“The Safest Way to Travel”

Picture Rebecca took flying over the Alps on Monday.

Picture Rebecca took flying over the Alps on Monday.

They shut down Tower Bridge earlier this week after finding unexploded ordinance in the area. Almost exactly a week ago, I was right by Tower Bridge, although, to be fair, on the other side from this. Kinda weird. (And, also to be fair, where I work, finding unexploded ordinance is just something that happens every so often.)

In a similar vein, and much more sobering, is that three days ago, we were admiring the beauty of the Alps as we flew over them. We landed in Huntsville a few hours before Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed in those mountains.

The process of flying requires being reminded of the danger of doing so. You take off your belt and your shoes and take your laptop out and present your bottled fluids as testament to the fact that you can being killed doing what you’re about to do. You do it because you convince yourself that it won’t be you.

And, to be sure, to quote Superman, “Statistically speaking, of course, it’s still the safest way to travel.” Odds are, you’re right; it won’t be you. I fly a fair bit, and I do so without reservation. Sure, there’s danger. There’s danger driving to Target.

But it’s easy to convince yourself that there’s a REASON it won’t be you, why your flight is safer than the ones that make the news. From everything I’ve read so far about 9525, there’s no reason it was them. No reason it wasn’t us.

We put down unexpectedly at Dulles between Boston and Atlanta because we had a medical emergency on our flight. There but for the grace of God. It was inconvenient, but you can’t weigh that against the reason we were doing it. The situation was handled competently, calmly and professionally.

I was patted down at multiple airports on our honeymoon, and, afterwards, I always said thank you. The closest thing there is to “a reason” is that every time you fly, there are folks who work hard to make sure you also land.

To them, thank you.

I Believe I Can Fly

20121217-221902.jpg When I boarded the airplane, it had been about a year since I’d taken off in a plane, and about two and a half since I’d landed in one.

After skydiving last year, and having floated in a plane on a reduced gravity flight, it seemed like the next logical item for the bucket list would be flying one. I’d started keeping an eye open for opportunities, and when I saw a great deal on LivingSocial for an hour-long flight lesson, I jumped on it.

The company I flew through was Genesis Flight Services in Albertville, Ala. (And, for the record, I highly recommend them.) I was surprised at just how hands-on the lesson was; I figured I would actually fly probably half of that hour, once we were safely in the air and before we began the process of landing. The reality was, I had my hands on the stick during take-off, and flew the approach for landing. And, as a bonus, the instructor let Rebecca ride in the back seat for free. (Huge kudos to her; despite only having flown a couple of times, and not in years, she didn’t hesitate for a second hopping in the small plane with someone who’d never piloted before at the stick.)

Once we got in the air, I was amazed how well we could see the towers of the nuclear power plant near Scottsboro. The pilot said that he thought maybe some buildings in the distance were Huntsville. I decided to find out. It was hard to tell from that distance, but there was one building that, if he were in fact right about it being Huntsville, I was fairly sure I recognized, so I pointed the nose toward it and headed that way.

Flying the plane was much easier than I’d imagined. I had some experience with flight simulators, and it was amazing how much easier the real thing was. The reality of actually seeing the ground and sky around me and of feeling the results of what I was doing it made a huge difference. (Though I was horribly bad about climbing without realizing it.)

I flew toward the building and realized that it was, indeed, what I thought it was — the dynamic test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center. I’d never been able to show Rebecca Marshall, so, obviously avoiding army airspace, I flew alongside the Arsenal and into the Hampton Cove area. We could see the Saturn V as we were approaching, but finally had to turn back to make sure we’d have enough time for the return to Albertville airport.

We had a little extra time, so we played around with slow flight and steep turns, and, with a bit of guidance, I flew the plane back in for the approach to landing. Nerd that I am, though I don’t know when I’ll ever get to do it again, I went ahead and bought a pilot’s log book to record my one hour of flight time.

Given the opportunity, though, I’d love to do it again.