I was sitting in a comfy, form-fitted pod that throbbed in a soothing fashion around me. A wire ran from the back of my head to a signal processor that sent sound and voices into my ears. I effortlessly was flying along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, looking at the million-dollar homes slide past on my left. Life was wonderfully "blue pill."
The lieutenant in the front cockpit of the AH-1W asked why we would travel so far from home for a static display in Manitowoc, Wis.
"I think it's just a leftover frag request no one else wanted," I said.
"Well, why go?" he asked.
"Because every Wisconsin air show that is not in Oshkosh tries to prove it is better than the one there, which means taking care of those who serve as static displays. Stay alert. This is a Friday afternoon, and we're flying due north along a no-brainer navigation route of shoreline with a billion-dollar view. You'd best keep an eye out ahead," I replied.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because any second now, a light, civil aircraft ought to materialize out of the haze, headed due sou ..."
A Cessna 172 materialized out of the haze 1,000 feet in front of us, headed straight for our cockpit. Bottom collective, 60-degree angle of bank, slicing dive to the right, toward the offshore water.
"Do you think he saw us?" he asked.
"No, there was no reaction from him." I said.
"Well, how did you know something was going to be there?"
"I try not to be hilled by what I want to see. If we focus on the potential risks of this flight, we can work to avoid them--like being prepared to miss a head-on collision," I said.
Years ago, while I was flying as a copilot during an exercise in Norway, my pilot told me to keep an eye on the high ridgelines of the fjords to see the power-line poles perched on top.
"Why not just look for the wires?" I had asked.
"Because you can't see them in time," my pilot replied. "If you see power poles, you know there are wires, and you know you can't see them. It's time to pick another route."
Five minutes later, over squadron common, came the broadcast, "W-i-i-i-r-e-ss!"
"Hmmm," my pilot said, "I bet he about pulled a loop there when he finally saw the wires; he wasn't watching the ridgelines."
You can see the world you hope to see, or you can see the real world full of risks, assess them, and figure out the work-arounds. Take the red pill.
LtCol. DeHart flies with HMLA-773, Det. A, Belle Chasse, La.