The Time Machine

The chilling rain of a late November afternoon amidst brisk breezes of the Pacific Northwest: nothing can be further from the broiling mid-day sun of Southeast Asia.

Two Thanksgivings ago, I visited an Air National Guard friend of mine who just happens to be a highly ranked manager in the Boeing organization. Boeing runs a nice little museum at Boeing Field just south of Seattle called The Museum of Flight.

My friend also sits on the board of the museum. Like any other museum, they have business to conduct, and travel to do. "Local" travel comes in the form of the museum's administrative aircraft, a restored O-2A aircraft. To get the story off to a quick start; I got myself a ride.

The administrative aircraft is hangared at Paine Field, in Everett, WA which was a very convenient location. Convenient, since my old Air National Guard Unit is right down the street, and it was a good place for us to meet.

Convenient because my son was at the time a Boeing employee, right down the block from the Guard unit. He was impressed as he entered the building, and someone announced over the loudspeaker, "Col. Flak, you have a visitor." Shortly thereafter my friend arrived, and we departed for the restoration facility that the O-2A calls home. The people who work at this facility are extremely proud of the work they do, and I didn't need to be with a senior manager to get the royal treatment. I got to look at, touch, and sit in many of the aircraft on which they were working on.

I could have spent hours, but the sun makes its way to beneath the horizon early at that latitude at that time of year.

I felt a pang of nostalgia as I approached the aircraft. It was like going to a high school reunion and seeing your old girlfriend there, and unaccountably, she's exactly as lovely as you remembered her being. Only I had gotten older, and she hadn't. She still looked as good as she did decades ago while still in her prime.

As I got in the right seat I noticed one small box that looked a little strange. Everything else looked exactly like the last O-2A I had gotten out of nearly 30 years before. It was a perfect restoration. We taxied out and took off over the fjords of Puget Sound. Several minutes after takeoff, I heard, "Your Aircraft" over the headset.

Instinctively I shook the yoke and announced, "Roger, I have the aircraft." It felt a little strange at first. This was the first time I had an airplane of any kind in my hands since 1982, but it soon came back to me. I could feel my hands meet with the yoke. My senses gradually extended through the yoke and out to the flight control surfaces.

Within minutes I was no longer manipulating the controls. If I wanted to lift a wing I did so merely by thinking about it, and it happened with as much conscious thought as raising my own arm. The symbiosis had returned.

My son was unaware that I was flying until the pilot turned to talk to him. He was impressed again.

I enjoyed wheeling and soaring until the pilot again took control of the aircraft. I felt some remorse at my loss and disengaged my body from the aircraft and reverted back to being a mere passenger. The pilot did make it up to me by some low level flying over the waterways (and below the level of the surrounding terrain).

I got the aircraft again for the landing. It wasn't the greatest landing I ever made.

We taxied back in, and said our good byes.

My son was still impressed, and that should have been enough for me. It's not every day a dad can still impress his adult son.

But I got a lot more out of it than that. For 45 minutes, on that bleak November evening, I was 24 years old again.