14 August 2008

What Is "Flying"?

First things first... the guy flying that JetRanger is a fool.
He has left himself with no "plan B". If the engine quits... game over.

You may remember, in November we boarded an ATA Airlines 757 and flew to Honolulu.
Obviously, the ONLY way for most of us to make that trip these days is in a big airplane. I'm sure all of us passenger/pilots South of the cockpit door were imagining what was going on up front, and I was no exception. The flying I do is a world apart from what was going on up there... those guys were dealing with flight plans, clearances, and weather planning along that long route of flight. Was someone watching us on a radar scope the entire flight? I have no idea. But I do know this... we took off from Phoenix Arizona and flew almost 7 hours to Honolulu, and landed safely.
Seven hours of flight time. One takeoff from a long, clear strip of real estate. One landing on a similar arrow-straight ribbon of pavement.

The guys up front are, as they should be considering their responsibility, well paid.
But can you imagine anything MORE BORING than that flight?!
Fixed wingers, I'm sorry, but that job reminds me a lot of Ralph Cramden...
A scheduled route, a scheduled time, and lots of seats filled with people.
The biggest difference between those pilots and Ralph?
Our "bus" had wings!

When man first dreamed of flying he watched birds. They takeoff from a tree, fly a while, then land on a fence post somewhere.
Neat. Convenient. Efficient.
Our first attempts to imitate them included machines that flapped their wings. Video of those machines makes us laugh today. But the failure of those machines taught us the lessons we needed to be borne by air, even though what we were doing only remotely resembled what birds could do.

I was motivated to write this post by a blog post over at "Helicopters And Jet Pilots". Darren flies what I consider to be the most beautiful flying thing in the world, a Gulfstream GV. He's also a Marine, flying F-18 fighters. I bet he's VERY good at what he does! BUT...
His machine needs a long, flat, unobstructed piece of real estate to takeoff. Once airborne, he starts looking for a similar location to land that slick beast 'cause it probably stalls at something like 200 miles per hour!
(Exaggeration, but maybe not by much. At what speed does the GV quit flying Darren?)

Read his post. Once airborne, Darren climbs to something near 47,000 feet, where he can't quite make out the face of God, but he can vaguely see God fiddling with the controls. It's almost impossible for me to imagine that height. Lose pressurization in the airplane there, and if you are not being force-fed oxygen you pass out in less than 10 seconds! But at that altitude you are above all but the most severe of thunderstorms, and those severe storms are probably readily apparent popping up through the visible clouds below, so you can just drive your hot airplane around them.

To change altitude, Darren twists a knob between his thumb and forefinger and the autopilot commands the airplane climb/descend.
Heading change? Same thing... a twist of a knob. What powerful technology!

But is it flying?
Sure it is.
But it certainly is far removed from what we dreamed of while watching birds, and it in NO WAY resembles what I do on a daily basis.

If I fly 7 hours, (and I sometimes come close during a 12 hours shift), I'll do 20 or so landings in that time. Some of those landings will be to a highway intersection, at night, surrounded by wires and road and advertising signs, blowing up a dust storm beneath me. Birds sitting on fenceposts get blown away by my rotorwash, (and maybe dream of being able to fly as fast and as far as I can.)

Two different worlds.
Both amazing in their way. Both necessary. And yes, both ARE flying.
But I gotta tell ya...
In my nearly 40 years of teaching people to fly helicopters I've noticed one thing...
To a man/woman, my fixed wing qualified students who learn to fly helicopters lose their desire to fly airplanes.
And that fact makes me smile about my chosen profession.
My machine is ugly. But it truly FLIES LIKE A BIRD!



GB...Sorry to disagree with you, but the Ranger pilot in the video has a Plan B...it's just not a very good one!

ProPilots said...

Glad to hear I inspired some creative writing Greybeard.

I gotta admit, as cool as I think my job is, each time I see my wife Kandy launch for a scene flight in her hot EC-135 I am a little envious. I think she, like you, has an incredible flying job. I have to live vicariously through her when it comes to all the great things you can do in that helicopter. We chose 2 different paths and each love what we do. Like you said both are worlds apart. I'd love to learn to fly helicopters. I'm sure i'd love it! Hunter and I were out and about town and I looked up to see her flying for a scene. I could tell it was local scene when she started to circle. I drove in the direction and soon found the scene of the accident. I parked in a McDonalds parking lot and Hunter and I got to wave to mommy as she landed in the intersection next to us. I was impressed. Hunter loves watching mommy fly. I totaly get what you are saying Greybeard.

I still love what I do and get excited by the fact that I can fly anywhere in the world with one stop for gas. Yea it drags on and on at times but when I get there its usually a different view even if I've been there before.

To answer your question about when the GV falls out of the sky. You may be surprised to learn that this amazing flying machine has an approach speed with 3,000 pounds of gas remaining of 110 kts. Thats probably 10-15 kts above its stall speed. Gotta love that long wing.

My days of short landing and takeoffs are over now, but even those required a catapult and arresting wire. I need to post about that experience sometime.

In the mean time I'm going to enjoy my red popsicle at FL470. (see my latest post)


Anonymous said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly on this one. I took an intro ride on a R22 last year and I was hooked. I've been wrenching on 172s this summer but the only time I've cared to look up these days is when I hear the sound of rotorcraft. :-)

cary said...

If I ever decide to learn how to fly one, I would want you as my instructor.

Great post.

Anonymous said...


Curious what your thoughts are on these guys...www.grandadventure08.com


OlePrairiedog said...

It occurs to me that I probably scared you witless in '69 when I flew you from Blackhorse to the fourth Cav base to visit our other roomie, the 'Tackster". I had a Plan 'B'as Cary mentioned, but We would have gotten wet and had to do some running. The OH-6 was and is a marvelous machine and I could make it do tricks. Sorry, for the adrenaline rush, but it was good to see you.