SUNRISE - 9 May 2013
M9M at Sunrise - Edwards AFB, California
I'm conscious but not quite awake. It's dark. Early, too early. Good, the alarm hasn't gone off yet. Checking it, I'm still a few minutes from the 3:30 wake-up. Way too early, but I'm slowly, steadily coming to life. Time to get going. It just happens to be pre-dawn flying today. The hour is such that it's easy enough to believe no one else is awake at this dreadful hour.
Done with the shower, shave. I have my coffee - got to have that coffee or the wheels might fall off. Off to work, driving by beams of light from headlamps. Nothing else exists beyond those beams. I chance a glance at the night sky, checking for clouds. It's a 30 year habit from worrying about clouds and aviating. Good - stars! There's Orion to the west. I see others. Happy thoughts begin to form. I know what the sunrise will reveal.
At work, now. Plan the mission. Scribble notes on cards; NOTAMs, weather, airfield-status - all are checked. Briefing finished, doing a "door-check" before hitting the crew-van. It's dark. More stars. Still an hour until take-off.
A quick pit stop to get my helmet, parachute, g-suit. I hit the flight-line. It's quiet, calm, steady. My jet is there, illuminated by a powerful spot light. All the other rows of jets are dark, quiet, waiting for the morning sun. It's perfect - still, quiet. A glow starts over the mountains to the east. I shake hands with the crew chief: "Nice morning, Rooster." "It sure will be."
We both know this moment is the best of the day; before the sound of start-carts, the roar of jet engines, the ballet of starting that will disrupt the perfect calm.
The pre-flight is finished in the silence. There's a pause at the boarding ladder, a moment soaking in the last of perfect quiet. "Rooster, time to fire it up." The start cart roars. My jet comes to life with internal lights. The calm is gone. Color builds from the east. Time for business.
The ballet starts. Engines ignite with a shriek. Now it's deafening. Flight controls move. The ailerons flash the growing light from over the mountains. I'm ready to taxi.
"Ground, Benjo Zero One, taxi one T-38 with the numbers."
"Benjo Zero One, taxi Runway 25 via Bravo, Charlie, altimeter is three zero two five."
"Benjo, taxi Runway 25, Bravo, Charlie, altimeter 30.25."
A quick run-it-up with a finger wave overhead, moving forward. Then, a salute to the crew-chief. He looks under the jet one last time and gives me a thumbs up. I'm back to a beam of light on the yellow taxi stripe showing the way. I don't need it. The sun is coming. The colors are building inevitably from the east; pastel pinks, reds, yellows. The night gives way.
A last check at the end of the runway. This must be the thousandth time I've done that Before Takeoff checklist. Off to tower. Earth's shadow is kissing the mountains to the west. The sun is almost here.
On tower freq, there's nothing going on. A moment of pleasantry: "Good morning tower, Benjo is number one Runway 25."
"Benjo Zero One, winds are calm, Runway 25, cleared for take-off."
"Benjo, cleared for take-off, Runway 25."
A slow taxi onto the runway. In position, I apply the brakes, firmly. The throttles move to military power. It's deafening through the canopy, helmet, and ear-plugs. The jet struggles against her brakes--she wants to fly into the sunrise. A quick check of the engine instruments: all is good. Time to let'er loose.
Off the brakes, select the afterburners. Then, the kick in the pants with extra thrust; 50 knots, 100 knots, 135 knots, the stick comes back, the nose lifts, the mains are airborne. Sunlight crests the mountains over my shoulder. We're off into the morning. A perfect start to the day.