Weirdest geology lectures ever: Part 1
The recent trailer for the movie “San Andreas” reminded me of a funny story and one of the two oddest geology talks I’ve ever given… I was headed to Camarillo CA to MMS to look at some seismic profiles, and a few days before leaving I found an obscure ad in a local flying publication offering dual instruction in a Hawker Gnat Mk. T.1. I’m a pilot, and like to try new things, but had to look up what a Hawker Gnat was exactly…. When I found out, I called the guy and signed up as fast as I could… Turns out a Hawker Gnat is a mid 1970’s jet, a supersonic jet no less with full dual controls! “The guy” turned out to be Skip Holm, 5 time winner of the Reno Air Races, three tour Vietnam F4 jock and and Stealth fighter pilot. He did the flying in the movie “Hot Shots” which used several Gnats with “The Navy” painted on the sides. (there’s some geology coming up..really).
Several of these jets had been surplussed from the RAF and sold to American doctors and lawyers. Previously some of them had flown with the Red Arrows, the RAF equivalent of the Blue Angels. Skip was the only guy with a letter of authorization to instruct these owners, and was selling instruction by the hour, basically for the cost of the fuel, an unbelievable deal. So when I got there, Skip, who was still in the Reserves at the time, said “this thing doesn’t have much gas, so we can basically do two things, either go out to Edwards and make a boom (go supersonic), and come right back outa gas, or do ~ 45 minutes of acro over the Mojave and come back outa gas”. Being still in the military, he could get permission for supersonic flight over Edwards, the only place in the US where you can do that. Cool as it would be, Mach 1 is now just a number on a dial, so I went for the acro. So we took off in this very little jet (you can look down into the cockpit standing on the ground). It was astounding, we climbed out at a 30-40 degree angle to stay under the 25o knot speed limit (under 10,000 ft in most of the world). To get to 10,000 ft took like a minute or two I think. We headed north from Van Nuys over the mountains to the Mojave…. On the way there, Skip says “do you hear that?” Confused, I said “what?” As if I would know anything about the sound the Gnat should or shouldn’t make… He thought the gear doors maybe had not closed all the way. “Roll us inverted and I’ll cycle the gear” he says, thinking that cycling the gear inverted might work. I’d had one acro flight in my life, but there you go, so I took the stick and over we went and held the nose up with some forward stick while Skip started the gear extension cycle. Turns out this is very slow in the Gnat so we were just hanging there when I looked up (down) and saw were were over the San Andreas fault, very clearly obvious… He noticed it too and said “hey you’re a geologist, isn’t that the San Andreas Fault?” “Why yes it is….” and proceeded to point out the evidence for right offset stream drainages and topography etc. Oxygen mask and all, I gave a nice little talk on the San Andreas. Apparently I was boring Skip because when the gear cycle was done and he said ” Well that’s enough of that shit, lets go flying” He took the stick back and pulled to the vertical, rolled 180 and down we went to the town of Mojave. He started cackling and said “they can’t see us over here!” We were now behind the mountains, and the LA controllers couldn’t see us….By the time we got there at 98% power (a few seconds), we pulled out pretty dang low at nearly 500 knots and buzzed the town… We proceeded to have a great time doing acro over the desert, I got to fly some of it… Was awesome beyond words, and pretty quiet, you could hear wind noise on the canopy while the engine was sort of a hum. Much quieter than a piston airplane, most of the sound was behind us. All too soon we headed back… We taxied in with the low fuel light glowing, and shut down, so ending my very favorite geology lecture ever! I see Skip at the Reno Races some years (he had a winning streak in Dago Red quite a few years running and holds the lap record at 507 mph) and for some reason he still remembers the “geology guy” who almost (but not quite) hurled in the Gnat while talking about the San Andreas Fault.