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Flying in a Black Hawk helicopter is many things. First, it's the loudest thing you've ever done. The turbines within inches of your head howl with the fury of a semi-truck accident; you live in the down-blast of a continuous explosion of air and thunder. Second, it's the most gravity-defying thing you've ever done. The chopper doesn't fly up; the ground launches itself away, and you see the pad recede like it's being swept away over a waterfall. Third, it's the most terrifyingly delicate driving you've ever done. Flying any helicopter is like balancing on a hundred-foot spike of hard air; one slip to a side, and you could be achieving oneness with nature in the next heartbeat. Flying a Black Hawk is ten times worse than that; the thudding blades grab at the air like runaway horses, hungrily launching you in any direction you dare lean in. But fourth, it's the most exhilarating thing you've ever imagined.

The brown shrubbery rockets past your skids at almost 200 miles an hour. Your flight feels more like a long jump that you forgot to come down from rather than an aircraft following the contours of a mountain canyon. Even through your thick black flight helmet, the ricocheting sound from the hills on either side of you thumps back into you like artillery, a breathtaking reminder that instantaneous death is a handful of air away.

Lyle waits for you to notice the AH-1 Sea Cobra dropping into position behind you before pointing abruptly to a narrow side canyon. His voice is a whip-crack of static.


1/2 Helicopter check... [pass / fail]


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