June 25, 2012

June 25, 2012


The Smithsonian’s Be a Pilot Day has been introducing kids of all ages to flight for about eight years. I’d never participated, or even heard of the event, until a co-worker at Cabinet-Department-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named tipped me off. See, in addition to all the stuff the public sees, a select group of people gets a special behind-the-scenes look at stuff. Including BREAKFAST AND LUNCH, word.

I signed up as quickly as humanly possible, and crossed my fingers. And for once, the fates were in my favor, because I got picked.

Then I found out that the day’s events started at 5:45. In the morning. IN THE MORNING.

But getting up at the buttcrack of dawn turned out to have two advantages. First, breakfast provided by the effing Smithsonian:

And second, the chance to participate in a Foreign Object Debris (FOD) walk:

The idea is to rid the runway of any sticks, stones, etc. that could get sucked into jet engines and go kablooie. Though I’m just an amateur, I took the whole thing Very Seriously. Here, my FOD:

One chick found a frog. A dead frog. Gross, man.

After the FOD walk, we sat and watched aircraft arrive. I was able to identify them only after painstakingly consulting an illustrated handout provided by the Smithsonian. Whereas the enthusiasts would be like, “Oh, yeah, it’s the Cessna 2330” when all I could see was a small spot near the horizon.

Then Marine One (well, whatever it’s called when the President is not onboard) landed and we swarmed like giddy schoolgirls.

Once the planes and helicopters were all settled, we were treated to a series of briefings from various Smithsonian curators. My favorite of which was the woman from the bird lab, who (no joke) does forensics whenever a bird hits a plane. Like CSI, but with birds. Rock on, bird lady. Rock on.

We were given a long free period at lunch to do as we liked, which for me involved taking a brief nap in the car and then enjoying lunch. I didn’t get a picture because I was Hulk-level hungry. But suffice to say the best coleslaw is Smithsonian Institution coleslaw eaten mere yards from an SR-71.

I had the opportunity to catch a brief talk by Gary Powers Jr. and a guy who wrote a recent book about Gary Powers (Sr.). At one point, a Silver Star was flashed, and it was like “O HAI.”

We got a guided tour of the museum’s highlights, including the SR-71, the Enola Gay, and some other planes that I was too tired to really pay attention to. Oh, and a statue of Billy Mitchell, who put the “General Mitchell” in Milwaukee’s “General Mitchell International Airport.” Between him and me, we did Milwaukee proud that day. Well, mostly him.

Most people filtered outside at this point to watch the planes take off, but it was 3 pm and I’d already been up for like 22 hours. Time to take out the earplugs and head home.

Good times, though. Even if you can’t tell your C-17 from your C-71. (In fact, one of both of those may not even be planes. Idk.)

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