Doug and Philip's New Orleans Adventure
Doug and Philip's New Orleans Adventure: A Travelogue, Sort Of...
When my friend Doug asked if I wanted to take off for New Orleans to
go to Mardi Gras, he really meant Take Off: he owns a small plane (4
seats, single propeller, very cute) and convinced me that getting
there was definitely going to be half the fun. Being seriously into
the flying thing, he was calculating that getting back would be the
*other* half of the fun -- which, if you do your math right, doesn't
leave much room for fun in New Orleans itself. For a variety of good
reasons, however, he turned out to be pleasantly surprised. And as
for me, I think the whole trip was a blast.
Mardi Gras being Mardi Gras, there's plenty to tell about what New
Orleans was like. However, since just the getting back and forth
turned out to be rather more of an adventure than I was anticipating,
I present forthwith:
The top 10 or so quotes by my pilot on this trip
(excluding certain comments not suitable for a broad audience)
most of which incidentally I'd rather not hear the next time around
roughly in chronological order
"This doesn't usually happen"
- Said numerous times this trip, and you'll see why...
"We're damn near going backwards up here!"
- Doug's reply by radio to someone on the ground who had
asked, more or less, how's the weather up there? An unusual
headwind was slowing us down to the speed of some of the
faster drivers on the highways below us, and we were
making rather less good time than we would have liked.
"Why don't you go ahead and close one eye just in case?"
- Context: We were flying in clouds and noticed a lightning
flash somewere off to the left side. Discussion followed
about what exactly lightning does if it hits a plane:
fries the instruments and, just for good measure, will most likely
blind you. Apparently the high-tech aviation solution to the
latter problem is... well, yes, you guessed it! Doug
decided that one working eye out of four was probably
a good thing to have.
"What the hell is *that*?!"
- Context: We were flying in clouds at about 6000 feet, and
flashing lights illuminating the clouds suggested there was
another plane unseen somewhere in the vicinity.
"Could you fly the plane a minute?"
- Actually, I flew the plane for more than a few minutes, and it
was a lot of fun. Of course, flying the plane basically amounted
to letting the plane fly itself and making sure that things didn't
change much: keeping the altitude relatively constant, making
a 5 or 10 degree turn occasionally to stay on course, and at one
point keeping the wings level (when Doug took off the autopilot,
which otherwise does that automatically).
"Huh. I wonder where *that* screw came from?"
- Interesting when you find pieces of your vehicle loose
in the driver's seat, isn't it, Doug?
"Ok, we're done."
- New Orleans, the very start of the trip home. Spoken by Doug,
to my great surprise, I might add, after we reached the
"the engine starts now" part of the Starting Engine checklist
and the engine didn't do its thing. Turns out there was a problem
with some part of the starter, and the New Orleans mechanic
couldn't get the part to fix it that day. Also turns out you *can*
get a plane started without a starter, though: you "hand prop"
it, i.e. some guy in front (our very accommodating mechanic
friend) spends a lot of time turning the propeller Really Hard
in hopes that the engine will catch, and then gets the hell out
of the way of the propeller Really Fast if it does. It did, and
he did, and so we found ourselves in the interesting position of
planning our route knowing that the next time we landed the
plane we might not be able to get it started again.
"My friend here is going to learn how to hand prop the plane."
- We ended up putting down in Fayetteville, North Carolina,
and this was Doug's comment to the local airport folks
about what our plans were if they didn't have the part we
needed either. See comments above about what you do if the
engine starts if you need to guess how enthusiastic I was about
"I'd like to declare an emergency"
- Spoken to the air traffic controllers at Richmond International
Airport: we'd encountered icing and Doug decided it would be
advisable to get the plane on the ground as quickly as possible.
Declaring an emergency gave us priority for the runway we wanted
(and isn't as dramatic a thing as it sounds, according to Doug)
but there was still a little more excitement: when the time came
to make sure the landing gear were down, we didn't get a
confirmation light. As a result, in addition to getting the runway
to ourselves, we had some lovely trucks with flashing lights
waiting to greet us, just in case. About 20 seconds before we
landed Doug did a last up-then-down try of the gear, and we got
the confirmation light; he says (NOW he tells me?!) he was pretty
sure the whole time that the problem was just some ice on the
sensor that tells you which position the gear is in.
"...Or, something hits us."
- This was on the last leg of the trip, going near restricted
airspace (military folks) near Washington, D.C. I had just
surmised that they must get fairly nasty with you on the radio
if you wander into restricted space accidentally (in contrast to
the honest-to-God Southern Gentlemanliness that seems to dominate
conversations among pilots, controllers, and the like). Doug was
pointing out other possibilities. I thought at the time he was
talking about colliding with military planes who wouldn't expect
you to be up there, but it turns out he was talking more along the
lines of them shooting at you. Much more reassuring.
"Airplanes occasionally hit deer."
- One of Doug's truly classic statements, and, he contends,
completely true. On runways in Alaska, for example. As
for me, I simply cannot get rid of the picture that came
into my head when he uttered this, which was of some kind
of bizarre, Twin Peaksish skeet shooting event: someone
yells "Pull!" and you've got a deer catapulted up to 1000
feet or so... [see erratum below]
At this point, having gotten a bit of mileage out of the unexpected
adventures on this trip, I should hasten to point out that I'm in
considerably more danger every time I take an entrance ramp onto the
Washington Beltway than we ever were at any point during this trip.
Doug's piloting is impeccable (not surprising, after something like
5,000 hours navigating Navy planes and 1,000+ hours logged as a
pilot), and one of my biggest discoveries this trip (outside the
borders of New Orleans, at least! ;-) was that flying a plane is much
more about planning your alternatives and being ready to handle all
contingencies than it is about steering a big machine around in the
sky. I'm lookin' forward to the next trip...
Julia Gordon was kind enough to point out that the catapult I was
thinking of actually was in Northern Exposure, not Twin Peaks.
Following this up reminded me again how frighteningly
thorough a place the Web is -- for example, I was able to
news stories about the catapult used in that episode being used to
fling away old personal computers at a summer festival, including what
appears to be the the
definitive page on the topic.