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!