Wednesday, August 24, 2005
"What's the Vector, Victor?"
Despite my many adventures in aviation, I really don’t enjoy flying. But yesterday an assignment required I wedge myself in the co-pilot’s seat of a Beech Baron 55 for a daylong crisscross of the Tar Heel State. As always, I followed my camera into battle, though not without a little trepidation. In the end, there was nothing to be concerned about, though the day did not lack a little in-flight drama. More on that in a minute, but first, lets meet our pilot...
Duncan Jones is Sales Manager of Lancair Certified Aircraft and one hell of a nice guy. All day long he tended to his instruments, exuding quiet confidence in his ability to launch and land his vintage Seventies-era flyer. Why, he barely batted an eyelash at the fidgety photog ridin’ shotgun, who flashed a hearty thumbs up one moment and looked positively green the next. Nor did he avert his perfect vision to the rear of the plane, where nervous giggles could be heard regularly emanating from one Jeff Varner.
Luckily I had a lens to fiddle with. With my full size fancy-cam stashed in the back, I wielded a down-sized Sony for most of the trip. It’s tiny controls and attachable wide-eye made for excellent diversions whenever I wished to ignore the fact I was thousands of feet in the air in a rickety five-seater. Forgoing the full color flip-out monitor, I squinted through the viewfinder and reduced the sweeping vista to a one inch black-and-white screen. Occasionally, I’d bump the co-pilots wheel with my elbow, causing little variation in the aircraft’s trajectory but triggering doomsday scenarios in my overfed imagination nonetheless. It was a long day.
Nonetheless, we accomplished our mission and took in some incredible views along the way. From the deliberate quilt-scape of the rolling farmland to the bright aqua pinheads of far below swimming pools to the billowing behemoths of cumulus cloud just off the wing, planet Earth is incredible from every altitude. Only once did things get hinky, just after lift-off from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Just before our craft entered the base of a dark, towering thunderhead, the pilot keyed his microphone...
“We’re probably gonna get some rain, a few bumps - ”
Suddenly the plane lurched downward and to the left. As it entered the swirling gray mist, shadows fell over the cabin and deep rivets of rain streamed across the arced windshield. The propellers sliced pockets of unstable air and the twin engines fought for supremacy as the airplane shimmied and shook. By then I was no longer shooting, choosing instead to close my eyes and take whatever was coming like the pansy I am. As the beleaguered craft continued to buck and bounce I heard Jeff yelp a time or two over the headsets. ‘If this gets any weirder...’, I thought. As I did the skies brightened and the turbulence faded away.
Sunshine filled the cockpit as the twin engines hummed in accordance. I looked behind me and Jeff flashed his trademark grin. It was then I realized what would happen if we DID crash. The media would screech of an ex- Survivor’s untimely death while barely mentioning the additional passing of pilot and photog. I’d be the Ritchie Valens to Jeff’s Buddy Holly - if I were lucky! Somehow that notion, however morbid and unlikely, brought me a little comfort up there in the Great Blue Expanse. That and the thought that when I did get back on the ground, I’d have something to blog about.