Tuesday, April 03, 2007

BLASTOFF!

Today we had a flight going to Chicago, and there was a line of thunderstorms that denied us approach. From Chicago we were going to Springfield, and so we cut straight there in a strategic move known as the ferry flight, wherein you 'ferry' the plane with no passengers aboard. The important part here is that, during a ferry flight, the flight attendant can ride in the third seat in the flight deck.
That's right... after seven months, I've finally gotten to see life in the front office.
First off, the pilots go through a ridiculous checklist, and at ridiculous speed. It makes you feel safe and in danger all at the same time. Captain calls out queries, and the first officer calls back "Check!" and sometimes that process reverses. Very fast. Immense amount of information. I think I heard 'atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed' in there somewhere. When they got to seatbelts, the captain said, "Check left!" and the FO said, "Check right!" and then they both looked at me.
"... Check center?" I offered. And it must have been right, because they went on.
A takeoff is, like Huey Lewis said, something everyone should see. The runway is huge, and it goes on forever. It's like being the only car on a seventy-two-lane highway. We didn't hardly use any of it, because we were missing fifty people and their baggage, but the magic is leaving the ground; there's a hell of a lot of grandeur in throwing several tons of metal aircraft at the air and having it stay there through aeronautical design, piloting skills, and sheer mortal arrogance.
And you get there quick. We were up to ten thousand feet in maybe a minute. The pilots were in contact with air traffic control (today's acronym, ATC) at this point, and they had the speaker turned up so I could hear. The only time you really ever hear chatter like that is in crash videos on 20/20, and so that part of the experience was a little spooky. I imagined everything I said out loud might one day be seen in subtitles superimposed over a black and white picture of our crew:

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Hey, that's a cool button--
PILOT: Shut up, kid.
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: What if I were to just--
FIRST OFFICER: No, WAIT--
(Thirty seven seconds of silence. Transponder signal vanishes at 13:24:07Z)

Another interesting thing was seeing the radar screen translate to the real weather patterns outside. There would be a green comma shape on the radar, and in front of us a giant three-dimensional punctuational plume. In addition to being able to fly, pilots are also consummate weathermen as well, and these guys would point out not only where the danger spots were, but where they would be by the time we got to them. We trucked through an alley of thunderclouds (the pilot called it 'shooting the gap') in order to avoid an area of seriously bad weather, and it was neat to see the clouds reach out for us.
Near Chicago, it became a blue field of planes. You could see them as diamonds on the radar, with their respective altitude under them. A Southwest plane crossed 2000 feet above us, and I could read the tail logo.
Landing was also pretty thrilling. From the cabin, it seems like you come in pretty level and put both wheels down simultaneously, but from up front, it's a little different. You go right at the runway. I was too amazed to panic. And then the actual landing, shaky and improvisational, reminded me that it's not some automated process; the FO next to me guided the plane safely onto the hard concrete runway just like he does every day, because he knows how to.
After we had stopped, I was about to say something dorky like, "That was amazing!" when the pilot yawned and mumbled, "OK, I'll take the next leg." Guess that's just life as usual for flyboys.

3 Comments:

Anonymous zb said...

Just like aviatrix recommended, I started reading you blog from the beginning, and am not alomst halfway through your posts. Once again, thanks for the very fun read.

I just couldn't stand the fact that there was no comment yet below this particular post, which is among the funniest stuff I've EVER read. Ever.

Do you read the NTSB's aircraft accident reports with all their cool transcripts of the Cockpit Voice Recorder tapes? (New acronym: CVR!) It seems like you do.

3:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like the previous commenter, I started reading the blog after Aviatrix recommended it.

I have been reading it from the beginning and I find this entry one the best and funniest.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Curt Sampson said...

Actually, I liked the magma the best. I'm still laughing at that.

3:52 AM  

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