Friday, March 26, 2010

Movie Night...

...A new Flight Test Engineer's views on the parallels between the job and "The Right Stuff" (my absolute fav movie bee-tee-dub)...

If you haven't seen the movie "The Right Stuff" it should be added to your netflix right now! It is a great movie that tells the story of America's aviation and space firsts (strapping young pilots included, ladies!). Since being up here in Lexington, I have thought a lot about how this movie parallels my own job atmosphere...

The movie opens with a scene of fast moving clouds and an eerie voice...

Narrator: There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die. Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate. The demon lived at Mach 1 on the meter, seven hundred and fifty miles an hour, where the air could no longer move out of the way. He lived behind a barrier through which they said no man could ever pass. They called it the sound barrier.

Obviously, it would be pretty hard to break the sound barrier in the pimped out Blackhawk we're testing, but I can't help to think that there are limits to the airframe, and surpassing those limits could bring out that "demon in the sky". In the business of flight test, it almost seems to me that we are seeking out the demon once in a while to make sure he doesn't sneak up on any pilots in the future. And while it may seem scary, it makes for an absolutely exhilarating job (and I can't even fly yet, haha!).

Of course, what could be an aviation movie without some Chuck Yeager? Whenever he hops down into the X-1 (the first aircraft to break the sound barrier), he always asks for some Beeman's (a brand of gum back in the day).

Well, in the Mobile Telemetry Trailer we ceremoniously pass around a jar of those Atomic Fireballs before each flight. It is an unwritten rule that everyone takes one, and while I'm not sure where the tradition came from (it started way before I came on board), I'd like to think it's a remnant of those old days when badass guys like Chuck Yeager would test an aircraft to its absolute limits (many times literally).



As the movie progresses to the first Mercury flight with Alan Shepard, I am reminded nearly on a daily basis of a line he speaks while waiting to blast off:

Alan Shepard: Dear Lord, please don't let me f*** up.
Gordon Cooper: I didn't quite copy that. Say again, please.
Alan Shepard: I said everything's A-OK.

Quite often I think to myself, "Oh please don't let me screw up." I'm sure I'm not the only one. But on the outside you have to be tough, rigid, and absolutely A-OK.

Seconds later Shepard says "Request permission to relieve bladder."Holy crap, Mr. Shepherd, I totally get ya. No bathroom breaks during a test!!!

"No bucks, no Buck Rogers!"
=

NO


Yup, its the truth, sometimes the money needed to run a test of this magnitude becomes an even bigger issue than the technology involved. And as a Flight Test Engineer I feel it is part of my duty to make myself useful, to learn all I can (still working on this one!), and to make it worthwhile for the customer. Apparently money was an issue back then too!

And finally (although there are tons more quotes I could parallel), my favorite quote of the entire movie:

Pancho Barnes (shes the bartender lady, also an aviation pioneer in real life): What are you two rookies gonna have?
Gordon Cooper (future astronaut): Rookies? Now hold on, sis. You are looking at a whole new ballgame here now. In fact, in a couple of years, I bet you're even gonna immortalize us by putting our pictures up there on your wall.
[
unwittingly referring to the dead pilot memorial over the bar]
Gordon Cooper: What? I say somethin' wrong here?
Pancho Barnes: I tell you, we got two categories of pilots around here. We got your prime pilots that get all the hot planes, and we got your pud-knockers who dream about getting the hot planes. Now what are you two pud-knockers gonna have? Huh?

In the movie this scene is absolutely hilarious, and the truth is, in my real-life big girl job, I am definitely a pudd-knocker. Hey, at least I am in the company of Gordo Cooper, right? Oh wait, he's dead, dangit.