My friend Chris and I have made going to airshows a tradition of sorts. Chris actually knows quite a lot about aircraft, whereas I am more of the “wow, that’s cool” mindset and only skim the surface regarding technical details. One thing I’ve found is that the airmen sent to these shows, presumably amongst the best in their respective forces, generally seem to be pretty nice people. At least on the surface I haven’t noted much of that “strutting arrogance” we expect to see pilots have based on movies and TV shows.
The work that these people do is pretty amazing: when they are flying, they are expected to perform tremendously complex and precise tasks while under the most stressful of circumstances. That’s why I found this article about an F14 test pilot who shot himself down particularly enjoyable to read. Pete Purvis is the pilot in question, and from the article he sounds like a genuinely “real” person. His story is funny and yet gives a detailed example of all the complex things a pilot in a difficult situation has to deal with. I was fascinated by all the little tasks that have to be performed after an ejection that, if done wrong, can mean death to the flight crew.
It makes me respect the work these folks do that much more- the fact that these are real people, not super-efficient automatons with flawless reactions. Just the fact that someone can do enough of the “right stuff” in a few fractions of a second to live after a mis-fired missile damages their aircraft amazes me. Thanks, Pete!