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
      this prospect...

  "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 find several 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.