It was one of those inscrutable thunderstorms that threatens to quit and then suddenly intensifies. Everyone was down and mostly put away, and those with any sense had already run inside leaving sweet Juliet our prized 2-32 still out there with one wing pointing at the sky. So I decided to make a show of securing her by myself.
The ’32 is a beast, but a full sized adult can handle one alone on any smooth surface, simply if not easily, by tying one stick back with the harness, using the all-flying tail (held way inboard!) as a handle and pulling her backwards. Arranging that, however, would mean opening the canopy and letting in rainwater that would fog it for a week. I decided to just take a big breath and push straight backward from the nose. That works too, it’s just harder and takes longer because the tailwheel’s down, and on grass it digs in. Warm as it was, getting drenched would be a feature as they say, not some kind of metaphorical insect. Think of it as a zesty swim without the nudity!
I’d been too busy flying to mow recently and high grass concealed the tie down spot, so as I leaned into ‘er my eye was on the windsock a few yards beyond. Then almost there, with both hands and much of my thorax spread all over a big metal cross – X marks the spot – lightning struck that windsock.
Can’t say if it was static electricity, some neurological spasm, or just good old fashioned fright, but every hair stood straight out on end (and back then I had plenty of it).
Poor Juliet was again left to her own fate as I sprinted for shelter. Of course once lightning hits there’s less reason to flee that particular location, but I was already at full speed before thinking of that. As I ran toward our little terminal building, its wide window on the ramp filled with laughing faces of all my alleged friends. I was tempted to rush on inside and shake off on everybody like a wet dog, but instead pulled up outside and stood there hands on hips, smiling in the rain. “Who’s gonna come help me take care of Juliet?”
Soon one, then another, and eventually all emerged, embraced the refreshing downpour and learned another lesson in doing things the right way.
Those same years, I lived in each of two very different ski lodges a mile apart, atop Vermont’s highest mountain. Zappy memos from the Almighty are common up there, naturally, some of which I witnessed within less than a hundred feet. One split a half grown spruce outside my bedroom window, which survives to this day as sad and mangled twins. Another strike very nearly caught me personally — and I was indoors!
We’ll explain that one next time we talk. It’s not a story about flying per se, but mountaintops share some obvious relation, and any pilot who’s not curious about lightning… should be.