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The Flare Path: Needs A Hip Replacement

A South Nevada Sky Safari

Thanks to Flanker and its successors, for the last two decades virtual Caucasians haven't had a moment's peace. The overlapping outbursts of jet engines, cannons, bombs and missiles have frayed nerves, murdered sleep, and made activities like meditation, card tower construction, and butterfly whispering all but impossible. The good news is things are about to improve for the long-suffering residents of cities such as Krasnodar and Batumi. Eagle Dynamics are in the process of trialling a new DCS World soar space. The release of an alpha build of the Nevada Test and Training Range means it's now the turn of Las Vegans to have their siestas spoiled and stucco cracked.

Flare Path Sky Tours Ltd. may not fly the newest aircraft or operate from the swankiest aerodrome (we've been based at a Boulder City parking lot since the red-tape brigade at McCarran International began insisting on public liability insurance and no smoking during refuelling) but we guarantee to take you to the places the other companies can't or won't visit. Climb aboard Hilda, our quinquagenarian Mi-8, and on your seat, along with an accident waiver form (please sign and hand to the steward, Roman, before take-off) and generously proportioned sick bag, you'll find a map showing today's itinerary.

That shuddering and the grating sound? Nothing at all to worry about. Just the, um, transverse radial sub-spindles finding their natural resonance. If you look to your left as we climb you'll see a settlement that didn't exist a hundred years ago. Boulder City was built by the US Government in 1931 to house workers constructing the nearby Hoover Dam. David Icke claims the distinctive moth-shaped street plan was an attempt by civic planner Saco Rienk de Boer to communicate with giant lepidoteral aliens.*


In a moment we'll be descending into Black Canyon and heading north. As a few of Hilda's seats have developed itinerant tendencies during recent years, gripping the nearest bulkhead or bit of cargo webbing might be sensible at this point.

Everyone tickety-boo back there? Splendid. Ladies and Gentlemen, prepare to gawp. Around the next bend is A) the widest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere and B) a 700ft-high hydroelectric reservoir bung that provides eight million Americans with power and prevents poor, homesick London Bridge from being tsunamied into oblivion.

Behold NTTR's version of the Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge and the Hoover Dam.

Under one and over the other brings us to Lake Mead, the most capacious reservoir in the US. If there's time on our homeward run I'll show you the spot where Howard Hughes almost lost his life in a 1943 flying boat crash and the place where a B-29 engaged in top secret missile guidance research pranged and sank five years later.

We fly north-west now towards Las Vegas and SHITABRICK!

Sorry. That powerline always catches me out. Bally hard to spot against the horizon haze. Now where was I? Oh yes. We're making for the 'city' of Henderson, Las Vegas' southern suburb. Henderson is another Nevada settlement that was nothing but dirt, greasewood, and scorpions a hundred years ago. It owes its existence to wartime America's insatiable appetite for magnesium. The stuff was a vital ingredient of early incendiary bombs, and combined with aluminium, it made very light, very strong aircraft skins. The vast majority of P-51s and B-17s that glittered European skies in the latter years of WW2 would have contained Mg processed in Henderson.

The 18,400 acre Basic Magnesium Inc plant was just down there. The spot was chosen because it was relatively close to ore deposits, had a major power and water source close-by (huge amounts of both were required for the electrolytic process) and was sufficiently distant from the west coast to soothe worried War Department planners.

Another manufacturing firm that chose Henderson as a home was the Pacific Engineering and Production Company of Nevada. Their plant was over yonder. PEPCON made ammonium perchlorate, the oxidizer used in the Space Shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters. On May 4, 1988 a fire broke out on site, and spread to a large stockpile of 'AP' (the drum stack had been growing since the Challenger disaster two years earlier). The resulting explosions were real mountain shakers. They broke windows ten miles away. Roman has some amazing photographs of the mushroom clouds in his folder. Looking at them it's hard to believe the disaster only claimed two lives.

Time to switch off the radio, I think. We're approaching McCarran International and their tower tends to get a bit hot under the collar when we trespass. My favourite McCarran story involves a Cessna and a pair of extraordinary amateur aviators. On December 4, 1958, Robert Timm, a casino slot machine technician, and John Wayne Cook, an aircraft mechanic, lifted off from McCarran in 'Hacienda', a specially modified Cessna 172. The plane's wheels wouldn't touch tarmac again until February 7, 1959.

Refuelled and provisioned by a speeding support truck, the pair were able to stay aloft, meandering around - and manuring - the sparsely populated Southwest for a record-breaking 64 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes. Roman is in the process of turning the Hacienda story into a screenplay. If you want to know further details, he's the man to ask.

Hang on. I'm about to execute a sharpish starboard turn. For the next five minutes or so we fly northward up the famous Las Vegas Strip.

That's the Stratosphere Tower at one o'clock (FAA concerns meant its designers had to rein in their lofty highest-freestanding-structure-in-the-world ambitions) and Nellis Air Force Base (the home of the USAF Thunderbirds) at two. Nellis grew like Topsy during WW2. Together with Indian Springs/Creech, another AFB on our itinerary, it was a key part of the USAF's gunner training programme. Many of the men that manhandled Ma Deuces in B-17s, B-24s, B-25s, and B-29s would have learnt their craft at Nellis.

You usually started out potting clay pigeons with buckshot. Show a modicum of ability and you'd eventually find yourself blazing away at speeding rail targets from the back of a turret-equipped Chevy truck. The remains of the target trackways are still visible in the desert north-west of Nellis. See those big triangles?

Feel free to doze for the next ten minutes. The run up to Creech AFB and the edge of the Nevada Proving Grounds isn't exactly gripping. Apparently, Eagle Dynamics are working on improving ground clutter. With so much of the NTTR scenery, featureless desert, it's a sagebrush initiative.

That grey shimmer in the middle-distance is Creech AFB, the airfield formerly known as Indian Springs. Today it's a hotbed of UAV research and training. In WW2 it was the place where aspiring gunners went after graduating from the turret trucks. On proving you could plug towed drogues from the backseat of a T-6 Texan, you'd finally be let loose in a real bomber.

Hmm. I'm not sure Camp Desert Rock should look quite so lively or verdant. According to Google this army village established in 1951 to billet the hapless human guinea pigs involved in the Desert Rock exercises is now nothing but scrub and concrete footings. ED are planning to add detail and extra airfields to central areas of NTTR in coming months. Here, perhaps, they need to remove some.

Breakout the Geiger counters, Roman. That last outpost was Mercury. Next stop is Frenchman Flat, the site of the America's first post-Manhattan Project continental nuclear detonation. An underground aquifer meant most subsequent atomic tests were conducted further north on – or rather under - Yucca Flat, but evidence of Frenchman's role in the atomic age is there if you know where to look. I think I'm right in saying those are the ruins of buildings constructed for blast damage assessment purposes and that geoglyph marks the spot where an M65 Atomic Cannon was emplaced during 'Grable'.

Ok Roman, time for track 4. Skinhead Moonstomp.

Hilda is now hurtling across Yucca Flat. Between 1951 and 1991, this godforsaken corner of the Silver State was shaken, scorched, and irradiated by 827 separate nuclear blasts, not all of which went according to plan. While it was the handful of atmospheric explosions that left the most memorable images...

...it was the myriad subterranean ones that created the spectacular landscape now unspooling beneath us. In a moment or two we will arrive at, and descend into, Yucca's biggest and most bizarre hellhole, the Sedan Crater.

“Digging large holes with mechanical excavators and TNT is a slow and labour-intensive business. I wonder if we could save time and resources by using buried thermonuclear devices?” It took Operation Plowshare over ten years to answer this question and the answer when it arrived was fairly predictable: “Yes. But the labour-saving benefits are probably offset by the thousands of cancers caused by fallout contamination”.

Onwards! Onwards! The most exciting destination on our itinerary is now a mere twelve miles away. Anyone mind if I play American Truck Simulator enroute?

Intrepid Flareopaths, beyond the next hill is a location that's guaranteed to knock your socks off. Heard of Groom Lake? No? How about Area 51 then? They're one-and-the-same place. Just over that brow is one of the most restricted Restricted Areas on the planet. Last time Hilda, Roman and myself rambled in this direction, we saw something parked next to one of the hangars that left us utterly speechless. Picture a 50ft-long... Actually don't picture anything. I don't want to spoil the surprise.

Not long now, folks. I'll just take us down a little lower and... SWEETJESUS!

SAM launch at two o'clock!

Speak to me, Hilda!

Ladies and Gentlemen. On behalf of everyone at Flare Path Sky Tours I'd like to apologise for the unexpected curtailment of today's tour. In the unlikely event that any of you survive the imminent impact, I hope you'll consider flying with us again, and refrain from mentioning this completely unforeseeable mishap in any TripAdvisor reviews you decide to write.


* * * * *


The Foxer

The fox at the centre of last week's foxer wore a mask and flourished a rapier. AFKAMC cornered him after an hour-long chase over the rooftops of 1840s (at a) Los Angeles.

theme: Zorro (defoxed by AFKAMC)

a. Rapier (AFKAMC)
b. Johnston McCulley (phlebas)
c. Fox (AFKAMC, Rorschach617, Beowulf, unacom)
d. Tornado (Matchstick)
e. Fray Felipe (phlebas)
f. Los Angeles (Beowulf, Matchstick)
g. Z (phlebas)
h. Juan Cortina (Llewyn)
i. Don Diego de la Vega (eeldvark)
j. Guy Williams (unsolved)

* * * * *


Foxer Fact #1009

The 1975 disco smash 'The Hustle' was originally called 'The Foxer'. Semi-professional vulpinologist Van McCoy was persuaded to change the song's title and sole lyric (”Do the foxer!”) by his record company, Avco, who were concerned about radio stations boycotts in anti-foxer states like Tennessee and Kentucky.

All answers in one thread, please.

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About the Author

Tim Stone