The flight to Chicago had a lot of turbulence so when we landed safely on the ground it felt like more of an accomplishment. It got me thinking about other flights.
I’ve been to over 50 countries so I have no idea how many flights I’ve taken. I’ve definitely been in some interesting airports – from rustic and remote to high tech and glamorous.
I am definitely at the point where getting on a plane is no big deal but I always try not to take it for granted. When I was in London in September I went to the Science Museum for possibly the first time. It was a rushed visit and I will definitely be back. But one of the fascinating exhibits was a history of air travel, complete with some actual aircraft parts.
It helped me to remember what an extraordinary feat, showcasing the ingenuity of mankind, every single flight really is. I don’t remember all the history but, not only was the science of air travel impressive, so were the crazy guys who made it all possible, the intercontinental rivalry and the role of the military to do good (they invented the internet too! Without them, google would not have become a verb).
My grandfather was one of the early crazy guys. We know so little about him but some things seem clear – he was handsome, charismatic and prone to thrive on risk. Supposedly, one of his “careers” was to have people pay him to ride in an air balloon while they watched. I smiled in London when I saw the photos of the crazy dudes willing to go up into the sky in a potentially combustible air balloon to prove men could fly like birds.
This airbus 320 is a long way from an air balloon and feels a bit like sitting in a cramped living room in the sky. Not too thrilling. The bumpy flight reminded me of how much I enjoy actually feeling the flight.
That is best done via helicopter. I’ve only been in one – and it was now over 30 years ago – but I can still remember almost every detail.
It was my first job, waitressing the summer before university in the only nice hotel in town in a remote community on the Canadian prairie.
That summer there were lots of forest fires so there was a steady stream of strangers in town staying at the hotel as part of the forest fighting team.
Two members of the various crews were young helicopter pilots. Needless to say, they were very popular among the young servers. I heard they were sometimes taking girls on a short trip to refuel the helicopter if the timing coincided with them coming off shift. So I made sure they knew I was interested 🙂
I had developed a good rapport with – and a bit of a crush on – one of the pilots. He would come down for coffee when the dinner shift was over and it was quiet so we would chat. I can’t remember his real first name. His given name didn’t matter as he was by then firmly established to the world as Bud Cave. A very cinematic name for a pilot 😉
One day when I had just left the restaurant I got a call from Bud. If I could get back there in 20 minutes he would take me up in the helicopter. I didn’t have a car so pedalled furiously on my bike, arriving a little breathless. But it was totally worth the effort!
All the other girls had gotten maybe a fifteen minute round trip. Today Bud was going to pick up some guys in the bush – an hour each direction!
And, because I was the only girl in the helicopter, I got to sit in the front in the co-pilot seat and wear the headphones so I could communicate with the pilot. So I had the bird’s eye view of the prairie and the forest as we flew over…. And got to experience the rush of landing a helicopter in the middle of the bush.
I had not appreciated the air velocity of a helicopter descending straight into the middle of the forest. Things fly everywhere. There is no landing strip and graduated descent to the ground. It’s pure drama. And, because I was a young girl, supposedly fearless, the pilot did some tricks for me as well. It seemed like we were flipping upside down but I am not sure it’s even scientifically possible – but when there is an open door beside you and a glass bubble surrounding you, it’s pretty easy to feel like you are already on a roller coaster without the pilot doing tricks 🙂
A couple of years on, I became friends with a guy named Paul who was getting his pilot’s license. We were both poor students so I had to pitch in for our time in the air but he took me up a couple of times in a small plane. Some of the best money I ever spent in my early twenties 🙂
I’ve been in a few small planes since. And have never lost the joy of seeing the world from only a few thousand feet. Landing in the middle of the migration and trying not to descend directly onto a wildebeest lurking on the runway in the Serengeti has to be the most spectacular but a trip in a small plane trumps an Airbus any day.
I was just reading about some entrepreneur in Ecuador trying to develop a bicycle that would allow one to pedal like ET and fly like a toucan to check out the rainforest. Maybe even cooler than a helicopter or a small plane? But a prototype at this stage… so, for now, I suggest you try the helicopter or the small plane. I haven’t been up in a hot air balloon yet. But it must be done. And I will drink a toast to my mysterious grandfather as part of the experience…
p.s. I am typing this in the mighty land of the eagle… the New York stories to come…