NEBRASKAland July 2016

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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Page 66 of 79

JULY 2016 • NEBRASKAland 67 I 've been fascinated with flying since I was a kid. How does that work? A machine up in the sky? To this day I'm not convinced machines can really fly. But they do and I always wanted to be a part of that wonder. As soon as I was old enough, I joined the Civil Air Patrol, hoping of getting into an airplane, even if it was only a stinking C-119 "Flying Coffin" or tiny Korean War era reconnaissance two-seater. Then it was Air ROTC at UN-L, the Nebraska Air National Guard, ostensibly to fulfill a seven-year military obligation but actually still with the hope of wangling more rides in flying machines. Any kind of flying machines. Refuelers, T-6 and T-33 trainers, C-45s, whatever had wings and a pilot. While others dozed during ROTC classes and CAP meetings where aerial combat films were shown, I sat in the front row, riveted to the screen, pulling imaginary Gs, dodging Stukas or MIGs, firing the 50-calibers or rockets air-to-ground or air-to-air. Despite what seems to be the best efforts of commercial airlines to destroy the pleasures of air travel, I'm still the guy in the window seat with his nose pressed against the window, especially when over Nebraska, looking for telltale landmarks. Especially that big W in the Middle Loup River northwest of Grand Island, where our home is. Linda knows I'm not reliable when running errands around here when the air is still and aerial applicators – spray planes – are in action. She knows I'll be sitting somewhere on a gravel road watching the fantastic gymnastics of a twisting, swirling plane, dodging power lines and silos, probably gathering corn silk in the wheel housing. To get into the air, I've taken on strenuous, even dangerous, assignments in high risk areas like northern Greenland, Bosnia and even Texas! One of the most glorious days of my life was spent in an F-16 over Nebraska, coming in low enough over this place, Linda later reported, that the dogs retreated into the house and she dropped to her knees. I was in my glory. All of which came back to me a couple days ago when Linda and I were sitting on the back patio, enjoying a pleasant afternoon, contemplating our good fortune in living in such a beautiful place when suddenly, with no warning, aerial warfare broke out right before our eyes and all those old war films and flying experiences came rushing back to me. You have read here before that I have a special affection for crows, as seen in the August/September 2012 NEBRASKAland story "Just Be Caws – Speaking of Crows." Actually for all birds and wildlife but especially for the family of six to seven crows (the number depends on which cousins or uncles happen to be visiting) that are long residents of this place. I know them by their calls and by their sometimes unpleasant temperaments and this day, it seemed, was a day when they were at their most ferocious and ready for all-out combat. Crows aren't the only ones who claim this territory and today the red-tailed hawk that often sits in the big cottonwood between our house and river did something to rile my crow friends and they were in full "mobbing" mode. The battle was on. The spectacle and noise was amazing. It was Sopwiths versus Fokkers, Zeros and Hellcat Corsairs. MIGs vs. F-80 Sabres. Swirling, attacking, diving in the most intricate dog fight moves from more than a century of aerial combat. I believe the redtail just pulled an Immelmann! That was a Thech Weave! And a Double Loose Deuce! The swirling fighters attacked the larger craft from above and behind to avoid the tail gunner's range of vision. It got to the point where I anticipated telltale oil smoke coiling behind the hawk! Maybe it was just a few plucked feathers, the detritus of falling shell casings. For a while I thought I heard the rattle of machine guns but it turned out only to be the hawk's defiant scream and the raspy angry snarl of the attacking crows .50 caliber guns. Ok, they were just growling their ugliest snarls but it might just as well have been nose guns. Whew! The U.S. Air Force could do worse than study the aerial combat that goes on in our backyard, if they haven't already. By the time the hawk retreated up river and the crows returned triumphant to their usual perches and their nasty rasp-calls calmed down I was exhausted and Linda was looking at me funny. Again. "What were those sounds you were just making, Rog? Did you swallow something wrong?" "Nope. Linda, that was just Snoopy and the Red Baron duking it out over the trenches in France and me being a wing man, fighting off the accursed Bosh," I explained. And they say there's nothing to see in Nebraska. ■ Roger Welsch is an author, humorist and folklorist. He has written for NEBRASKAland Magazine since 1977. Aerial Combat in Nebraska Skies By Roger Welsch Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated with flying.

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