BTW- this is GRUMPY’S 100th post since October 2012. He’s attempting to reach Stephen King’s one million word journey to writing excellence – one word at a time, of course. Thanks for sticking around for the journey. GRUMPY
During our last visit together I discussed how take-offs and landings were stomach churners for me. I used the example of a take-off in the desert heat of Las Vegas to illustrate my preoccupation with the probable prospects of my certain death.
It’s almost like Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22 where the character Yossarian constantly reviews and lists all the possible ways he could die. The poor guy, who is striving to survive WWII, is obsessed with his own demise. When it comes to airplanes, so am I.
QUOTE: “He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive.” (Chapter 3)
Yossarian defines my views about flying flawlessly. My rule is that “what goes up” must come down alive and kicking and, as duly noted, be also capable of walking away from the plane unassisted.
That is my mission.
Nevertheless, on a few occasions I thought that a safe and secure landing wasn’t even a remote possibility. Truly, in each instance, I thought I was about to meet my maker and, that folk’s, was neither Mr. Boeing nor Mr. Airbus!
So, let me explain these near misses using several examples. We’ll post some today and a few more at a later date. Once you’ve read them, I know that you will better understand Grumpy’s flight aversion.
CASE # 1: Waterloo-Wellington Airport and Stall Alarms (1971)
It’s Grumpy’s first flight – ever. He’s working in a summer program for disadvantaged kids. The powers that be decide that it would be a good idea to take the kiddies to Waterloo-Wellington airport for a little flight experience. The airplane in question is a one engine puddle jumper. If apprehension is surely a four syllable word, on that day, it was a four letter word for Grumps.
No matter, the flight turns out to be a good one. The kids are thrilled beyond expectation and as I sit in the back of the four-seater, I’m thinking this flight thing isn’t so bad after all. We actually fly over my house. I’m waving like a fool as I spot my dog Tinker Bell wandering in the back yard. (Hey, I wanted to call her Lassie but I was overruled by my Walt Disney loving mother.)
This is a short flight and before we know it we are making our runway approach. That’s when I notice the Grand River backed up by a humungous cliff right before my eyes. The runway is somewhere on top of that cliff.
Suddenly, perfect altitude and flight control become an issue. One small miscalculation and we are done like dinner, splattered and shattered in to smithereens. I can’t get the vision of a flaming wreck sliding down that cliff into the Grand River out of my mind. That’s when I hear a very loud.
“DING-A-LINGA-LING . . . DING-A-LINGA-LING . . DING-A-LINGA-LING!”
“What is that?” I scream in a high pitched whine because “ding-a-ling-a-lings” like that usually mean some kind of warning. Hey, I spent nearly thirty years in schools with regularly scheduled fire drills.
The pilot responds with a softly spoken, “Oh, that’s just the stall alarm! If I drop the nose too much like THIS –the alarm warns me to pull up.”
“DING-A-LINGA-LING . . . DING-A-LINGA-LING. . . DING-A-LINGA-LING!”
Now why would he do that? I mean he deliberately lowered the nose.
Now I’ve studied enough about flight to know that when a plane “stalls” it doesn’t mean the engine stops running. Nay, nay, my friends; it means the plane will lose lift (bad angle of attack) and it might just drop like a rock. In this case, the location of that cliff becomes even more ominous as does the raging Grand River below!
I have two kids with me so I remain silent, trying to pose as an in-control judicious adult, but my brain is screaming, “We’re all going to die!”
Meanwhile the alarm continues to go on and off as we make our approach. I’m thinking that the pilot might have missed his class on the “perils and dangers of stalling” during flight school. More likely, he’s noticed my abject fear and is trying to scare the bee-gee-bees out of me.
Actually, as we touch down, the pilot is chuckling and chortling as if scaring the crap out of me made his day. The kids were oblivious and were none the worse for wear. It was then and there that I decided that having knowledge and a broad education is not always a good thing. Sometimes in life being as dumb as a post saves you a lot of angst and anxiety.
I also decided that I would never set foot in an airplane again, unless of course, I was the freaking pilot, clutching the stick and in total control of my own destiny, knowing my angle of attack was impeccable.
Case #2 : Life Flashes before Grumpy’s Eyes Over the Bahamas
Well I didn’t keep that promise, of course. Neither did I get my pilot’s licence, nor did I give up flying. A few short years later I was up in a commercial jet on my way to the Bahamas. The conditions for fight were very favorable with just a hint of turbulence in the air.
I marvelled at the pristine waters of the Atlantic Ocean below, azure blue and sparkling. There are white sand bars, reefs and tiny tropical islands. I sat in awe as a commercial plane zipped passed us going north. The sky was cloudless, life was good, and everything about my Karma was balanced and as it should have been, particularly after several stiff drinks consumed as “nerve” bracers.
Everything was peachy cream until the captain attempted to land this great metal beast. In moments, we were about to encounter real time terror of the 10th degree!
Let me explain.
The plane banks, and there it is, the great Bahamas Island with its beaches, palm trees and its Island Lifestyle, all laid back and hedonistic. I could almost taste that first Peña Colada as we descended.
Then, looking west, we could see an obviously newly constructed airport with its shining glass terminal glistening in the sun. Oh, yes, our altitude is that low. We are so close I can feel the reggae beat in my toes, Mon.
I should have been minding my island friends who might say, “Chicken merry, hawk deh near,” which means danger often looms when you’re having too much fun.
You see, upon the second bank turn we are heading in another direction. Before us is the long mottled runway of the old airport. The colour of the pavement is grey, telling me that it has been there a very long time. Alas, there is the control tower, its description falling somewhere between that of a forest-fire spotting tower and an old railroad water tower – a la Petticoat Junction.
The jungle on either side is in imminent danger of encroaching on the space we are about to land upon. It feels as if we are flying contraband into some remote desert island. I imagine the pilot looking something like Humphrey Bogart or Russell Crow.
I am seated just behind the wing and see that the wheels are down and they are mere inches from touching down. I exhale a long breath of relief because, we are about to gently hit the tarmac and taxi to that structure masquerading as a terminal and control tower.
Then . . . wham!
Suddenly the engines begin to roar like 1000 locomotives and the nose points straight skyward, sharper than any take-off I’ve ever known. We are rising into the air about as fast as a hot air balloon – ever so slowly – with those jet engines screaming, struggling to get us airborne.
There is a quick bank to the left and I see out the opposite window that our wings are barely 100 feet off the tarmac and we are rocketing toward the Atlantic Ocean. The giant airplane is completely on its side as if we are some barnstorming bi-plane in an Air Show. It appears as if everything is happening in slow motion.
I’m thinking that the pilot is going to ditch us in the water, hoping for a softer impact than hitting the ground. If he does that, at the very least, no one is going to notice that I’m about to pee my pants.
My eyes are bulging out of my head and all that I can think of is, “What a way to go, Grumpy! Not only are you going to die but you’re going to become freaking SHARK BAIT!”
Now, obviously I’m writing this in 2013, so you know we didn’t buy the farm. No, our pilot did the miraculous and got us back up into the air, only to land safely on the second attempt.
But what, may you ask, happened?
Well, when the pilot was about to touch us down and the nose of the plane dropped; our captain was confronted with quite a surprise. There, parked in the middle of the runway was a single engine Cessna. Hence, our emergency aborted landing and our seat of the pants take off from hell.
The dude in the Cessna didn’t know where to go once he landed. He was lost, for crying out loud.
Like, you head over to the big forestry tower that sits bedside those portable classrooms which serve as the terminal. You know, right over there by the big Bahamas’ flag, the palm trees and the Tiki Bar!
“Use da eyes on your face, Mon, and put to the side dat ganja ye bin smokin’!”
Our little incident occurred only a few months after a terrible crash in Cranbrook, BC. In that incident, a plane similar to ours was landing and found a snow plow stalled in the middle of the runway. Unfortunately, that pilot’s evasive action ended in tragedy that time.
Our friends had an uncle who was an Air Canada pilot. He said that we were very lucky we survived that incident, given that pilots only practice that maneuver on the flight simulator. Egad!
Well when my feet hit the tarmac, and after I kissed the ground, and kissed it once again, I vowed then and there, that I would never ever fly again. The problem was, of course, that I was on the Bahamas Islands and there was no way to drive back to Canada. My only recourse would be a slow boat to China or a very long swim.
But, we’ll have to tell you more about the return trip in Grumpy’s next blog. That flight was concluded with another near-miss landing as we encountered thunder storms over Buffalo. So stay tuned and until next time and we’ll tell you a little about these aversion creating incidents.
Case #3: Buffeting a Thunderstorm Over Buffalo Really Blows
Case #4 Bucking Bronkos in Calgary are not all found at the Stampede
Case #5 Grounded in Detroit and Invaded by Grease Monkeys
Case #6 Landing in Vancouver Can Be Like Extreme Waterskiing