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Staff writer Steve Geissinger and his son, Michael, 9, pilot a P-3 Orion air tanker in the U.S. Forest Service's prototype simulation center aimed at thwarting more deadly crashes. (U.S. Forest Service)
SACRAMENTO - We could see the firestorm below - threatening homes and people - through our cockpit windows.

We could save them!

Nobody would ever know our names or employer. We'd just be an anonymous, roaring angel swooping out of the sky to douse deadly flames. We might even be banished from residents' memories as they tried to forget this hellish day.

That's just the way it works.

All we had to do was bank this giant, U.S. Forest Service P-3 Orion air tanker to the right.

Suddenly, thoughts began coming in fragments.

Jeez, mountain top dead ahead! I was going to kill myself and my co-pilot..

Quick. Pull up on the steering column? Throttle up the engines with those levers there? Feed in right rudder with my foot?

What am I forgetting? No, we're OK. Skimmed the mountain; banking right to swing back over the wildfire.

Darn. Remember to check the guage checkerboard! No time. Gotta drop down toward that fire, fast.

What was that on the radio about where to release; about other air traffic? Too many people talking, like party babble. Somebody say veer away? Na.

We're going to sweep across that fire now. Otherwise people will die horrible deaths. Flames will erase irreplaceable memories of lost loved ones.


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Some newly homeless girl will cry herself to sleep saying, ``Who took fluffy?''

I'm into it, carried away, a reporter in a sophisticated new aerial firefighting simulation center with my son riding as copilot during a public open-house unveiling.

But the plane is too high. Get lower. Don't crash! But the retardant will be ineffective at this altitude.

Too late. Punching the drop button. Blast it!

Others will have to do my job.

And they do, in real-life situations, every summer day. They are real pilots, real heroes, in old planes, flying under what seems like impossible conditions.

Tragically, sometimes they don't come back.

Contact Sacramento bureau chief Steve Geissinger and his son, Michael, at sgeissinger@angnewspapers.com.