Tuesday, August 15, 2000

Flight in a 4 seater plane (Long Post Warning)

Came in to work on a Saturday to fix a production issue. I managed to fix the issue by around 2 PM. I hear keyboard clicks and realize someone else is also in the building and so walk around to find one of the client business experts (CT) at work at his desk.

He tells me he was on the way to the airport on his way to Bad Axe, a city an hour North of Detroit in flying time. I had forgotten that this guy CT was an avid flier with his own plane who spent his weekends flying to different places to rack up flying time towards his experience as a pilot. Though fully trained he was still a relative newbie and so needed to gain more experience. He offered to give me a ride, on his plane. I did not think at all but accepted immediately.

CT drove us to the Pontiac Airport in his dark blue Plymouth Neon(this was back in the days when Plymouth existed in the DCX group) which was mainly used for cargo flights and for Daimler Chrysler Execs flying in as he had his plane hangar there. CT drove into the airport entrance and along a driveway till he reached the hangars. Hangar space was rented to CT and his friend who jointly owned the 20 year old plane which they had bought used for around $80K. The hangar was much smaller than I had expected. It was the size of a slightly large garage with a corrugated metal roof and doors of the same material. A small padlock guarded the contents of the hangar.

CT opens the place up and I get my first glance at the plane. It is a small plane (cannot remember its name, was it a Piper Cub ?) with a single nose mounted engine and propeller in front. The light creamy white colored old plane was a sight I had never seen before and never in such close quarters. I walked around the plane while CT performed his pre-flight inspections and checks. It took CT close to an hour to check the zillion things required before he could take off. Finally he was done. Time to go up.

To enter the plane one has to climb to the wing on the right hand side and walk along a rubberized strip to get to the single door to the plane and pull on a chrome handle that looked like it came off an antique car to open the door and get in. CT had to go first as the pilots seat was on the left. In the USA pilots and car drivers sit on the left. I get in next and sit down in black leather bucket seats that also look like they came from a car. The interior space in the plane also was about the size of a mid size car. It felt smaller than a car actually. After a couple more minor checks CT checks if the door is secured and then we belt up and I get handed a headset that looks like huge noise canceling headphones but with an additional mic boom. I put them on and realize one has to use it to talk to each other as the engine noise is supposed to get pretty loud. CT and I check to make sure we can hear each other.

CT hits the ignition and the propeller starts up in front of us. The engine was not too loud but loud enough to notice. We get moving onto the runway from the hangar and CT gets some instructions over the radio. CT suddenly veers off the runway towards the left and then I realize he is going to fuel up before taking off. A fuel truck drives up close to the plane and fills the tank up with aviation fuel. CT doesn’t need to swipe his card or anything. He has an account at the airport and so doesn’t need to do anything.

We taxi back on to the runway and get in line behind another small plane waiting for take off. Not much of other air traffic at the place. After the plane in front takes off we get the go ahead to take off. CT increases the speed of engine and the plane starts moving down the runway. Funnily enough it still feels like driving in a car with serious wind noise issues. At around 55mph the nose begins to lift and soon we are in the air and climbing steadily. The climb was a mix of great fear and great awe for me, because I looked down and the ground seemed so far away. We climbed in many lazy circles till we got to a cruising altitude and then CT points the plane due North and we head towards Bad Axe.

I spend my time looking down and picking out the areas I recognize like the Chrysler Tech Center and the Auburn Hills area. Soon we are out of the thickly populated urban areas and over the suburban farm lands. Everything was set in nice neat rows with very few curves. But soon the repetitive landscape became very monotonous. The only interesting items I decided were the water bodies that showed up from time to time, consisting of both natural and man made lakes and ponds.

CT noticed I was looking bored and so started explaining the instruments in the cockpit. I even got to hold the joystick for a bit when there was no crosswind and the plane was level. It was just a weird experience. I realized I better not hold on to it for too long and quickly let CT handle the controls again. Though he didn’t let on I got the feeling that the plane started going towards the left for a bit when I held the controls.

Anyways we were pretty close to Bad Axe by now and CT was requesting permission to land there. Soon we see the airport and the runway. The airport building was just a shed at the side of what looked like a weirdly long field. That was Bad Axe airport. CT tells me that to land at the airport one had to fly parallel to the right of the runway then take an almost 90 degree left turn and then another almost 90 degree turn and thus get in line with the runway and be able to land. Sounded too simple. Turns out the flying parallel to the runway part indeed is simple and CT managed that with no issues. The turning part is where things get tricky. Without any wind CT would not have had any trouble, but that day the wind was pretty strong. CT makes the first left turn with some amount of fighting the wind. The wind picked up exactly when CT made the next turn and was so powerful that the little plane was pushed off course by around 10 feet. Yikes. My mouth suddenly was full as my heart was in my mouth and beating faster than ever before. Luckily CT had enough time to correct the course of the plane and align it with the runway. Was very eerie watching the runway as a marking on the ground approach you with great speed growing larger every second. CT managed to stay on course though I noticed he did look a bit shaken and had to fight with the controls. We landed without any incident and taxied to the end of the runway and back to an area where the plane could be “parked”.

We walk into the airport building and stand around there while CT signs the register there to indicate that “CT was here” . Formalities completed we walk around outside for a few minutes. It was close to 5 PM by then. We had to head back before dark as CT still did not have the experience to fly solely by instruments, required to fly after dark.
The flight back was a repeat of the one to Bad Axe with one exception. Since we had to head back South it meant I was getting an aerial view of the skyline of Detroit downtown that I had never seen before. It got to be even more picturesque when clouds covered most of the area and only the tallest buildings were visible. I was in heaven when the color of the sky started to change towards 6 PM for a glorious sunset towards our right while we were flying South towards Detroit. We flew over the Silver Dome and the Chrysler building and then landed at Pontiac airport.

When we get out CT hands me an old flying map of the Michigan area as a memento and drops be back at the airport. Though I thanked him for the flight of my life I do not think I have thanked him enough as he has given me a story not many others can match. Thanks again CT.



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