Test (A) Pilot

by
A Kniggendorf


Place

Time

: BetaMountain
: Office of Commander Walsh
: 19:38


     "You were supposed to get an introduction to the latest model of the intra-atmosphere vessels BETA is switching to. And all you were supposed to get during that introduction was a first impression of the new aircraft," Walsh stated coldly – and then snapped, "So what did you and your team think you were doing? Creating a new early retirement candidate?"
     "Of couse not, Sir. We're very sorry for the incident."
     "Captain Fox. Flight Lieutenant Tobias Yeager was known as one of the best test pilots in Earth Force. And now, after introducing the new F-511-A to your unit, he's a nervous wreck! He took almost three hours to calm down enough to even give us a brief description of the incidents! I'd like to know your version. In detail, please."
     "Sir. Lt. Yeager explained the maneuverability and the specialties of the new craft in comparison with our current vehicles. Afterwards, we went through the sims. Then he insisted on personal flights with every single one of us. Nothing spectacular happened during my flight with him."
     "You are part of his final report, Captain," Walsh reminded him icily, "a report which indicates he had to take out a new vessel after your flight."
     "The rear bay lock got stuck. Because of Lt. Yeager's enthusiastic description of the material's durability, I overestimated the strength of the seals when I used my bionics to get him out, too." Zachary sighed deeply. "It seems he wasn't used to that kind of problem."
     "He was used to the problem," Walsh muttered, "but not to a solution that involved you tearing off duranium steel seals." He nodded. "Your explanation is accepted. Now, you..." Walsh turned to Doc and looked expectantly at him.

     "Well, Sir." Hardford tried without success to keep the apologetic smile off his face. "Once we were at 30,000 feet it seemed to me that the navigational controls were somehow..." he searched for the right word, "sleepy. So I opened my CDU and sent my programs into the flight comps to wake them up."
     "You worked on the comps during the flight?!"
     "Why not, Sir? We had a very clear sky. No crosswinds. Only small air pockets..." Doc's smile almost reached his ears now. "I'm afraid it wasn't my work on the comps that shocked Lt. Yeager, though. When he tried an override to get manual control from the copilot's seat behind me because he thought I wasn't paying attention to the flight itself, Firefly jumped out of his screen and told him to take his paws off the keys because they were working there." Doc made a sorrowful face. "Lt. Yeager didn't say another word until we landed." He added with an emphatic nod: "Smoothly, Sir. I'm not as good as a pilot as Goose is, but I can fly."
     Walsh just shook his head and turned toward the next team member. "Gooseman? What do you have to say in your defense?"

     "Sir, Lt. Yeager spoke for more than two hours about what couldn't be done with that vessel, and he kept gassing on while I was flying. I thought if I was going to get anything out of the flight I'd have to ignore the man." Gooseman shrugged. "I ignored him – until he needed the airsickness bag."
     "There are no airsickness bags in warplanes, Gooseman."
     "Then that's why he used his helmet instead." The corner of Gooseman's mouth twitched. "I got him a bowl after we landed, Sir."
     "Lt. Yeager's one of our best test pilots, Gooseman," Walsh repeated. "What maneuvers did you fly that he almost lost consciousness?!"
     "'Triple Immel return,' 'Super squirrel offside,' 'Turnabout intruder–'"
     "Those maneuvers aren't possible in the F-511-A!"
     "They are! With maneuver boosts and brake engines in addition to landing flaps–"
     "Boosts and landing flaps! In the upper atmosphere?!"
     "Sure." Gooseman shrugged.
     "The safety controls cancel maneuvers like that!"
     "Oh, that. Fly-by-wire." The ST snorted, clearly disgusted. "I deactivated it. I still have some pride, Sir."
     The commander threw a look to the ceiling, asking wordlessly: Why me? "That doesn't explain why Lt. Yeager ran screaming out of the hangar."

     "That was my fault, Sir." Niko said in a soft voice. "Before takeoff I asked him if I could use telekinetics on the controls during the flight."


Glossary


Fly-by-wire: Electronic/computerized flight control system on board high-tech planes. Modern warplanes are often aerodynamically unstable, which means that they can't be flown mechanically (directly with a joystick). The pilot of such an aircraft enters his commands as he would do on any normal plane and then the fly-by-wire comps "translate" his orders into command sequences that 1. keep the aerodynamically unstable craft steady in the air (which takes a lot of fine tuning at every moment) and 2. perform the maneuvers the pilot ordered. Most of the top modern high-tech warplanes (Stealth fighter, Only-Wing-planes, and so on, wouldn't be flyable without fly-by-wire technology).

Please note:
this is a description written by someone who has not the faintest idea about all this in detail. But a friend of mine (he agreed to be quoted here) said the following when I showed him a draft of this story:

"If someone did that – and didn't immediately crash – I would do two things:
1. give the pilot a high medal for being the biggest miracle among the world's pilots, and
2. immediately use the emergency parachute myself (since such luck can't last for long!)."

The safety controls Walsh mentioned are a tiny part of the more advanced fly-by-wire systems I suppose to be in use in the Rangers' times.


Fanfic

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