“Goose, you see a trailer?”
”Negative, Merlin. Looks like he’s a single.”
”Take it easy, Maverick. I don’t like this shit. I’m breaking high and right, see if he’s really alone."
— My friend Rick’s Facebook comment on the photo below.
Rick was quoting from the movie TOPGUN. I thought of other flying stories, like A Higher Call and Thunderbolt. Tales of chivalry on both sides. My childhood imagination, fuelled by weekly doses of “Twelve O’clock High” came rushing back. When you see a German airplane outside your cockpit window, he wasn’t there to greet you, “Guten Tag, meine Herren, dies ist ein guter Tag für mich!”
Rolf flashed past our wingtip and effortlessly arced back to our 9 o’clock.
Dogfights are won by airplanes with high instantaneous roll rates and sustained turn rates. The faster you roll, the tighter your turn, the more likely you’ll get the other guy. Energy keeps even vertical turns tight and fast. Glider pilots are masters at managing energy. Rolf flies aerobatics in gliders.
Even worse, Rolf was not flying a glider. Rolf’s D.4 Fascination looks fast even on the ground. Designed by aerobatic pilot Wolfgang Dallach, it reflects the low-slung looks of a Messerschmitt Bf-109 or Focke-Wolf 190D, Luftwaffe fighters from World War II.
German machines are engineered for purposeful efficiency — BMW motor cars, Leica and Zeiss optics, the Deutscher fußball team that deconstructed the cathedral of Brazilian football last Tuesday. German aviation pioneers have names that are famous even now: Bölkow, Dornier, Extra, Langewiesche.
So we were up against a German aerobatic glider pilot in a German airplane designed by another German aerobatic pilot. Deutschland über alles.
Carlo is a much better English Lit professor than an aeronautical engineer. He was about to get more education.
“This is a great shot, Carl, I should be a photographer!”
Rolf again pulled low to our front and crossed our path left to right. I felt Carlo roll into a right turn. Ha! Even mild-mannered English Lit professors have ruthless fighter pilots lurking inside. He was pulling lead, closing.
“C’mon, Mav, do some of that pilot shit!”
But Carl was writing checks a Cessna can’t cash.
“Are you trying to shoot me down?” Clearly, Rolf’s eyes were locked on us through that bubble canopy. Fighter pilot dictum: lose sight, lose the fight.
“He saw you Carl.”
Carlo’s determined grin stayed fixed on his face. He tightened our turn, pulling 2 Gs as the German airplane’s nose pitched up.
Suddenly Rolf arced tight inside our own turn and whipped past high above us. Carlo unloaded and rolled wings level.
“When you see a Messerschmitt, Carl, and we’re flying a truck, dive for the weeds. Where is he?”
“Behind us, Dad.”
We were toast.
Rolf’s pure pursuit curve smoothly slotted onto our tail. Ratatatat!
We went down in flames. Rolf gave us a Westphalian wave. Then he banked away, RTB.
Carlo flew down Germany’s Röhr river and skipped our bouncing bomb onto the Sorpe dam.
Except that we didn’t. We were shot down before our bomb run. We had tried to dogfight a Messerschmitt with a Lancaster bomber. If we had survived in another era, the air group commander would have banished Carlo to flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog poo out of Hong Kong.
Carlo flew a beautiful crosswind landing back at Woodland. Then we had a beer. Rolf was already working on the water heater in one of our guest rooms.
Now you know why the Sorpe dam survived the war.
Posted from Christchurch, New Zealand
11 July, 2014