Sunday, August 10, 2008

What I did on my birthday ...

... well, slightly earlier than my birthday, which hasn't happened yet.

Above is a 1940s-era AT-6 Texan dual-cockpit aircraft used to train pilots during World War II. More than 15,000 were built from the 1930s on, and apparently a lot of them are still flying, under private ownership. A couple weekends back I paid to fly in one for a half hour out of the Robert Miller Airpark in Berkeley Township, N.J., in the middle of the Pine Barrens. Though I'm not a pilot, I've always had a fascination with WWII aviation, so I figured this was a chance to get a taste of what it was like (without someone shooting at you).

The Texan is a big, loud, powerful machine. The student sits in the front cockpit, with the teacher/pilot (in this case, owner/operator Ott Clermont) in the back. The one I flew in was built in 1943 and the front cockpit looked like this:

Once we were airborne and clear of the field, with the Pine Barrens a safe 2,000-feet below us, Ott let me take the stick. It was a beautiful day with no clouds or wind, so it was pretty smooth flying. I was able to bank left, straighten out and fly toward the ocean, then bank left again and fly north along the beach. It was relatively simple, especially since all I had to worry about was the stick, as opposed to rudder, ailerons, trimtabs, etc. I was able to fly along like that for a good 15 minutes, slightly amazed at how that huge piece of machinery responded to even the slightest pressure on the stick.

I turned back toward the airport then and Ott took over the controls once more and led us through a pair of rolls and finally a complete loop. It was my first time ever flying under these conditions, and, I have to say, there's a huge difference between reading about "pullings Gs" and actually pulling them. For both the rolls and loop, the plane has to dive first to pick up speed, and then, when the maneuver begins, the G-forces pin you back in your seat. This is especially true of the loop, where you're flying vertically and then suddenly upside down and weightless at the apex, before coming back down the other side. My breakfast stayed down, but my legs were a little spongy for a couple hours afterward.

Ott brought us in for a beautiful landing and the whole thing was over before I knew it. I was a little drymouthed, but it was a lot of fun. Next time though, I want to do an Immelman.

Out of town with little internet access for the next two weeks, so no blogging until I get back. Some people have been asking me about the ongoing situation at The Star-Ledger, but I've been trying to avoid getting into too much of that here, especially since there isn't much in the way of further news. More when I get back though.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Somewhere in the swamps of Jersey

 A dark day in the newsroom this week, but I'm not going to dwell on that. Some additional thoughts on it from Editor & Publisher here.

This week also brought three Springsteen shows at Giants Stadium, two of which I got to attend. They'll likely be the last ones at the venue as well, since it's scheduled to be demolished in 2010. Rumor is the Meadowlands arena - currently dubbed the Izod Center - is on the hit list as well.

Thursday's show was delayed for an hour by what, in retrospect, was a very Jersey event - a propane tanker overturned that afternoon on the N.J. Turnpike, on the exit ramp that led to the Meadowlands. Traffic was backed up for miles and diverted to neighboring roads which also quickly backed up as well. The concert started at 9:30 and ended at an amazing 12:40 a.m., non-stop with no intermission.

A great show, with some real surprises ("Light of Day," Pretty Flamingo"), but the Ledger's Jay Lustig sums it all up better than I. You can find his reviews here, as well as interviews he did with various E Street Band members here.

Even better are these videos from, which came directly from the concert video feed Thursday:

More can be found here.

And in case you've ever wondered why so many of the best seats to in-demand shows never make it to the public but end up on StubHub and eBay at 5 to 10 times their face value, some clues can be found here. But hey, it's Jersey, folks.