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"Flying" vs. "Transportation"

November 12th, 2006 · 5 Comments

I find I do most of my reading on the road. Over the last several years, I’ve read many books, mostly non-fiction. I’m particularly interested in military history, and I’ve read a lot of books on World War II aviation. But every now and again I find that I have to get away from military history (as it can get a bit depressing in large doses) and read something that is not only interesting, but also enjoyable to read.

While we were on vacation in early October, we stopped for lunch in the tourist-town of Solvang, CA. After eating at a little Danish cafeteria, we stopped into a rather nice used book store to check things out. I uncovered three books, all first-editions, and all aviation-related. After purchasing them, I added them to the top of the rather large “to-be-read” stack in my office.

One of the books is called We, and was written by Charles Lindbergh. The copy I purchases is a first-edition, printed in 1927. It is still in fantastic condition. The two others I purchased were by one of my favorite authors, Richard Bach. Stranger To The Ground, a book about one of his flights as a U.S. Air Force pilot in Europe. The second book of his is called Nothing By Chance, and is about a little vacation he took in 1969, traveling throughout the Midwest in an old open-cockpit biplane, barnstorming the way the early pioneers of aviation did.

Nothing By Chance is the book that spoke to me first, calling to me to read it from the stack of books on the office desk. At one point in it, Bach eloquently illustrates the difference between “flying” and “transportation.” The difference between the two being that, while doing one, you’re moving a machine full of people or cargo from one place to another over precisely the route dictated to you and operating that machine exactly the way the owner wants it operated. Flying is kind of a ballet between man and machine and nature, where the man uses the machine to overcome natural boundaries and take to the sky to go where and do what he pleases…to taste real freedom from the bound-to-the-earth daily lives that most of us live…to have the wind in your hair, the bugs in your teeth, and your destination dictated only by the direction of the winds aloft. I suppose that one way to look at it is, though “transportation” involves flying, “flying” does not necessarily involve transportation.

What I do for a living, the means of feeding and clothing and keeping my family, is transportation. I love what I do, and I wouldn’t trade my job for any other in the world, but it lacks the relative freedom that I once knew as I was beginning to spread my wings.

Someday soon, I hope to return to flying.

The Parks P2A Biplane

*****

I’d heard about it, but immediately dismissed it as a myth. A few days ago, though, I got to see it happen first hand.

When I arrived at the aircraft that had been assigned to us early this morning, I stowed my gear in the cockpit and had a seat in my normal cockpit station to take a look through the logbook. I’d arrived very early, as I’d planned to head back upstairs after getting settled in to grab a beverage from Starbucks (I’ve gotten kind of fond of their iced-tea-lemonades) before returning to the airplane to power everything up and begin setting her up for the first flight of the morning. When I sat down, I immediately noticed something was wrong with the seat.

Normally, there are two thigh-support cushions on the front of the seat that adjust up and down to provide, well, support to your upper thigh. This reduces the stress on the lower back while sitting in the seat for hours on end. The seat I’d just sat down in had one that was completely broken, and it was hinging downward from its normal attachment point where it was being held to the seat only by the seat cushion that was velcroed to it. The opposite thigh support was just fine, stable and strong in its most retracted position. But with the broken one, made for a seat cushion that was quite impossible to sit in.

A call to maintenance brought out two of our finest line mechanics. On all fours the went, to try and determine if the seat’s issue was a quick fix or something that would require more time. A couple of minutes later, a mechanic came up from his dive into the depths of the flightdeck with a chunk of broken seat hinge. His theory was that an aircraft cleaner had abused the seat by standing on its edge while leaning out the open cockpit window to clean the front windscreens. And no, it wasn’t a quick fix.

The quickest way to make the aircraft airworthy was to replace the seat. The myth I’d heard was that the most expeditious method that our comapany’s mechanics had come up with for swapping out a seat involved opening a cockpit window (an opening of maybe 20” by 20”), pitching the old seat out, hauling the new seat in through the window, and securing it to the aircraft. Knowing the size of the window, and knowing that I never want to have to go through it myself, I always imagined that this seat-swapping method was just a fish story, but there it was happening right before my eyes!

After detaching the old seat from the floor of the cockpit, one mechanic lifted it as another mechaninc pulled it. Before I could spit twice, the old seat was out the small cockpit window and the new one was being hauled in! Our great mechanincs were able to change out a rather large chunk of aircraft equipment in very short order, all while our passengers were boarding the airplane. We even left the gate on time!

In this pic of the 737-300’s flightdeck, you can see the thigh-support (red circle) and the direction the mechanics took the seat (red arrow). The window on the captain’s side gives an idea of how relatively small that window is.


*****

I had an opportunity to visit over dinner with Sam and his lovely wife Dawn up in Portland on Friday night. It was a pleasure meeting the two of them, even though it was a rather short night (I had a very early lobby time the following morning). Thanks for helping me get out of the hotel room, you two! We’ll have to do it again, soon.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ron // Nov 13, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Great story. It’s amazing how fast even the machinery of an airline (no pun intended) can move when there’s enough money at stake.

    I wonder if Boeing designed the windows to be large enough to throw seats out? That would be funny, though the truth is probably more along the lines of ensuring the pilots could egress in an emergency.

  • 2 Aviatrix // Nov 13, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    Isn’t it fun meeting people you know on line? I had a blast meeting bloggers and readers in Silicon Valley. I’m already planning to go back sometime.

  • 3 Gina // Nov 15, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    Beautiful description of “flying” vs. transportation. I hope you get to do some flying soon as well.

    Bach is one of my favorite authors. I remember reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull in high school and then searching out every book I could find by him.

    I just recently re-read “A Bridge Across Forever” and it’s an absolute must-read for anyone trying to understand the pilot in their lives.

  • 4 Sam // Nov 16, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    It was a pleasure, GC. I’m sorry it was so short – we could’ve gone downtown but that could’ve turned into a very late night [grin]… gimme a call next time you’re in town, I promise not to dine-and-dash again!

  • 5 Anonymous // Feb 24, 2007 at 12:19 am

    check this site out.

    http://www.mentor-aviation.com

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