After a quick lunch of (hopefully) not too greasy content, Mark and I headed out to the craft and climbed on up. There is a narrow steep 8' tall ladder that leads to a narrow lip on the side of the fuselage that led to my place about 8' behind Mark's. The cockpit was just like the simulator and made for an easy connection procedure. The sun was warm, about 95 in the shade and the lengthy preflight procedures combined with the flightsuit and myriad of harness connections could make the claustrophobic a bit on the edge but I was more excited than edgy.
Connecting up my oxygen mask indicated a problem. The mask is a very tight fit that clamps hard against the face using adjustable locks on the helmet. There are valves in the airflow mechanism that make for slight resistance to breathing in and out but the outward valve had stuck and after a good breath in I couldn't breathe out. The pressure it took to override this force would actually blow air into the ears. After a good push for a few seconds with no ability to exhale, I had to fiddle with the locks to release the mask to breathe. The equipment guru quickly ran the mask into the shop for a soaking in alcohol to free up the valve. After a few minutes we got the mask back and we were ready. (Later throughout the flight the mask often froze up in a similar manner but a sudden hard exhale would release the outward valve each time, however the slow exhale of talking usually would not free the valve and about my fifth word each time I spoke to Mark the pressure buildup would make my voice fade from lack of airflow.)
Perhaps it is the vox microphones in the mask or just the sound I could hear directly, but the sound of breathing was like turning into Darth Vader.
Keep the fingers off the rails , the canopy came down , thumbs went up and we were taxiing.
It is a lengthy roll from the NASA base to the runway at Edwards. Passing many groundbound workers I thought of how many times it was me out there looking in at that lucky dog sitting in a jet. It was surreal. Like a full color dream.
Procedures require a last visual check for leaks by Air Force personnel . It reminded me of a roadside truck weigh station. After these guys did their run around under our beast the one ran to about our 2 o'clock position about 30' away and did a thumbs up and then saluted. I had been thinking of all the friends I have in hang gliding and our comraderie. I don't know what came over me but when he saluted , for the E-teamers out there I gave him the claw.