A Dinner of Salmon, Asparagus, and Supermechanophobia

A Mysterious Phenomenon, When Observed by a Creative Mind Living in a Culture Inundated by Fear Cues, Manifests as a Plausible Fate

There is something incredibly unnerving about watching an F-18 climb over the trees through the dining room window while making dinner. What’s more is that as I slowly left my kitchen, walking faster and faster toward my infant son—who had paused his play, because the initial sound was so intense—I momentarily wondered if an actual missile was approaching.

It had been quite some time since I’d felt adrenaline in my chest in this way—piqued by the culmination of otherwise mundane assumptions—accelerated by the fact that an actual war machine was visible through my living room window. While I am no expert in piloting fighter jets, as someone who flies much slower air-boats (e.g., single-engine aircraft like Cessnas), I can say that there were many curious factors that made me go from 0-100 in the span of a couple minutes.

First, as I was cooking, I heard something, which sounded like a jet, approaching our vicinity incredibly fast. This is of course, commonplace for many cities, but was incredibly out of the ordinary due to its increasing intensity. Normally, these types of jets are required to fly at specific altitudes (like all aircraft), and along predictable paths (like Military Training Routes, as they’re called in aeronautical manuals that describe the air traffic pathways)—and always occur within a three dimensional jurisdictions called “airspace,” which resembles an upside down wedding cake, ensuring all aircraft can coexist peacefully (more on that here).

What struck me immediately was how loud the approaching sound was, signaling to me that the craft (or whatever it was), was much lower than it probably ought-to-be, since I live directly adjacent to two international airports: San Francisco International (Class B airspace), and San Jose International (class C airspace)—the latter being one that I have personally landed at (both are incredibly well-monitored). I was bewildered as to why a jet would be flying between both international airports so low out of the blue (pun intended). As the jet approached, I started walking into my living room . . . a little concerned. I would say it was a healthy amount of concern, like hmm, that’s weird. I stood there for a second, and as the jet screamed overhead, I would estimate at somewhere ≤ 1000’ AGL (above ground level), it shook our house lightly. The jet quickly ascended and turned aggressively, which could all be seen through the trees in front of my home. I was dumbfounded. As a lifelong fan of jets, I knew this was probably an F-18, given the twin tail, “shoulders,” grey color (obviously not a Blue Angel), shape, and a bit of a guess work (F-16s seem to appear less frequently in this area). Relatedly, I’ve had a jet give me a friendly “flyby” while passing a known restricted area during routine flight training (specifically while flying near Tracy), which can happen during transit. These flybys are usually not a big deal, though I’ve heard stories of the jets nearly flipping smaller planes who ventured too close to restricted airspace and needed an adequate reminder.

Seeing the jet so close to home, so low, and so fast really spooked me. Generally speaking, aircraft are prohibited from being closer than 500’ to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure (14 CFR 91.119). When taking off and landing at local airports, pilots exercise caution not to annoy people living near the airport, and one better have a good reason when doing otherwise—especially with that much power. My wife rushed into our living room from the other room, concern on her face. She saw that I was concerned, which only escalated the situation given my slightly above average knowledge of flying craft and regulations. Baby remained unphased and continued to play happily after a brief shock from the sound and our reactions.

We pondered what could be going on. Hours before, I had read through a Hacker News thread contemplating potential causes of war that may appear inconsequential during a priori events, and all of this was compounded by the fact that San Jose is currently sitting in a post-apocalyptic haze from the worst fire in CA history. It’s so bad we can’t leave our house to go on a walk. More on that later.

I opened my door and could hear the jet in the distance, which is another curious data point. Why hadn’t it continued on to wherever it was headed? I had figured maybe a jet had left from Moffett Field (San Jose’s NASA), or Livermore to intercept something, or for some unexpected test, but was growing more concerned. I knew I was aptly primed by my previous war reading, but was standing there, in my custom grilling apron and Crocs (easy to slip-on, but not exactly something one wants to die wearing) scanning the sky, trying to listen through the dark haze from the ongoing fires. I could hear the jet in the distance, but knew it was circling for some reason. I felt an overwhelming wave of inferiority to its obvious air superiority and was well aware that if there were ever any real situation in which a jet went rogue, there would be almost nothing one could do about it. This was further compounded by my following of the airliner theft by a baggage handler at Seattle SeaTac a few months earlier. Listening to the radio chatter of the incident was incredibly heartbreaking.

I decided to go back inside as we scanned NextDoor, Twitter, and local Google news results (sorted by hour)—nothing. Strange, I thought. This is what a real incident could feel like. No build up or warning, just scrambling and reactions. It would take some time for people to sync up to deduce what was happening in their own skies. As we pondered, we heard the sound again. Another jet came flying overhead, and this one bothered me more. Why are multiple jets scrambling? Did the president finally go too far? Is there some strange event going on?

Normally, in our area, fireworks and other loud noises are prohibited—with their being highly illegal used as a primary deterrent (if only it were effective). The city is clear that fireworks could trigger the PTSD experienced by some veterans, yet people constantly set them off where I live—regardless of any special occasion. One reason that the jets confused and bothered me is that knowing how badly I was spooked, I can only imagine how much it may bother various veterans living in the area. Also, our Veterans Day Parade was the previous weekend, so why now? Is it possible low flying jets are celebrating Veterans Day in an incredibly uncouth way (based on my above observations)? Maybe it’s just me?

Nothing on NextDoor except chemtrail jokes. Sigh. This it the world we live in.

Eventually, an extended family member suggested that maybe the jets are flying over the nearby stadium for the 49ers game. As someone who doesn’t follow football, this certainly appeared to be Occam’s Razor, so much so that I would bet this were the case. I started to wonder, as we continued to hear the jets circling, why would the city orchestrate something so ostentatious and rude (it was around 5:30pm on a Monday evening), to celebrate a 49ers game? Hat’s off to them, I know how seriously people take it, but why does it require an actual show of force? Why risk triggering the entirety of the local veteran community who fought and served, directly after Veteran’s Day—a little tongue in cheek for a local ballgame, no?

It really bothered, me, but regardless of any sense of impending doom, I was most bothered by my desire to pen a letter to some official, of which I most certainly knew no correction would transpire. Final confirmation of the F-18 flyover was posted by The Mercury News (see Festivities).

For any curious minds who aren’t familiar, the term “Supermechanophobia” in the title is an air-superiority play-on-words inspired by Reddit’s Submechanophobia—which is dedicated to the fear of partially or fully submerged man-made objects. For even more esoteric frights, check out Thalassophobia—which is dedicated to fear of being in large bodies of water like the ocean.

Nick Warren

Nick is the Founder & CEO of MetaSensor, a venture-backed internet of things startup located in Silicon Valley, and a Behavioural Product Designer at Duke's Center for Advanced Hindsight (with Dan Ariely et al.). | Read Full Bio »

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