Thursday, May 21, 2015

A visit unexpected …

The fully loaded Boeing 737-300 rumbled far down the runway before the nose wheel floated free of the concrete. Seconds later the rest of the gear cleared Mother Earth and was tucked away for the short flight to Pittsburgh. The haze thickened, turned into a cloud layer, and then fell away as we climbed into the low flight levels.

Flight levels start somewhere around 18,000 feet above my normal living altitude, (sea level). A good portion of my career was spent in that realm, at the helm of various kinds of exotic machinery built for those extreme conditions. That last two machines I captained blew happily along in the mid flight levels, 35 to 45,000, at speeds around 500 mph. Like most pilots I kept a careful log of each hour spent in the sky. It was like being airborne was the only part of life worth a special mention, home in a way only pilots understand. For most of the best pilots I have known, such an assessment is far closer to the truth than any of us would openly admit.

Those days came to an abrupt end, my career terminated in about as ugly a way as can be imagined. (Short of digging a big, smoking hole.) Log books got stashed away in a safe deposit box while headsets and other cockpit paraphernalia were gifted to friends still in the game. Ipads, once used for approach plates, were eventually loaded with Navionics and Garmin Blue Charts. I walked away from my last flight without looking back. Heading for a new kind of living, the part of my life worth special mention would lay on the surface of the sea and at the helm of a different kind of machine. Life is short enough. Spending time in the past only makes it shorter.

But modern life, at least in the US, is spread out. Kids and grand kids are scattered across a good part of a very big country, other family scattered even further. Flying is the only option, though I would consider sailing Kintala down interstate 70 if it could be done. Drivers think I go slow in a car? Ha!

Now, for only the fifth time since we set out on the boat, the ground fell away outside the window. I don't care so much about seeing out, but they are about the only seats where I can lean to the side and get some sleep. The four flights before this one passed mostly that way. Once in the sky thoughts tuned briefly to an old life that held little allure but the sky held no special interest.  What I wanted most was for the crush of lines, security, and noise, to be over.  Flights were endured.

This time I found myself gazing out at the passing clouds. BWI to PIT is only 40 minutes at jet speeds. Soon we were letting down into a gray and bumpy overcast. The auto-flight system in jets work extremely well. I doubt many of the other passengers noted the subtle sashays of pitch and yaw, and few would realize that the contrail flowing off the corner of the deployed flap indicated how humid the sky was. I felt the turn onto the approach though we were still a thousand feet or so above the ground when the tree covered hills of PA hove into few. The pilot flying missed a perfect landing by scant inches, recovered well, and set his machine down on RW10R with a satisfying thump. Boards levered up from the wings, TRs slid open, brakes rumbled, and the first flight I have enjoyed in a couple of years turned toward the gate.

It is highly unlikely I will ever command the cockpit of a jet in the flight levels again but, no matter. It is no longer home. My world view has shifted, the need for the mad rush not part of my DNA. A world without boarders, laced together with trains, ships, and pretty roads filled with efficient cars and bicycles – without a single billboard - is closer to my ideal now. And airships, how cool would that be? Ideas and thoughts, the very things that make us human, flow around the world at near the speed of light. There is really no need for the rest of the human body to try so hard for a speed that is a paltry 0.0000747% of light's velocity. (Unless my math failed me this morning, 0.0000747% of the speed of light works out to about 500mph.)

Still, it was good to visit my old life and, for all of my change in view, remember it fondly.

Note: blog time is now several days behind real time. After visits in PA and IN, we are now safely in MO.

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