Monthly Archives: September 2017

A Comment on “The Professionals” and Writing

I’m in the middle of writing Thanks for the Memories. Right now, I’m somewhere in that stage between draft one and draft two, where it gets kind of ugly and discouraging and the pieces aren’t coming together and you feel like whining and stumbling around the house with your lip pooched out, and lucky you are that She Who Must Be Obeyed isn’t home, ‘cause you’d be told to wash dishes or mow the lawn until you quit being childish.

 

Then, you read a scene, and when you finish you realize you have a piece of the true thread of the story, and that thread reaches forward and backward along the story line, and for some reason when that happened to me just now I thought of a scene in one of my all-time favorite movies.

 

If you’ve never seen “The Professionals,” made in 1966 and starring Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, and Jack Palance, put it in the slot for the next movie night. It’s a desperado film pure and simple, set against the backdrop of Mexico in 1916. There is a moment that spoke to me the first time I saw the movie, decades ago, and speaks to me even now across all the spacetime intervening.

 

What Captain Jesus Raza, played by Jack Palance, says about how one sees the revolution, is equally true about writing. I could write that scene as two writers in a bar, but that wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic. “We die [keep writing] because we are committed.” Here’s a link to a clip of that scene.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDW2FR7AChc

 

But be sure to watch the movie! It’s a classic.

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Spin Recovery in the P-39

The first time I was in a spin it was in a sailplane with very docile handling characteristics, the Schweizer 2-33. Spin recovery is a necessary skill to master in a sailplane, since you spend a lot of time turning inside a thermal a few miles an hour above stall speed. Misjudge that, let your speed drop, tighten the turn a little bit too much, and you depart controlled flight.

But not to worry, not in the 2-33. Center the controls to break the rotation, stick a little forward to pick up airspeed, and the sailplane is flying again.

That’s two pretty simple, even instinctive moves. You can do it in a second or less.

The pilot’s manual for the P-39 Airacobra sets out a recovery technique that’s a little more complicated. There are two phases, pre-recovery and recovery. In the pre-recovery phase, the pilot has to close the throttle, set the propeller control to the low RPM position, and pull the control stick into your lap. Get it? The throttle is at your left hand, the propeller control is just behind the throttle, so that’s a one-two movement as you pull the stick back into your lap.

Now remember the airplane is not in a controlled maneuver. The manual describes the spin as being oscillatory in rate. Sometimes it spins fast, sometimes it spins slow. You don’t have any control over the rate. You have to decide when the airplane is slowing down or speeding up. You have to know that because, to effect recovery, you have to apply full opposite rudder when spin is at its slowest. All this time your surroundings — clouds, ground, horizon — are spinning around you. Imagine standing on one of those old playground merry-go-rounds, right in the center, as your friends push on it to make it go faster. That’s a start on what it would be like, except this spin happens in three dimensions, not two. So you wait for the rudder to take effect and push the stick full forward while applying ailerons against the spin. The actual language used in the manual is interesting: “The spin is usually oscillatory in rate, and it is mandatory that the opposite rudder be applied when the spin is at its slowest.” I particularly like that word “mandatory.” It’s the sort of emphasis you don’t often find in a pilot’s manual.

If you follow the procedure above, “…the airplane will recover in one-half turn. If the procedure is not followed closely, the airplane may not recover.” I think the implications of that last sentence deserve examination. You must follow the procedure closely, i.e., you do exactly what the manual says, or you’re going in.

No wonder the manual begins the section on spins with the statement “Deliberate spinning is not recommended.”

Just for a little context, follow the link below, which takes you to a War Department film on spin and tumble tests in the P-39. Bell Aircraft test pilots did these tests because pilots flying the P-39 insisted that the airplane would, in the right circumstances, literally tumble end over end.  You’ll probably also see why the manual included words like “mandatory” and “closely.”

 

 

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Today in History

Today is September 1, 2017. Seventy-eight years ago World War II began, when the Nazis invaded Poland. The United States of America didn’t come in to that war until December 7, 1941, or, more technically, December 8, 1941, when Congress voted to declare war on Japan. As a side note, the US wasn’t legally at war with Germany until December 10, 1941, when Nazi Germany declared war on the US. That, despite the fact that the US Navy was in an undeclared shooting war with the U-boats of the Kriegsmarine under the so-called “Neutrality Patrol.” That “Neutrality Patrol” was a risky endeavor for the US Navy. Some of you may have heard of the USS Reuben James, DD-245, a World War 1 era destroyer sunk by a U-boat on October 31, 1941, while engaged in Neutrality Patrol duty.

The US was at war with Germany, then, from December 10, 1941, through May 8, 1945 — VE Day — not quite three and a half years. The US was at war with Japan from December 8, 1941, through August 15, 1945, when Japan ceased hostilities, even though the formal surrender wasn’t signed until September 2, 1945. So, something less than three years and nine months for us Yanks, but nearly six years to the day for the British, who declared war on Nazi Germany on September 3, 1939.

World War II, in some ways, involved every single person in the United States, Europe, Russia, and Japan. Over twenty million died. Six million of those dead were deliberately exterminated by the Nazi policy of genocide towards those deemed to be “untermenschen” — Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs, those with birth defects and subnormal intelligence. This policy of “racial superiority” painted the Nazis as enemies of humanity and civilization for all time, a stain that will never, can never, be erased.

Lesser known to us in the West are the atrocities inflicted by the Empire of Japan upon the people of China. Some scholars contend that World War II actually began in 1937, when the Japanese went to war to conquer China. The Japanese religion of Shinto taught that the Japanese were superior to all other people of the Earth. This belief, like the Nazi belief in their own “racial superiority,” enabled the Japanese military to behave with the utmost bestiality in China and during the war with the Allies in the Pacific. The total casualties of that side of the war will never be known.

World War II ended 72 years ago. The veterans of that war are mostly gone. Too soon, they will all be gone. Their memories will be lost to us. The nature of the war they fought against fascism, bigotry, and intolerance is in danger of being lost with them.

Let’s remember a time when this entire country came together with a common cause, to defeat enemies who espoused genocide and bigotry as the norm.

Let’s keep that memory alive, lest we be scorned by those who fought for us.

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