I closed my last musings with a single question: are airplanes a kind of time machine? Okay, maybe not exactly in the way H. G. Wells imagined them, but really, think about it. Think about this, as a matter of fact…
…Think about crossing the Atlantic in a sailboat. Not in the 1600s, but more like 16 years ago. Close your eyes, right now, and think about being on a 34-foot sailboat sailing the great circle route between Maine and Ireland. There’s a wispy fog on the icy-calm sea, for the water temperature is a toasty 39º F. You’re cold and you’ve just come up from the galley with coffee in hand, and you’re sitting behind the wheel now, looking over your GPS track. You flip on the radar to see if any more icebergs have closed-in over the last couple of hours…then…
…You can almost hear it, that faint whisper of noise high overhead, high in the sky, and you lean back, see the blinking red lights of an airliner following the same track you’re on. Only you’re making six knots, while those 300 or so people are whizzing along at 600 knots. It will take you a month, maybe a little more, to reach Ireland; the people in the jet up there will make London, more than likely, in a total of six-or-so hours.
If that’s not time travel, what is?
Okay. You can’t go back in time on an Air France A-380, and, in all likelihood, that will remain in the realm of fiction for the foreseeable future. Still, sitting in your little boat bobbing about on the sea miles below those toasty passengers (enjoying roast whatever and a glass of red something), right about then you’d gladly change places.
Come on, admit it. You would.
Next, could you think about this: think about the people making this same trip four hundred years ago, yet westbound? They had very little choice in the matter, right? They were, by and large, fleeing Britain – or France, or Germany – and often fleeing for their lives, too. Heretics? Debtors? The second-born with no hope of an inheritance? A million different stories, I assume, made-up the motives of settlers fleeing Europe over the last 3-400 years, but then, consider that these voyages across the Atlantic took months. The first Puritans crossed in tubby hulks that took 2-3 months. People died of scurvy on those voyages, or they were washed overboard during the autumnal gales we call hurricanes these days. Let’s just say a lot of people died making those early crossings and let it be.
Would those people think a 747 is a time machine?
Now…try this on for size. We’re rounding up illegal immigrants all over this country, processing and then loading them on aircraft, shipping them from whence they came. Criminals and gang members get first priority, but, in the end, tens of thousands of people are being sorted like packages at a Fed Ex facility and sent on their way. Consider then, by way of a simple compare and contrast exercise, what a person in these circumstances might feel. Compare their journey home, perhaps 2-3 hours in a Boeing, with the ordeal many of them experienced on their journey to America.
That’s kind of a wicked kind of time machine, too, isn’t it?
I was involved once, for a short period of time in the 80s, with a company that flew around Central America a lot. Small jets and twins, for the most part, and our “passengers” were often special ops types, and, occasionally, spies of one sort or another. I got involved because I had developed a skill that my father passed along to me at an impressionable age: namely, I could land an airplane on the smallest, roughest road you can imagine. I was very, very good at that sort of thing, too, and I was because from the time I could reach the rudder pedals my dad taught me how to land on ‘runways’ like that. We flew from Dallas down to the Texas Hill Country, to our “farm” down there, or up to Colorado. He taught me to land on goat paths and Jeep trails, and I developed a real feel for it. Anyway, that’s all beside the point, but I will say I always enjoyed the challenge of a narrow dirt road. And I never once lost an aircraft.
Of the thirty or so trips I made down there, to Central America, almost every time down I picked up a bunch of very tired, very worn-out people. They had been tromping around in the weeds for weeks, for the most part, then for one reason or another they called home and asked to be picked up, usually real fast. Often I had to pick them up in the middle of nowhere, usually in the middle of the night, and almost always on a dirt road. More than once bad guys were shooting at us as they ran for the aircraft. It was, well, exciting.
And yet, a few hours later I had them safe and sound, sitting in an air-conditioned bar somewhere in the Yucatan. I bought them margaritas and listened to them vent, then, after they’d washed the jungle off their hands and faces, I flew them up to Florida or New Orleans.
So…let’s say less than eight hours between running for your life in the jungle to being back Stateside, half-drunk because your friendly local jet-jok had the good graces to stop-off and get you toasted.
Now, is that time travel, or what?
You bet your ass it is. How’d you like to walk home from down there…? Same can be said for some kid in Afghanistan today…in a firefight, wounded, and seven hours later in Germany. Ask him about time travel, would you?
Then, ask yourself this…why does this Adrian Leverkühn asshole always seem to write about time travel?
SO-ANYWAY – another trip in XP last night. From EDDS Stuttgart to LOWI Innsbruck, in Austria. And this isn’t your run-of-the-mill hop across the prairie…because Innsbruck is a royal pain in the ass to get into and out of. It’s in the Alps…and I mean IN the mountains, kind of the way Aspen is in the mountains. (Okay, Aspen is worse, but not by much. Telluride takes the prize for domestic pucker factor, while Alpe d’ Huez, in France, gets my vote for the world’s nastiest airport. And, you really ought to watch this kid make the approach and landing there – in winter. Oh, that airport file is available for XP, too…
Ah, but I digress…again!
Below, passing LOWS Salzburg, Austria, now southbound and descending out of 30,000 feet. (The hills are alive, right, Maria?) Oh, this is the 737-700, a modern, up-to-date cockpit that’s fully automated. So…of course, I hate it.
The final approach to Innsbruck is where airline pilots get paid to know their stuff. In the images further below, the airport is in the valley ahead, so note there’s not much room for maneuvering if you screw up and have to shoot a missed approach. Here’s the approach plate, by the by, which looks a little convoluted:
I think losing an engine in a snowstorm on a blown final approach here would have to be just about the biggest nightmare a commercial pilot can experience (in Europe, anyway). I’m sure they train for it – you simply have to – but you’d really earn your paycheck that day. So, (below) more from the approach.
As you fly towards the valley at 9500MSL (to clear the mountains that ring the valley), you clear the last peaks then make a fairly rapid, fairly steep descent to intercept the Glide Slope, and, assuming you manage that the part of the approach, the last stretch is right over the town. Church steeples are a bitch, too.
Big jets usually do not come here, by the way. A320s, MD-80s, and 737s are the usual affair, though smaller RJs and turboprops are still on the ramps for quick hops to Munich or Salzburg. There’s more traffic in winter, too. And aircraft overloaded with skis, I reckon.
For some oddball reason, I decided to fly the final manually, so no autopilot this time, and XP was doing the auto-weather update thing and it was really gusty with a crosswind component, so a little crab-action here, to keep things lined-up.
Taking off is a very emotional experience for the reasons I’ve mentioned many times before, yet landings at difficult airports tend to be more of a stress-test. Confidence comes with experience, of course, but every pilot worth his beans knows that shit tends to hit the fan at the most inopportune moment possible. Murphy’s Law applies to flying – with a vengeance.
Anyway, another quick trip completed in XP. As I’ve said, no, it’s not the same as the real thing, but yes, it is interesting enough to make me smile.
I spent a little time doing the air cargo thing, so bought a little Cessna 208 to fly…air cargo…only in X-Plane. So, here are a few images created while “flying” from LOWI Innsbruck to LOWS Salzburg, Austria, in the middle of the night.
(above) departing Innsbruck.
(above) setting up to land in Salzburg; and (below) over the threshold at LOWS.
And last, unloading boxes on the ramp at Salzburg. The real glamour of being a box-hauler…
I don’t know how many nights I unloaded boxes on ramps like this. When I first started flying, first started building real hours, I would drive out to Love Field (Dallas) and check out a Baron or 421 and head out west. Midland, Alpine, San Angelo, Dallas, and often more stops in between. I picked up boxes full of canceled checks to carry to the Federal Reserve, bags of Kodachrome to carry in for processing at Kodak, blood-work to be tested in the big labs at Parkland and Baylor, all waiting for me at each airport where I’d sign for it then take off for the next airport. Four to five hours most nights, and West Texas has the meanest thunderstorms you can imagine…at night.
And on warm nights? Rattlesnakes on the asphalt…
Don’t get me started on rattlers, okay?
So, what do you think about this whole time-travel thing?
Munich is only a stone’s throw away from Innsbruck or Salzburg in a Cessna like the 208, usually less than two hours by car, too, so barely worth the effort to fly as once you take off you’re soon lining up to land…yet a hundred or so years ago the trip overland was often no easy matter, whether by rail or trail. Days to walk? Weeks, perhaps, if the attempt was made during foul weather?
Before you decide, think about what life would be like without air travel – now. Now that you take it for granted.
Like, maybe a hundred years ago people were asking themselves ‘what did we ever do before rail travel?’
And one more thing to think about…
Is progress, like this kind of time travel, only a one-way street? What happens if we go backwards – in progress? After looking at events in Puerto Rico, are you ready for a ten mile walk to the supermarket, only to find bare shelves?
Ever read a book called Lucifer’s Hammer? Highly recommended.
More soon. Working on Deep End next.