Thursday, March 30, 2006

Why we are Military Aviation Enthusiasts

It has never been stated more aptly than by Ivan Rendall in the poetic preface to his sensational book Splash One. The Story of Jet Combat:

The jet fighter is one of the great icons of the second half of the twentieth century, a symbol of achievement, of technical excellence, of ultimate modernity, of latent military power. There is a worrisome beauty about the natural marriage between elegance and lethality, grace and brutishness, delicacy and hardness - the perfect combination of form and function. In the air, that function is clear - aggression, hunting and killing. Flying low and fast, a jet fighter's physical, menacing presence cannot be ignored: the urgent whistle of air over its skin; the shock wave, and the ear-ripping bark of the afterburner assaulting the senses.

On the ground, the air of lethality is more contained. A grounded jet fighter looks awkward and forlorn, like a caged animal, squatting on its oily undercarriage, its flying surfaces hanging limp, its clean lines broken, the gun port covered with a canvas weather guard, safety pins in the weapons and electronic countermeasures pods, evidence that they are inert. Yet even asleep, a Sabre, Jaguar, Harrier, Phantom, Falcon or Eagle holds the eye as a classic design, and that worrisome beauty is still there close up - the cared for, nurtured, spoilt feel, the expensive finish, the quality of the materials, the craftmanship evident in the flush rivets, the highly polished canopy, the gunmetal sheen of the external instrument sensors, each carefully protected by rubber sheaths with flapping red tags to remind the pilot to take them off before flight. (...)

A jet fighter looks, and is, expensive and alluring. It demands lavish care and permanent cosseting, constantly applied throughout its working life, and, like a stunningly beautiful and dangerous courtesan, it stirs conflicting emotions, swinging between desire and fear, awe and guilt, even a touch of moral confusion at finding a machine the purpose of which is so clear - to kill and destroy - so hauntingly attractive. The beauty comes from it being perfectly evolved for its function - destroying other aircraft - and its parallels in nature are creatures high on the evolutionary scale, creatures who live by killing other creatures. Their names embody that preying quality - Jaguar, Tigershark, Hawk, Eagle and Falcon - conjuring up images of quiet power and thoroughbred purity.

The fighter pilot (...) is one of the heroes of the twentieth century, the quintessential warrior of our times, part of a small élite at the top of the tree of military prowess for whom there are only two kinds of aircraft - fighters and targets. He is a master of his craft, a perfectionist who has risen to the most exalted job in aviationdig by a process of ruthless natural selection in training for his ability to demonstrate a rare mixture of intellectual capacity and natural aggression, mental balance and killer instinct, modesty and profound self-belief, and competitiveness and coolness under pressure.

And here's SoE's all-time favorite - which unfortunately was never to be.


Blogger Franklin D. Rosenfeld said...

Speaking of incredible beauty that was not to be, how about this gem:

2:55 PM  
Blogger eisealuf said...

FDR, the Valkyrie is actually a close second on our favorite could-have-been list. The operational plane we worship most is the F-15, followed by - there's nothing one can do about those feelings - the unbelievable Su-37 Flanker.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Franklin D. Rosenfeld said...

Raptor. That's all I will say...

4:03 PM  

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