an F-16 Falcon, and a B-25 Mitchell W.W.II era bomber flying in formation up the Hudson.
The flight Thursday I found out about inadvertently, watching the morning news. Not that they actually announced it, it was only mentioned in one of those word crawls at the bottom of the screen that you have to be lucky enough to be paying attention to get.
It said: There will be a flyover of the Statue of Liberty by military aircraft at 10:30 AM today. I saw it at 9:15 AM while I was waiting for the laundry to dry at the Laundromat.
I looked up on line for any aircraft advisories and found one put out by the city saying that there would be four planes, the three mentioned above plus a P-51 Mustang W.W. II era fighter plane doing the display and then they were all to fly up the Hudson to Newburgh, NY for the Stewart airport airshow this weekend. This airshow was supposed to take place over Coney Island, but negotiations with the city broke down at some point and it was moved upstate. Nice going, Mayor DiBlasio.
I knew I had enough time to fold the laundry, find my camera and binoculars, and ride my bike over to the Hudson River some ten blocks away.
I arrived at the river’s edge a few minutes before 10:30, and figured I was going to have to wait anyway since the event was taking place ten or so miles downriver, but it was a beautiful day and I didn’t want to miss any of it. What if they started earlier for some reason? Also, those kinds of notifications are notoriously inaccurate. Believe me, I’ve waited for planes that had already flown by before.
So I sat on a rock by the water and waited, testing out both the camera and the binoculars. The binoculars had great range, the camera not so much. I wished I had the big camera and long lens I used a few years ago at the Blue Angels airshow over Jones beach. But one makes do with what they’ve got.
At almost 11 I heard a plane coming from the north, and I turned to look. Like I said, I always look up at the sound of an aircraft engine. It was a shiny silver B-25 with red markings on its tail fins, headed down for its rendezvous with the others. I half expected to see the Mustang, but none appeared.
At 11:15 I caught sight of three dots in the sky as far downriver as I could see. I turned on the camera and put the binoculars to my eyes. I could make out three planes, two jets and the B-25. Where was the mustang?
I put down the binoculars and got the camera ready. Then I realized the planes were turning back, they weren’t coming up the river at all! Panic began to set in until I figured out that they were making the turn to circle the Statue. They did three circuits before they came up river around 11:30.
I watched as the dots got bigger and bigger and I was able to pick them up on the camera. It would have taken the jets just seconds to transit the river, but they had to stay in formation with the B-25, that was probably going less than 200 miles and hour. That’s probably close to stalling speed for the jets, which made a sub-sonic low rumble as they flew over instead of the ripping screech of super-sonic flight. It was a sight to behold and well worth the wait.
I don’t think I can write about airplanes or air shows in particular without mentioning the two aircraft tragedies that happened this past week.
On Saturday, the 22nd a 1950’s era British fighter jet crashed onto a highway during an air show in Shoreham, England. The Hawker Hunter was doing a loop and for some reason wasn’t able to pull out of it in time and flew straight into the ground, killing as many as 20 people on the ground. The pilot miraculously survived, but just barely. He may still succumb to his injuries.
And just this Friday a high-performance Giles G-202 stunt plane augured in upstate after its tail came off during the practicing of a pinwheel maneuver. The pilot did not survive. Ironically, he was practicing for the self-same air show at the Stewart International airport that planes I saw over the Hudson Thursday are attending.
Accidents like this happen, though rarely. But I guess its part of the thrill, the draw. People go to air shows with the expectation of a spectacular crash always somewhere in their minds. Like the accidents that sometimes happen, it’s something that can’t be avoided.