Friday, June 26, 2009

Goodbye Michael, Goodbye

Michael Jackson is dead.

That's why I keep this blog; to bring you late-breaking news like that, which I'm certain you haven't yet heard about anywhere else.

Love him or hate him, no-one can deny that Jackson was a controversial person who will not soon be forgotten. Even his fans and admirers have to admit that the man had more than his share of oddities. Even at the height of his popularity, during the nineteen-eighties, there were those who joked about his outlandish outfits and his infamous single "glitter glove". He seemed dissatisfied with his own appearance, subjecting himself to plastic surgery on several occasions. I've always suspected, and still do suspect, to this day, that his freakish appearance at the time of his death was largely attributable to negative side effects from his earlier plastic surgeries.

Then there was his pet monkey, Bubbles, his hyperbaric oxygen chamber, urban myths that he himself encouraged, such as his alleged purchase of John "The Elephant Man" Merrick's remains... the list goes on and on. Eventually we cross the line from mere eccentricities into dangerous and even sinister behavior. His infamous dangling of his son over the edge of an apartment balcony was ill-considered, at best and, of course, everyone is aware of the accusations of pedophilia and child molestation. To this day, there are those who suspect that Jackson merely bought his way out of those charges.

Say what you will about the man, however, I submit that, when it came to pop music, he had an undeniable talent that ranked among the very best. His songs were unfailingly catchy and his signature dance moves were amazing to behold. Almost every single track on his 1982 album, Thriller, ranked high on the charts and the album as a whole remains the best-selling ever. I suspect there exists nary a North American household that doesn't have a copy of Thriller stashed away on some neglected shelf somewhere, usually right next to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

So goodbye, Michael. Thanks for the music, and may you finally rest in peace. May you be remembered as you deserve to be, for your talent, rather than for your eccentricities.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I've talked about everyone in my immediate family on this blog, except for my dad. Today being Fathers' Day, I think it's time to correct that omission.

Anton Halma ("Tony" to those who knew him well) was born in Yugoslavia in 1938 to a very large, very poor family. He grew up with eight siblings, and had seven others that died during their infancy and yet two more that were stillborn. The eight that he grew up with included just one brother and seven sisters. Having grown up with only a sister myself, and having now a family in which I am the only male member, I can testify that this fact, in itself, qualifies him for sainthood.

When the second world war engulfed Europe, Tony's family was forced to leave Yugoslavia. They immigrated to Austria, gypsy-style, in a horse-drawn wagon when he was just six years old.

The fact that he came from a family with neither money nor social standing always bothered Tony, not because of a desire for wealth but because the way in which he and his family were perceived by the surrounding community was important to him. If I learned only one thing from my father, it's that one cannot disassociate oneself from one's family. He always believed strongly that a person is judged largely by his or her family and, conversely, a person's actions reflect on his or her family. Because of this, he determined at an early age to rise above his modest pedigree.

This meant getting an education, even though his parents, being simple farming folk, didn't see the value in doing so. His father and mother felt that their childrens' time was better spent helping with the farming chores rather than learning "useless" facts at school.

It also meant staying mindful of his appearance and ensuring that his clothes were always clean and presentable. Again, because his family was so large and of such meagre means, his siblings' clothing was often stained, worn and even torn. Tony was fussier. Sometimes, after his mother washed his clothes, the shirt collars would come out somewhat rumpled. When they did, he would throw the shirts back into the laundry and insist that she do them again.

This is not to say that he didn't have a mischievous or even rebellious side. Many years later, he became a maintenance mechanic for a local manufacturing business. During the 1980's recession, the company fell on hard times. As always happens during such periods, the workers became somewhat jittery and rumors abounded. One day, just to exacerbate the situation, Tony and one of his workmates installed a little black box with a blinking red light just over the doorway in the company cafeteria. It did absolutely nothing but several of the workers predictably assumed that it was a closed-circuit camera which management was using to spy on its workforce. The whole thing mushroomed into a major incident before management had the offending black box removed. Needless to say, they never did learn who installed it. I learned this story from my mother, long after the fact. My father lead by example, and was not one to boast to his children about getting away with a silly prank that might have cost him his job, had he been caught.

Tony first met my mother on a ship when he was 17 years old and she was 14. She was on a school field trip with her classmates, and he was in his apprenticeship and traveling on work-related business. Mom and her classmates had strict instructions from their teacher not to fraternize with any strange boys but mom apparently ignored those instructions. She's still much like that today.

After that meeting, they didn't see each other again for five years, as she lived in Vienna and he in Styria and the two were a good six-hour train ride apart. He was apparently taken with her enough, however, that they continued to write each other for a while thereafter, although the letters became fewer and farther between as time passed. Still, five years later, he decided to visit her in Vienna. She had given him her address during their first meeting but the street name was long and not easily remembered (Antonjägergasse or something like that) but Tony remembered it. Fortunately, she had not moved in the meantime. The rest, as they say, is history.

A few years after he married my mother, Tony decided that he wanted a better future than Austria seemed to offer, so he began making plans to move to North America. Like many Europeans, he first considered the United States of America, but Canada's immigration policies proved friendlier and he wound up in Ontario. He came alone at first, and was followed shortly thereafter by his best friend, Adolf ("Adi") Malley. He left my mother and my sister and me behind in Austria because he didn't want to uproot his family until he was reasonably certain that things would work out.

He arrived in Toronto, destined for Kitchener but spent two days at the Toronto bus station because, since he didn't speak any English, he couldn't figure out at which platform he could find the bus to Kitchener. After two days, he finally bumped into someone who spoke his language and was able to point him in the right direction. Upon arriving in Kitchener, he almost didn't want to get off the bus because the first business he saw was called "Waterloo Trust", so he thought that he was in Waterloo. Someone had to reassure him that he was in the right town. Once in Kitchener, he stayed with some friends who already lived there until he could find a job and live independently.

This single aspect of my father's life has always been the most amazing to me. It must have taken an incredible amount of courage to leave his family and set out for a distant country where he had few contacts, no immediate prospects and couldn't even speak the language. Yet he did it, and succeeded. He and Adi found work, bought a two-story house together and then sent for their respective families. My family occupied the main floor of that house and the Malleys lived on the upper floor for five years after arriving in Canada, until the Malleys had finally saved up enough money to sell back their half of the property to dad and buy their own home.

Shortly after settling in Canada, Tony tried to start his own display sign business. He purchased stacks of bristleboard, both black and white, and pre-printed letters with adhesive backing. Any graphics that were needed he drew or painted by hand and, although he was no Rembrandt, he had a reasonable amount of artistic talent. Unfortunately, the sign business never quite took off and, several years later, I found myself with access to a large surplus of unused bristleboard, which I happily used for making models and posters and such.

Originally, my mother and father had not planned to stay in Canada indefinitely. They had thought to build their fortunes for five years and then return to Austria. After five years, however, Canada suddenly felt more like home than Austria did. They also hadn't considered my sister and me, who were in school by that time and had already become acclimatized to the Canadian way of life and had established our own friendships. They decided that it would be fair to us to uproot us and take us back to Austria which, by this time, was an alien culture to us.

In childhood, I never felt quite the same bond with my father as I did with my mother. Dad's parenting style was more or less "hands off". He was the breadwinner who went away to work every day and kept us fed, clothed and sheltered. He left the care and raising of my sister and me largely to my mother.

That included discipline. Mom would spank us when we misbehaved but she also stressed that no-one except for her had any right to hit us, by which she meant other adults, such as school teachers, some of who were not above resorting to corporal punishment from time to time in those days. Dad hardly ever spanked us but mom still laughs when she recalls one of the rare occasions when I misbehaved enough that he did give me a smack on my behind. I immediately looked at my mother and asked "Is he allowed to do that?"

Just as he neared retirement, dad developed medical problems which forced him to take long term disability leave. In fact, he never returned to work. It was discovered that leukemia was the underlying cause of many of his medical symptoms. He was treated by an Oncologist and was in and out of hospital over a period of 1½ years before finally succumbing to the disease in October of 2003. He was 65 years old, having just recently officially retired earlier that year. One of my biggest regrets is that dad didn't have more time to enjoy his retirement years in reasonably good health. He spent his life working and never quite got to enjoy a well-earned rest during his twilight years.

The greatest testament to the kind of person dad was can be found in the way that the hospital nursing staff regarded him. He was well-liked by all of them. One of the nurses even came to his visitation at the funeral home to pay her last respects. I'm certain that hospital nurses see plenty of their patients pass away in any given year and they can't possibly have the time to attend many visitations or funerals. Dad must have made a significant impression on this particular nurse that she took the time to do so. He certainly had his rough edges, but he was a basically good man, and other people instinctively saw this in him.

As for myself, I'm very different from my father in many ways. He was mechanically adept and a handyman. I, not so much. He enjoyed outdoor recreation such as hunting and fishing. I prefer indoor pastimes and am a fan of science fiction and fantasy, neither of which ever interested dad. You would never have caught him blogging, even if he had been computer literate or known how to type. He tried to teach himself once retired, but never met with much success. Yet, for all our differences, there are many times when I do feel his influence on my thoughts, attitudes and beliefs. To quote William Shakespeare, "He was a man, take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again."

Happy Fathers' Day, Tony, wherever you are.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Gallows Humor

My place of employment has fallen on hard times. The company has had to seek protection from its creditors. Many people confuse this with filing for bankruptcy. I want to state, unequivocally and for the record, that the company has not filed for bankruptcy. It's one step away from filing for bankruptcy.

I see this type of "gallows humor" among those few of us who remain employed there an awful lot these days. For example, Scott Adams recently published this Dilbert comic (which I have linked to on rather than pasting here for you to read, because the last thing I need now is to be sued by a millionaire cartoonist) whose chief humor comes from how eerily close the depicted scenario is to the situation at my office. There have, in fact, been massive layoffs over the past year. The last round came right after the company filed for protection from its creditors. Needless to say, those employees who remain are just a little paranoid about things like managers who abruptly fall silent when they (the paranoid employees) appear.

In fact, one of my co-workers had been away on long term disability (or so I thought) since just before the axe fell most recently. The similarity to the Dilbert comic ends there, though. In our case, the guy who was away got layed off anyway. Seems he wasn't technically on long term disability at all, no doubt a clever maneuver on the part of the Human Resources department, who already knew that he was in their sights.

Dilbert comics are a particularly popular source of gallows humor during times of corporate stress. Here's another one that was very popular with our accounting staff, because it was just a little too close to the truth.

Recently, somebody (whose identity I'm withholding to protect the guilty) circulated the following through our inter-office e-mail:

For all you Working People and anyone else needing it...

There are times when additional support is necessary to get through a grueling day at work. Here's one suggestion.

A Master Reference binder has been created for all who may need to reference it. Inside this binder you will find solutions to everyday problems. If you are having problems with the photocopier, having difficulty dealing with co-workers , having computer problems...please come and get the red binder and it will help you through your issue. You may refer to the red binder as often as you wish.

Use the red binder for all is guaranteed to make you stress-free and relaxed.

We don't just rely on outside sources for our dark humor. One day last week, everyone was working away as usual, when all the lights suddenly went off. One of our accountants immediately shouted "Uh, Barb, could you pay that invoice now, please?"

Our Network Administrator, Randy, was one of those who were recently layed off. All of the most recent layoffs are technically temporary 13-week layoffs, another wily maneuver by our Human Resources department, designed to postpone the company's obligation to pay severance to those affected, which it would be obligated to pay if the layoffs were permanent, although everyone knows that none of these people are coming back.

I recently sent an e-mail about a red binder (oops - did I type that out loud?) to an inter-office mailing list which still included Randy. A short while later, I received an automatic Out of Office notification from Randy, informing me that he is out of the office and will be returning on August 31 - exactly 13 weeks from the day that he was "temporarily" layed off. Now, Randy isn't naiive enough to actually believe that he will be recalled at the end of August. He's just that witty (not to mention sarcastic).

Speaking of automatic Out of Office notifications, some things that make me laugh aren't necessarily intended to be funny. My boss told me recently that our CEO (a new guy, who replaced the previous CEO right after the company filed for creditor protection) complained about our inter-company e-mail system. We don't use Microsoft Outlook. When you set up an automatic Out of Office notification on our system, it is necessary to manually turn it back off again upon returning to the office, else anyone e-mailing you continues to be told that you are out of the office, even after you've returned. This annoyed the new Head Honcho, who was used to using Outlook which, apparently, turns off its Out of Office notifications automatically on the appointed return date.

Now, this guy is at the helm of a company which is under government protection from its creditors and may be a heartbeat away from insolvency, and his biggest concern is that he has to manually disable his Out of Office notification??? I'm sorry, but I can't help but find that hilarious.

Okay, maybe I'm being unduly pessimistic, but I've been through this situation before with another company some years ago, and it did not end well. Incidentally, I do not work for General Motors, unfortunately, otherwise I'd be much more optimistic of my prospects. In fact, I'd be laughing all the way to the bank, and screw you other taxpayers anyway. I didn't pay into my pension fund, and somebody has to, so it may as well be you.

On a more serious note, the real tragedy, in my humble opinion, when a going concern does fail, is that the last few employees remaining when the ship finally sinks are the brightest, the hardest-working, the most dedicated and the most indispensable people that the company had in its employ, and I'm not just saying that because I seem to be one of them. Let's face it; those people are still there after everyone else has been cut because they truly make a contribution that the organization cannot afford to do without. Unfortunately, if the company ultimately declares bankruptcy, they're also the ones who get screwed, being sent to the unemployment lines with no severance and, in some cases, without even the full pay still owed to them. The secured creditors come first. Sucks to be you.

This is not meant to reflect negatively on those who have been laid off. Many good people have been let go and I believe that many organizations, during troubled times, fall into the trap of cutting too deeply. But those who were laid off earlier were at least given severance packages to help cushion the blow. The most recent victims, as well as those who remain, may not be so lucky.

Those fellow employees of mine who remain with the company are the salt of the earth. I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for every one of them. There's Harve, the Pay Master, who has over 30 years with the company and has already been given notice that he's to be layed off this summer because payroll is being outsourced. I could understand if he were bitter and resentful. I could certainly understand if he stopped giving a damn and just coasted through his remaining time doing as little as possible. Yet he still carries out his duties in a competent and professional manner. More than that, he's been patiently passing along his knowledge and experience to the Human Resources department, which will be assuming some of his duties.

There's Jo-Anne, one of my fellows in the MIS department, whose organizational skills, understanding of the business and its needs and calm, patient manner with users calling the Help Desk, leaves me feeling envious of her more often than I'd care to admit. During a recent MIS department meeting with the Restructuring Officer, Jo-Anne sincerely and selflessly asked him to consider her if there were to be any more cuts in MIS, because she'd prefer unemployment over having to work with even fewer of her remaining colleagues.

There's Tina, our feisty, petite credit manager who spends her days on the phone with delinquent customers, many of whom don't always address her exactly cordially, and yet retains a healthy sense of humor and a peppy demeanor.

There's Craig, a relatively recent addition to our Finance department who ... well, what doesn't Craig do? People are in and out of his office all day long looking for information, advice, the solution to some problem, or all of the above. He's so rarely wrong about anything that the our International Controller actually noted the date and time on her white board on one of the rare occasions that he was mistaken. "Craig was Wrong", read the notice, "June 8, 2009 - 3:12 pm".

There's Erin, our Sales Controller, who just recently returned from maternity leave, was immediately promoted and fills the thankless role of liaison between upper management, the Sales department and MIS.

The list goes on and on. I've chosen to mention only a very few examples because this is a blog, not a novel. However, if you're a co-worker of mine and are reading this (as I know that some of my co-workers do - outside of office hours, of course!) know that you're aces in my book, whether or not I've mentioned you by name. If the worst should eventually come to pass, I will miss you all dearly.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The U/C Airplane Follies

My profile, as well as some of my previous posts, tell you that I'm an aviation enthusiast. I love flying, and I love airplanes. I prefer airplanes to helicopters. Admittedly, helicopters seem much more versatile than airplanes, but there's a certain aesthetic beauty to an airplane, its clean, streamlined contours and the way that its wings are outstretched to embrace the sky. Helicopters, by comparison, tend to look like bulbous, squat, ungainly beasts; noisy, flying egg-beaters. If Don Quixote had ever seen one, he would surely have jousted it full-tilt.

Sadly, I'm not a pilot but I compensate for this by filling every empty nook and cranny of my life with airplanes. I surround myself with airplane pictures and airplane calendars. My computer's desktop wallpaper and screen saver often feature photographs of airplanes. I spend a fair bit of time flying Microsoft's Flight Simulator on my home PC. I've taken a couple of introductory flights in small Cessnas over my home town and, for the past few years, I've gone soaring in gliders at least once each summer. In both cases, I've taken the controls for brief periods. In the winter, I wear a small bush plane pin on the lapel of my jacket. I also collect toy airplanes, and airplane models and miniatures. Some of those toys and miniatures have flown.

When I was about 13 years old, my dad bought me a U/C Cox P-40 Warhawk. U/C is an acronym for "U-Control", meaning a miniature flying airplane that's tethered to the flyer by a pair of strings. On the flyer's end, the strings are attached to opposite ends of a small control handle that the flyer holds in his hand. On the airplane's end, the strings are attached to opposite ends of a moving lever, called a bellcrank. By pivoting the wrist of the hand holding the control handle with the strings attached, the flyer moves the bellcrank which, in turn, moves the airplane's elevators up and down, causing the airplane to either climb or descend. There is no lateral control since the airplane, being tethered to the flyer, simply flies around him in a wide circle.

Seems simple enough, right? If all you have to worry about is climbing and descending, how hard can it be? Well, let's just say, if you saw me trying to fly this thing, or any U/C airplane, for that matter, you'd probably agree that it's a good thing I'm only a wannabe pilot.

I recall the first time that I attempted to fly the P-40. Dad and I went to a nearby schoolyard. It was summer, and school was out, so there was plenty of space, or so it seemed. The first lesson I learned that day about U/C flying is that it's a very good idea to pace out a complete circle around the spot at which the flyer intends to stand and ensure that there are no obstacles or obstructions inside that circle.

Dad took the airplane and walked away from me with it until the control lines became taut. He then fueled up the little .049 "Super Bee" gas engine that powered the craft, attached a battery to power the glow-plug, wound back the propeller on its starter spring and let it snap back. After a couple of false starts, the little motor sprang to life. I extended the arm holding the control handle in anticipation, and gave dad the "thumbs-up". He released the airplane, and it trundled away from him, quickly gaining speed. The tail lifted from the ground and then, just as she was getting light on her wheels, they (the wheels) caught the edge of a lawn that had rudely planted itself right in my flight path.

Well, okay, thinking back on it, I'm pretty sure that the lawn was in the flight path before we ever started the engine. This is why it's so important to check for obstructions inside the flight circle. It's not enough to have a clear, flat space for the airplane to taxi along at its starting position. That clear, flat space has to continue all the way around the circumference of the flight path. In my case, it did not.

Do you know what happens when a fast-moving airplane hits an immovable obstruction with its wheel struts? Pretty much the same thing that happens when a fast-moving person hits an immovable obstruction with his shins. The wheels (or shins) stop dead, but the body that either is attached to wants to keep going. Damn you Isaac Newton! My P-40 nosed unceremoniously into the dirt, and one of the wheel struts snapped. The little propeller managed to mow a three-inch diameter of the school's lawn before sputtering to a halt. Thus was my maiden U/C flight pre-emptively aborted.

I can't suppress a rueful smile when I think about how the scene would have looked to any of our neighbors that might have glanced out their windows at the time. First, they'd have seen dad and me, proudly strutting toward the schoolyard, carrying a shiny replica of a P-40 Warhawk and then, about 15 minutes later, they'd have seen the two of us, walking the other way, somewhat more slowly, me cradling my broken aircraft and wearing a decidedly dejected frown.

I was never able to fly the P-40 again after that. Although the engine still ran and the airplane itself was still more or less airworthy (despite a nasty crack along the nose and canopy), the broken wheel strut turned out to be an impassable barrier to flight. It proved impossible to glue that spindly piece of plastic back together with enough structural integrity to support the airplane through a successful takeoff, much less a jarring landing.

Having destroyed a relatively cheap toy that was made from rugged plastic and ready to fly the moment it came out of its box, I did what seemed the only sensible thing, which was to purchase a considerably more costly flying model airplane kit made from fragile, brittle balsa wood, which would take many hours of painstakingly careful assembly before I could even attempt to crash- er, that is, fly it.

Mind you, this wasn't until years later when I was in high school (it took me that long to get over the trauma). This time, it was a German JU87 Stuka dive bomber kit designed by the Paul K. Guillow company. Coincidentally, it could be configured as a U/C model and could be powered by the same Cox .049 Super Bee engine that had powered my old P-40 and, even more coincidentally, I still had it (the motor), although the P-40 itself was long gone by then. I hadn't considered, at the time, that mounting the power plant which had belonged to my ill-fated first flyable aircraft on this new model might be inviting disaster. Perhaps the motor was cursed! Perhaps it was still possessed by the ghost of the old P-40 (a natural enemy of the JU87 to begin with, being an American airplane) and was just waiting for its chance to visit the kind of destruction that its previous host had suffered on some new and unsuspecting airframe. In hindsight, that certainly appears to be the case.

The Stuka was built alongside my best friend, Mart, who had himself purchased a model of a de Havilland Mosquito, also from the Guillow's company. Mart was, if possible, even more foolhardy than I, having chosen a two-place aircraft. Do you know what it's like trying to start two .049 Super Bee engines anything like simultaneously? These engines tend to behave like finicky lawnmower engines. Whether or not they decide to start, when turned, depends on a number of variables including the ambient air temperature, the alignment of the planets and how nicely you talk to them. One engine would start and the other would fail. Then, after several more unsuccessful attempts, the second engine would finally fire, just as the first engine sputtered out, having exhausted its minuscule fuel supply. It was an exercise in frustration, to say the least.

Mart and I spent months assembling our respective models, carefully cutting the frames and formers, painstakingly running the stringers along the wings and fuselage, connecting the bellcrank and control rods to the elevators and, finally, covering the finished skeletal structures with a delicate tissue paper skin that was then painted and strengthened with a layer of fuel-proof "dope". I wasn't content to simply build my model as per the instructions, either. Oh no! I had to add a number of my own, personal "enhancements", such as building small, box-like compartments with forward-facing grilles under each wing. My idea was to fill these compartments with talcum powder. When the airplane picked up speed, the air flowing through the grilles would blow the talcum powder out the back, simulating a stream of white "smoke" trailing behind the airplane. This gives you some idea of my overconfidence in my own abilities at the time.

For the finishing touch, I added a custom bit of paint work to my finished model. Remembering how certain pilots during the war liked to name their mounts, I painted the name "ZERSTÖRER" (German for "DESTROYER") along the nose of my aircraft.

Given all the painstaking work that we had put into our models, Mart and I didn't rush to fly them. We waited patiently for the perfect day; sunny, dry, calm and windless. When that day finally came, we again made our way to a local schoolyard; not the same one where my P-40 had made its ill-fated maiden flight, mind you. No, this time, we went to a school closer to my old neighborhood, in an older section of town, densely populated by mostly Portuguese immigrants.

Although it was again summertime and the school was again closed, Mart and I couldn't evade the notice of a number local Portuguese teenagers as we made our way to the schoolyard. When they saw the two of us, carrying our airplanes, glow fuel, batteries and crying towels (just in case), they became naturally curious and followed us. As we prepared for our flights in the schoolyard, the somewhat rowdy Portuguese kids (whom Mart later affectionately referred to as the "Julios") watched with interest from the sidelines as they shouted taunts and encouraged us with their sincere hopes that we might entertain them with some truly impressive scenes of destruction.

I went first. Having learned my lesson from the P-40 debacle, I ensured this time that my airplane had full clearance and that there were no obstructions anywhere along its flight path. Having satisfied myself of this, I once again took the control lines while Mart fueled the plane and started the engine. He released it. The aircraft rolled along, picking up speed. The tail lifted from the ground and, this time, it TOOK TO THE AIR... a little too suddenly.

Perhaps it was over anxiousness on my part, still smarting from the memory of my P-40's demise, to get those wheels off the ground. Perhaps it was simple impatience to see the fruits of my labors airborne. Whatever the reason, I had tugged on the "up" line a little too eagerly, and my Stuka leaped into the sky in a steep climb.

Alarmed by this sudden rapid gain in altitude, I over-compensated and jerked on the "down" line, immediately putting the Stuka into a steep dive toward the schoolyard's asphalt. This immediately elicited a cacophony of excited whoops and cheers from the Julios, who prepared themselves for a splendid crash.

Horrified, I jerked the "up" line, again overcompensating, causing my Stuka to pull out of its dive scant inches from terra firma and again begin a steep climb, accompanied by a sullen chorus of "Awwww's" from the Julios, which sounded not unlike the disappointed exclamation that one hears from crowds of spectators watching a professional golf tournament after the golf pro narrowly misses sinking a long putt.

Overcompensating once again, I put the Stuka back into a dive, which changed the Julios dejected "Awww's" back into hoots and cheers. It went on like that for several more minutes with my Stuka executing an undulating series of parabolas worthy of NASA's infamous "Vomit Comet", accompanied by alternating cheers and "Awww's" from the Julios.

Then, at the apex of its last steep climb, my Stuka did something completely unexpected. It winged over and came directly at me! As this maneuver brought it inside the radius of its flight path, my control lines went slack and I lost all control of the aircraft. At that point, I did what seemed the only sensible thing. I dropped the control handle and, covering my head with my hands, I ran for my very life as the Julios exploded into a gleeful chorus of cheers.

Since I had my back to the Stuka, I did not see it when it smacked into the asphalt at the very spot that I had only recently occupied. I only heard the sickening crunch of splintering balsa wood a split second before the motor was, again, ominously silenced.

The body of my P-40 had only suffered a single crack after its jarring introduction to the ground. My fragile balsa-and-tissue Stuka was not so forgiving. The entire nose section was completely shattered, with serious damage to the wings and other sections of the aircraft. As I gathered up the debris in an attempt to salvage whatever parts that might be useful in my future attempt to rebuild the airplane's shattered nose, I came across a small scrap of doped tissue paper, with a few fragments of balsa stringers still stuck to its back, on which was inscribed a single, poignant, word ... "ZERSTÖRER". I understood, at that moment, how The Third Reich must have felt in 1945.

(Click to enlarge)