If I die in a combat zone
Box me up and send me home.
Lay my head upon my chest,
Tell the girls I’ve gone to rest.
Tambo, tambo, it’s been said
What’s fifty dollars if you’re dead?
Dark clouds floating in the sky,
I wonder, Lord, when I will die.
— From Jody, the marching song of the US Army airborne troops.
What’s it like to knock down an enemy aircraft?
“Think of the best piece of ass you ever had. I mean the best — the one that drained your lizard for a week. It’s better.”
— Joe Heywood. Taxi Dancer
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
— John Gillespie Magee, Jr. High Flight
Airsports. Nothing finer, you’re up there at two-thousand, you’re God, just open up the flexies and watch it pee, nail those slime to the paddy wall, nothing finer, double back and get the caribou.
— US gunship pilot during the Vietnam War.
The rotor-thud of a helicopter, the one sound I know that is both sharp and dull at the same time.
— Michael Herr. Dispatches
It was incredible, those little ships were the most beautiful things flying (you had to stop once in a while and admire the machinery), they just hung there above those bunkers like wasps outside a nest. “That’s sex,” the captain said. “That’s pure sex.”
When a pilot is hit, the first thing he does, if the plane hasn’t exploded under him, is say “Lead’s hit,” or “Two’s hit.” But when a jock screws up… and knows he can’t pull out enough to avoid hitting the ground, he almost always says “Ah, shit,” in a long-drawn out, low key way. It’s never a scream. You hear the same phrase in Japanese or German or French. “Baka”, “Scheisse”, “Eh merde”. It’s a hell of a thing to hear. There’s everything you’ve ever wanted and lost in life packed into that one phrase.
— Mark Berent. Rolling Thunder
All the wide sky
Was there to tempt him as he steered towards heaven,
Meanwhile the heat of the sun struck at his back
And where his wings were joined, sweet-smelling fluid
Ran hot that once was wax.
— Translated from Ovid’s Metamorphoses
A helicopter assault on a hot landing zone creates emotional pressures far more intense than a conventional ground assault. It is the enclosed space, the noise, the speed and, above all, the sense of total helplessness. There is a sense of excitement to it the first time, but after that it is one of the more unpleasant experiences offered by modern war.
— Philip Caputo. A Rumor of War
…Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward; for there have you been and there you long to return.
— Leonardo da Vinci
Do not despair
He sleeps as sound
As Johnny underground.
Fetch out no shroud
And keep your tears
For him in after years.
Better by far
To keep your head,
And see his children fed.
— John Pudney. For Johnny
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
— WB Yeats. An Irish Airman Foresees His Death