There is a nasty rumor circulating on FaceBook that I gave Odel a mop for his birthday. Actually, that was just a “pre-birthday” present (and he got to pick it out himself). Today was the real deal.
Pensacola, Florida, is home to the National Naval Aviation Museum, highly recommended to us by several people who knew we were heading in this direction. Only 30 miles or so from here, it made a good day trip; we arrived shortly after the doors opened.
After a brief orientation from a docent at the door, we hurried off to the back of the museum, to the jet fighter simulators, to reserve a simulator for Odel. Would the skills that kept him alive during 100 missions over Vietnam reawaken to land on the simulated aircraft carrier deck?? Or are those brain cells ancient history?
Reservation made, we strolled the museum until 11 am, when we boarded a trolley for a tour of the many planes that can’t be fit in the museum building, so sit on the tarmac outside. The highlight (for us): the plane that George Bush landed (in) on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln for his infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech. It still says “George Bush, Commander in Chief” on the door.
Display of the Blue Angels, based here at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL.
The plane that brought George Bush to the USS Abraham Lincoln for the infamous speech.
Next, we had lunch in the on-site restaurant, the Cubi Bar Cafe. No food photos today – it was good, but no different from what you could find anywhere in the country.
Next stop, the on-site IMAX theater for the 40-minute movie, Storm Chasers. It was great! We flew with a sailplane pilot through the thunderheads over the Rocky Mountains, with hurricane predictors into the eye of a hurricane, and land-bound storm chasers after tornados in Tornado Alley. Riveting!
Finally, it was back to the simulator, a two-seater cockpit (I declined to be the “navigator”). Four simulators share the room, though only three were in use during Odel’s flight. In front of each simulator is a giant screen, where pilots attempt to blow up buildings, shoot down enemy aircraft and, finally, land their jet on an aircraft carrier. If you manage that, the last challenge is to land on the carrier in at night, in the dark.
Behind the four big simulators (each about the size of a large van) is the controller, facing his bank of computer screens where he can watch each pilot’s view. Throughout the 20 minute simulation, this busy guy kept an eye on all three screens, resetting those who had crashed, relaying instructions to those still airborne. Odel was #103.
I stood behind the controller, where I could watch him and his screens, hear all of his instructions (relayed to the pilots through their headsets), and watch the three movie-sized screens showing the simulation of the three jet fighters. It was hilarious! Poor pilot 101 crashed every 3 minutes or so – he never got the chance to attempt the carrier landing. Pilot 102 made several approaches to the carrier, but was often perpendicular to it at landing time (crash), or coming in upside-down.
Only pilot 103, Odel, seemed in control, so most of the small audience focused on him. He did it! He landed! Applause from the crowd (which of course he couldn’t hear, with the canopy closed over his head). Someone said “He must have flown before”, so I pointed to the F4 (photo above, left) behind us and told them Odel flew a jet fighter like that one. Lot of congratulations to him when he exited the cockpit with a huge grin on his face.
A mop! Sheesh! Happy birthday, my stud-muffin fly boy.