Sunday, May 18, 2008
Of course we met at the airport, part 2.
I was flying cargo in a Beech 58 Baron out of Goderich when Lisa and I met 8 years ago. I got up the courage to ask her if she wanted to go for a plane ride, and she accepted...
I picked up the cargo boxes from the factory, then drove to the airport and loaded them into the nose of my beloved Baron. I saw Lisa in the main terminal, so after I was done loading the boxes, I casually and nonchalantly walked over to her. I had my lines all picked out, and the world was about to witness how smooth and suave I could be.
"Sooo, I see you are hanging around the airport. I guess you couldn't stay away from me eh? Well, the weather is perfect so if you still want to come with me to Hamilton, we can go whenever you are ready."
"First of all, I work at the airport, remember? That's why I'm here - I'm not just waiting around for you. In fact, I'm not actually off for another half-hour. But if you want to wait for me, I would like to go for a flight."
My face burned as hot as a thousand suns, but I kept it together.
"Umm, sure. A half-hour won't hurt. I umm have to do some flight planning anyway and stuff and other things that will take precisely a half-hour also, so umm yeah, I will get back to finishing off those things and then meet you at the plane in half an hour. 'Cause I have lots of important flying things to get ready. Righty-o, see you in 30 minutes. Then we'll go flying. To Hamilton. In 30 minutes. Half an hour."
She raised an eyebrow and smiled a little. I bit my tongue so I'd stop talking, then slowly walked away like I had something to do. Like I said, smooth and suave.
Time passed, up to and including the 30 minutes I had so eloquently discussed.
Lisa walked over to the plane.
"Hi Sully, I'm ready to go now. Hey, don't you wear a uniform?"
I looked at her, looking at my sandals and shorts and Skinny Puppy t-shirt.
"Umm, I fly cargo mostly. The uniform isn't important. I hate wearing a tie anyway."
"Pilot uniforms are hot."
"I will wear one from now on, even when I'm not flying"
She laughed, and I fell further in love.
Now a couple of minor things to note: This was May 2000, and things at small airports were considerably more relaxed than they are now. The main runway in Goderich is runway 13/31, and normally we use runway 31 for takeoff and landing. At the end of runway 31 is a steep cliff, followed by Lake Huron. My boss worked in a building right on the shoreline, and frequently on departure I would keep the plane low, then skim out over the water and parallel the shoreline until I streaked past the boss's office at a great rate of speed. Then I would pull up, hang a left and head toward Hamilton. It took maybe 20 extra seconds, my boss enjoyed it, and it was hella fun.
I gave Lisa the safety briefing, including the part "If the door pops open right as we take off, that's pretty much normal in a Baron. There's no danger, and we'll just come back around and land." Now that I think about it, maybe that's not as confidence-inspiring as I meant it to be.
I told Lisa that the Baron is fairly overpowered for a light piston twin, and that the plane handled like a sports car. I did a static runup on the runway, then let go of the brakes and pulled the trigger. PAA launched forward like a greyhound (the dog, not the bus) and we were airborne in a few seconds, skimming out over Lake Huron, then hanging a left and flying across from the main beach in Goderich, out over the water enough to make it legal. I looked over at Lisa. She was waving at the people on the beach, and seemed to be enjoying herself.
The plane was light and we accelerated to 180 knots very quickly, so I decided to show off a little more. Once we were done the tour of the beach, I pulled back to maybe a 30-degree climb, and we hauled ass skyward. We climbed a thousand feet in a few seconds, and then I decided to show Lisa the zero-G trick, so I pushed forward on the controls. As the nose fell below the horizon, we were weightless for a few seconds. Lisa laughed as my lucky clearance-writing pen floated in midair between us. I heard a muffled clunk up in the nose, or maybe it was just a random airplane noise. After a few seconds of weightlessness I had to pull the nose up again, and I started to fly toward Hamilton like a normal pilot might.
On the way there I showed Lisa the controls and instruments, and pointed out Stratford and Kitchener and Toronto in the distance as we got closer and closer to Hamilton.
"So when we land, we go to the UPS ramp. We are by far the smallest airplane that hauls cargo there, which is kind of cool because when it rains I can actually park under the wings of the 757's at the UPS ramp and stay dry."
"Hmm. Most of the pilots I have met say bigger is better. And here you are, saying that small can be good too. What am I going to do with you, Mr. Sully."
I tried not to lose control of the airplane, and actually had a decent landing. We taxiied over to UPS and hopped out. I introduced her to the glassy-eyed ramp rats, and went to the nose of the plane to get the boxes out.
"Okay, Lisa, I'll just be a few seconds unloading, then we can taxi over to the Tim Horton's at the other end of the field, grab a couple of iced cappucinos and blast off for home. Just as soon as I get the nose door open. Hmm, it's sticking a little."
In fact, the nose cargo door was completely jammed. When I had shown off to Lisa after takeoff and done the zero-g trick, the cargo in the nose had also become weightless, which enabled it shift inside the nose in such a way as to settle on top of the inner latches, preventing them from snapping open.
Our nightly cargo was stuck inside the plane and we had no way to get it out.
The ramp rats tried to slide thin metal strips between the latches to pop them open, but nothing would work. They even called over a 757 mechanic to come take a look. He fiddled with it for a long while, then said "It's screwed. Go home." and walked away.
Shame-faced, I told the ramp rats that we would head back to Goderich to get the nose compartment fixed "The locks must be stuck or something. The mechanic at our home base should have told me they were sticking!" I faked outrage.
Of course by then it would be too late for my plane's cargo to get on the 757's that would take it all across the world, meaning the boxes would sit at the Goderich airport overnight and come on the following night's cargo run. Not a desirable outcome for the customers who paid extra to have their boxes flown to Hamilton to make tonight's 757 flights.
Anyway, Lisa and I loaded back up into the plane and departed back to Goderich, with our precious cargo still in G-PAA's nose It was almost dusk and the skies were clear, so we watched the sunset turn the sky red and gold.
I waited a few minutes before I confessed to her "When I did the weightless thing the cargo shifted and..." She had a good laugh, which then turned to worry.
"Are you going to get fired?"
"I don't think so. I'm probably going to get yelled at for showing off though"
"Awwww...you were showing off for me?"
"Yes. Yes I was. I wanted you to think I was dazzling and amazing and now I feel like a complete tool"
"Well I thought the zero-g thing was pretty cool. But you don't have to try to impress me, I already like you"
As we flew home in silence we watched the moon and stars move in the heavens, then a brief flash of a meteor as it burned across the horizon, winking out as the ball of flame became a cinder.
"Quick! Make a wish!"
"I already did"
Her hand reached over to mine.
The next day, I got a phone call from our mechanic. It took him 6 hours to remove the main nosecone and then de-rivet one of the latches so he could pop the nose cargo compartment open. "Did you bring a girl with you last night? That's the only thing I can think of that would cause you to do something that stupid." Yes, he actually said that. He then continued to chew my ass for quite a while.
And I would do it all over again in a millisecond.