In an earlier BLOG Grumpy detailed how he has developed an aversion to flying. Really though, once the plane is at cruise altitude, Grumps can sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. It is not unlike riding a city bus and, the best part is that you have service people to pour you drinks and hand you peanuts. It’s kind of like a corner bar way up there in the big blue sky.
Nonetheless, this joy of flying is preceded by and concluded with a take-off and a landing. It is this battle with the force of gravity that gets Grumpy’s heart thumping like a bass drum.
Gravity it seems, wants to pull all of that mass of metal and wire to the ground. And, gravity could care less if the landing is hard or soft. My worry is that some of these hard landings are called “crash landings”. This is why, when an object falls through the atmosphere its terminal velocity is so freaking terminal. You see, you can’t drop a bus or a corner bar off the Empire State Building without disastrous results.
Grumpy is from the school of thought that believes “WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN”, and that any good landing is one you can walk away from. Indeed, on several flights Grumpy was only seconds away from breaking into a solo rendition of “Amazing Grace” because either the take-off, or the landing, appeared to be in jeopardy.
I will illustrate these aversion points with a few examples from Grumpy’s limited experience with flight. Today’s little essay will concern take-offs.
So, the good wife and I ventured to Las Vegas to celebrate my sixtieth birthday. You might remember some of the incidents that occurred there in other BLOGS in this space. (Having My Baby, Little Old Ladies with Purses) We had a wonderful five days enjoying the sites, the good eats, some shows and, of course, a little arm wrestling with the one-armed bandits.
Did I mention that the daytime temperature was maxing out at about 113’ F? But, you know it’s a dry heat they say, something akin to the heat coming out of the front of a blast furnace.
IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC FACT: Hot air rises. Desert air rises faster. 113’ F is very hot air, indeed. (Please remember this for later reference.)
It was time to leave and catch our flight back to Detroit where we’d pick up the car and drive home to Ontario. Las Vegas airport is busy but pleasant, and has the atmosphere of a casino with all of the pods of slot machines scattered willy-nilly around the common areas.
Everything was going without a hitch until we began to board the plane. The line entering the fuselage moved slowly, much like a lineup to the ladies room at a concert. At that moment I was glad I didn’t have to pee.
Later, I had to pee a lot!
Nevertheless, we arrived at our seats (three rows from the back of the plane) unscathed. That’s when I noticed the probable cause for the lethargic movement of passengers onto our aircraft. You see most of the passengers were behemoths who would probably tip the scales at over 300 pounds. (A few were in the 400+ category).
These people, no doubt, were used to lining up because they are the ones you see in the discount buffet lines in Vegas. You know, “The Eat Your Own Weight” for $9.99 establishments. It was like we were on a charter flight for contestants heading for the taping of the next episodes for “The Biggest Loser”.
As I sat there, a foursome approached that could barely waddle between the rows of seats. If you measured their combined weight in British “stones” they would have rivalled the weight of the Rock of Gibraltar. They were going to sit in the last row at the back of the plane.
IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC FACT: Maybe you’ve studied Bernoulli’s Principle and the principles of the dynamics of flight. Stated simply thrust and lift must overcome the forces of mass (gravity) and drag (resistance.)
All I could think of was how this huge aircraft loaded to the rafters with people, whose individual weight might be equivalent to two people or more, and their luggage, was going to get off the bloody tarmac. I had no idea how the plane’s engines would overcome this massive mass and drag those big asses into the sky.
To make matters worse many of these morons did not heed the pilot’s pleas to, “Please turn off all electronic devices and cell phones.” Are you kidding me, I think many of these big-boned bone-heads were calling ahead to book their reservations at their local, “Waffle House”. The “Big Breakfast Meal” would be a mere appetizer to these folks. A bag of peanuts will not suffice on a five hour flight, my friends.
Well, eventually we started to taxi this fully over-loaded plane out to the runway. I could see those heat mirages rising off the hot asphalt, all shimmery and bright. I also could see those mountains we’d have to fly over. They somehow seemed bigger now and a whole lot closer to Vegas than I’d thought.
As in most take-off situations the plane was silent as the passengers contemplated their options and thought about those stats that claim flying is safer than driving.
The jet began to rumble down the runway, picking up speed as the engines roared like beasts of the jungle. The nose rose off the tarmac and the plane began its ascent into the white-hot Nevada sky.
To me, it seemed as if we were climbing rather slowly and the engine noise was exceedingly loud. The normal feeling of G-forces was there but it was different, feeling more like gravity just might win this battle of opposing forces. We were floating up like a balloon, except this balloon weighed hundreds of tons and the cargo rivalled the combined weight of every lineman now playing in the NFL.
The angle of incline was huge. It felt as if we were in the Space Shuttle blasting off into space strapped to a huge booster rocket.
That’s when the turbulence hit.
Those hot winds rising off the desert swirled and twirled making the wings dipsy-doodle, and shimmy and shake like a leaf in windstorm. These updrafts must have been of hurricane proportions. It felt like we were taking off in the funnel of a tornado.
It seemed like it was taking forever to reach a cruising altitude. I couldn’t help but think of those mountains. I couldn’t see them because my eyes were shut tight. “Amazing Grace” was pursed and ready on my lips.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, ” I mumbled with fervent passion. “That saved a wretch like me….
Eventually we levelled out and as a bonus for our surviving certain death; the pilot flew us over the Grand Canyon with its entire splendor in plain view.
People, I didn’t think that bloated airplane was going to get off the ground. Visions of “Crash Landing” danced in my head. I’d say that my little prayer to Pratt and Whitney must have helped those jet engines.
“Dear Lord, please give those Pratt and Whitney’s the kind of thrust that will overcome the mass and drag of society’s severe big butt obesity!”
Years later, I learned that taking off in Vegas is much like landing in Calgary. What goes up in turbulence can come down in turbulence, too. And that, my friends, is no “Rocky Mountain” high!
But, that’s enough of this rant for now.
You see, after writing this, I’m suffering from considerable and tangible take-off flashback anxiety. I’m feeling a little shaky and I need to lie down. Maybe some peanuts and beer will help me get over this. I’ll have to be my own flight attendant, though. I think they call the male ones stewards?
No matter, I think that will work nicely, because the only big butt in this house is my own!