Tag Archives: blue angels

Breaking My Own Inertia.

By: Chris Warren

If all you knew about me was whatever was on my website, you might get the impression that I’m a pretty adventurous, open minded spirit who is always on the lookout for new experiences. It’s easy to forget that a blog article, like a photograph, is just a snapshot. It reflects a truth, but it’s only a moment of truth. There is no context to connect the moment to events that came before and after. It can be misleading because photographers and writers will self-sensor themselves, picking and choosing what they want to reveal. It’s not necessarily dishonest, it’s the nature of the medium.

This past weekend, I went with a buddy to the Chicago Air & Water Show. I’d probably seldom if ever go to Chicago if it were not for him living there. I’m just not a much of a city person. I live far enough away that going there takes some planning and effort, so I have a built in excuse to avoid the place. This time, my friend would not let me be held back by my own obstinance.

The CTA (public transit) bus was not particularly crowded when we boarded. As we get closer to the lakefront and the bus makes its stops, it starts filling up. Our fellow travelers were themselves a microcosm of humanity: The tired-looking construction worker. The old lady with grocery bags. Three sooo cute hispanic brothers, the oldest was maybe six. Two teenagers speaking what sounded like an eastern European language. Several African Americans. Two Asian guys, also not speaking English. One of them had a Chicago Fire Department uniform on. A babbling loud mouth sitting in the back who could be heard across the whole bus. Then there’s me, the basic white guy feeling totally out of his element, and my friend, who is Filipino. The bus stops and driver announces the end of the line. As we file out the door, it occurs to me that I’ll probably never see any of these people again and I have a brief philosophical moment about what fate, good or bad, made me miss. Except for the babbling loud mouth. Never seeing him again has no downside.

Blue Angels over Chicago. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy
Blue Angels over Chicago. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy

A short walk later we behold mighty Lake Michigan stretching out in front of us. There is a wave of humanity almost as impressive as the lake itself following the curve of the shore for as far as we can see. An earth-shaking roar of six F-18 Hornet jets announces the arrival of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, and it becomes obvious why everyone is here. It’s impossible to fully appreciate the Angels’ skill by watching them on video. The Blue Angels are so good, it almost looks fake. It’s not fake. They really are that good. There are countless picnics and beach parties going on. A girl who appeared to be less than 18 years old was on a large boat in the harbor, barely dressed and dancing in an over-the-top way that, well, uhhm, let’s just say Miley Cyrus could take lessons from her.

After the air show we walked to Navy Pier and then Millennium Park, eventually ending up at Buckingham Fountain. The Chicago Symphony was playing. The weather is perfect and we’re having an awesome time. My friend was not done with me yet. We headed over to Michigan Avenue. It was bustling and lively and happening. It was also a place of unsettling contrasts: A homeless guy begging for change; a few steps away is a display window of Rolex watches that individually cost more than what most people pay for a car. By time we got back to my friend’s apartment, we had been on the go for over nine hours, most of it walking. I was beyond beat.

Buckingham Fountain, Chicago Grant Park. Photo courtesy WBBM television.
Buckingham Fountain, Chicago Grant Park. Photo courtesy WBBM television.

The aftermath of my kickass cool roadtrip to Chicago was an old refrain for me: I am not by nature an adventurous, open-minded spirit. Like most people, I have my ways and don’t like drifing too far from them. But if I am nagged and pushed into trying something different, I end up liking it. It seems I never want to go anywhere or do anything…until I do. Then I’m all into it.

In my senior year in high school I knew I wanted to go to college but was not ready to leave home. My toughlove, zero-tolerance-for-bullshit dad made it clear that he was not going to put up with me sitting around his house for free while I, in his words, “contemplate the world.” So it was mutually decided I would live at home and enroll at a local junior college. It was a perfect fit: I could keep my part time job, rack up some academic credits, and satisfy mom and especially dad that I had goals and was making real progress towards achieving them. I did not make the connection at the time, but their parental pressure eventually came to its intended conclusion: A little less than two years later, I abruptly announced that I was going to transfer to a four year university and finish my degree. To prove I was serious, I set everything up at my new school before revealing my plans. Mom and dad were somewhat blindsided by my declaration, but very pleased.

Chicago from North Avenue Beach  ©2014 twentyfirstsummer.com
Chicago from North Avenue Beach ©2014 twentyfirstsummer.com

Since I’m not the type of guy who goes looking for new experiences on his own, I’m grateful to be surrounded by people willing to push me into them. In all of these situations, I came out better for it. I would not have suggested going to the lakefront with all the crowds and hassles and my general aversion to big cities. But wow, am I ever glad my friend did not give in to my reluctance. The entire weekend was a total blast! And either by coincidence or deliberate parental wisdom, my mom and dad did not allow me to stagnate in my own equivocation about what to do with my young self. They knew I was capable of succeeding so they helped me find a path forward and pushed.

I ultimately graduated from college, got over the hump of entering the workforce, and went about my productive if not unremarkable life. Today, there are no looming big decisions before me that need to be made, or avoided. I am well aware that there are few constants in this world and sooner or later I will probably be faced with a grand opportunity more consequential than spending a fun weekend in Chicago. When that moment comes, I hope I can motivate myself to act, and if I can’t act on my own, I hope someone who cares is nearby to give me a kick over the line.

The Elvis of Airplanes.

By: Chris Warren

In the year 1954 Eisenhower was President and some wannabe named Elvis Presley was a barely-discovered singer on the Memphis music scene. Nestled in the frenzy of Cold War buildup, the Pentagon took delivery of their first Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. Both the singer and the airplane had something else in common: As with anything new and unproven, no one at the time knew or necessarily cared what their respective legacies would be.800px-Lockheed_C-130_Hercules

What we know now that we did not know then, and why the average citizen who typically has no interest in military aircraft should care, is that the Hercules would become an aviation legend and one of the few success stories of government spending. It will take off or land on short, crappy, unpaved runways and haul about 40,000 pounds of whatever will fit inside at 330 miles per hour for 2000 miles. It is the only aircraft operated by all five branches of the military. It has been used both to kill people and rescue them from death. The internationally-acclaimed U.S. Navy Blue Angels use one as a support aircraft (“Fat Albert”).  There is no shortage of customers for the Hercules. Recently, the Filipino air force added itself to the list of foreign countries that covet the C-130 and collectively buy hundreds of them. In different variations, it is a flying gas pump, freight train, hospital, fire truck, police car, weather station, secret spy den, gun platform, and troop hauler. It can unload cargo without even landing. There isn’t anything it has been asked to do and failed. The Lockheed-Martin C-130 Hercules has no peers.

The only experience I’ve had with a C-130 was when I went with my dad to visit the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. They have the “Spectre” gunship version on display. The aircraft, in a word, is sinister. Windowless and dark colored, high speed rotary Gatling guns pointing out one side remove any doubt as to what the Spectre is used for. A few guns on a large airplane do not sound like much, but these things are h-u-g-e. They take up pretty much the entire cargo area and spit thousands of 20 millimeter shells every minute. It’s hard to understand the magnitude of these weapons until you see one in person. That aircraft has a creepy vibe you can sense just by standing there. If I were a bad guy, I would run, run, run, for my life at the very sight of a Spectre, although it may not do any good. Resized ac130 2

It says something about American ingenuity when a military aircraft that made its debut exactly six decades ago this month is still relevant and in production. The Hercules has been through many upgrades and facelifts, but the basic design from 1954 is still flying strong. Today, a C-130 costs about thirty million dollars before it’s equipped for a specific task. By Pentagon budget standards, that’s coffee change. By everyday taxpayer standards, it’s a lot of money. But thirty million for an aircraft that can do so much and has a service life of over half a century is a pretty good deal by any standard.

The U.S. Coast Guard (which, by the way, also has an August birthday) is the only branch of the U.S. military that includes saving lives and property as one of its stated goals. They’ve been doing it with honor since 1790, and in 1958 they added the C-130 to their inventory. It’s hard for me to buy into the idea that an inanimate object can be a hero, but there are an untold number of people who need no persuasion as they know they are alive today only because a Coast Guard C-130 saved them from peril when nothing else could. Whether it’s a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil spill in Alaska, a ship wreck in the Atlantic, or a medical emergency at the South Pole, almost nothing assures survivors that things will get better soon like the comforting sight of a mighty four-engined, white and orange U.S. Coast Guard C-130 arriving on the scene. c_130_hercules_c_130e_lockheed_us_coast_guard_1920x1080_81544

We hardly ever hear of the government getting something right because, honestly, they hardly ever do. Government incompetence is so common, it’s become a late night comedy show punchline. Most citizens are not as much against paying taxes as they are against wasting it on nonsense and graft. Even me, as a devout Libertarian, would whine a lot less about my tax bill if I had some confidence that I’m getting a good deal for my money. But fair is fair, and when the government does actually get something right, they deserve credit. The Lockheed-Martin C-130 Hercules is more than just a good deal, it’s the “Elvis of Airplanes”: A beloved, timeless legend that performs flawlessly and will be revered long after the last one makes its final landing, which is not expected until the 2030’s. By then the Hercules will have been in service for eight decades.

As cool as Elvis was on his own, he still needed his guitar to help sell the act. And so it is too for the real, human heroes who use the C-130 to do so many incredible things. Any military person knows having well-tested, solid equipment is essential to completing the mission. I expect to get back to Dayton, Ohio one of these days. When I do, I’m going to pay Hercules a visit. The old bird is never going to swing its hips to crowds of swooning fans, but there are plenty of military veterans and survivors of disasters who know what the headline act will be when it really matters.