The Tower Knows

Last week, a writer friend and I took a research field trip to the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base.

The museum features all sorts of fun stuff, like a hangar of planes and plane parts; a display of historical flags; exhibits on the  Berlin Air Lift and aerial refueling; another very cool display of military ribbons. Up close, the Purple Heart is a beautiful piece of art, moving to see in a display case.

There is an observation tower so visitors can get a view of the air field and an overhead visual of the outdoor collection of aircraft, including a now-retired Air Force 2. There were some BIG planes.

Here’s a photo of my friend climbing into a C-141 Starlifter, a “workhorse” craft from the 1970s into the early 2000s.  This plane could haul “103 litters for wounded, 13 standard pallets, 205 troops, 168 paratroopers, or an equivalent increase in other loads.”

Did I mention it was big?

Climbing into the empty Starlifter was creepy. Climbing up to the control tower exhibit was…oh, uplifting, shall we say?

The Museum’s control tower exhibit is a former working tower used at Dover AFB from 1956 until 2009. The exhibit tower is 39 feet tall. When it was in use, it was 103 feet tall.

Across the airfield is the new control tower. It’s a mile away. It’s 128 feet tall, and according to our tour guide Bill, is the newest control tower in the Air Force.

From the exhibit tower, you can hear radio chatter from the working control tower. We watched a “heavy” (AF lingo for big-ass plane) take off. Bill explained the pilot has about 40 seconds to get the aircraft out of a dead halt to airborne. We timed a few planes as they took off. From our bird’s eye view, 40 seconds is not long.

Speaking of birds, Bill also informed us that birds are dangerous little creatures and a single snow goose could take down a heavy.

Bill also told us the Control Tower is aware of every plane, every vehicle, every person on the air field. The tower controls who goes where, and who doesn’t go where.

“The tower knows all,” said Bill.

“Ooh,” said my writer friend and I at exactly the same time.

If you are a writer, you can’t hear a statement like “The tower knows all” without thinking of fictional ways to test that.

Which we did all the way home. I suspect my next story will feature a pilot. A pilot doing something bad, of course, but it’s not wholly his fault. I think he found himself thrust into a situation he can’t escape, and now he’s got to get…something…past the tower because if he doesn’t….something…bad will happen to someone he loves.

Hm. See how that happened? One little comment and now I have a pilot between a rock, a hard place, and an all knowing-all seeing Control Tower.

Where’s your next field trip? What was your last one? Did you hear any innocuous statements that sent your writer’s curiosity into a frenzy?

Wherever it is, beware of snow geese.


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