Between flights, Selby and Saechour shorten the release pins, while Davidson and Johns review the video. Johns is critical of his own flying. “The high-speed pass was too high,” he says. “The Immelmann was sloppy, and that was a wussy split S—but at least the landing flare was better.”
There’s time for one more flight today, and then the men and their wives will head off to the islands for some beachside R&R. In the few weeks before Selby airfreights the plane to Florida, he will do some cosmetic work on the aerial-refueling hatch and add a GPS-based telemetry system. The system will include a voice synthesizer that will call out various data points, such as altitude, airspeed, and engine rpm and temperature. “That way,” he says, “Ray can plot his turns and we can figure out the stall speed, which will allow us to land slower, which will look more realistic and more to scale.”
Johns taxis the A-10 back out to the runway. “Let’s make sure that we don’t go home with more pieces than we came to the field with,” he says. He pushes the throttle forward, looking confident as the A-10 screams down the runway and into a steep, arcing climb. He brings it around for the bombing run. This time, the bombs release and come down in a perfect trajectory, sinking deep into the mud at the opposite side of the runway.
He takes the plane through a military roll and a split S, then an attack approach and a half-reverse Cuban eight—maneuvers he will attempt at Top Gun to wow the judges. Selby is beaming. “Next, General Ray’s going to show you the Jimi Hendrix maneuver!” he says. “First he’ll fly it behind his back, then with his teeth.”
Johns brings the plane in for a perfect landing and taxis it over to the tarmac. As it coasts to a stop, the canopy opens, as if the pilot-in-miniature were seeking some breezy relief from the tropical sun. The turbines shut down, and Davidson pulls the video camera’s viewfinder from his eye. He walks over to Johns and Selby, his normally impassive face stretched into a grin. Looking around at his partners and then at the plane, he quietly delivers his verdict.
“Flies like an A-10,” he says.
Contributing editor Tom Clynes profiled Arctic climatologist Konrad Steffen in the August 2007 issue.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.