Monday, May 28, 2007

King of the Air


“Do you see those two builiding to our one o’clock? Descend to a couple hundred feet and fly between them”

“Are you sure I can make it?”, I ask of my flight instructor and best friend.
“Sure, no problem. Get lower… lower”
“I don’t think we can make it Jim”, as we close at a rate of 200 knots.
Did I mention that this was my first time behind the controls of a Beechcraft King Air? Having successfully landed this graceful beast a couple times, Jim ups the ante and decides to play thread the needle using a twin engine aircraft and two of Orlando’s skyscrapers. I suppose I could be classified as slightly insane having such an abandoned trust in my instructor, but hey, he is technically pilot in command, even if he did just step out of the copilot’s seat mumbling something about the computer acting up.
“Jim, are you sure I can make it between these buildings?”
My mind flashes back to the late Cory Lidle who grievously attempted to turn his airplane around in downtown Manhattan just a few months ago… and if I remember correctly, he too had his flight instructor with him.

“It’s no problem, but you need to get lower to get the full affect”. Jim loves to see my shirt darken in copious amounts of sweat while teaching me the finer points of piloting an aircraft. I used to think he reserved these teaching techniques just for me until I had the privilege of observing his antics from the back seat while someone else was getting the constant barrage of correction during his multi-engine check ride from Jim.
“Are you sure you don’t want to climb back up here before I reach the buildings? I don’t think I can get through these buildings… and what happen to the 1000 foot boundary around populated areas you just lectured me on last night?”
“You’re doing just fine, don’t worry about it”.
I should have acted on my instinct. Like time-lapse photography, the buildings grew larger than life at a rate faster than seemed possible . There wasn't even enough time for my mind to play things in slow motion when at the brink of disaster. I frantically pull up on the yoke and roll the aircraft into a hard right bank hoping to slip through the concrete pylons.
Suddenly I’m through with only a bright blue sky before me and wings still intact. Apparently the simulator is more forgiving than real life, but the sensation is incredibly real. Jim laughs.
Dripping, I bring the King Air back to Orlando International. But remember who’s still back at the computer. Suddenly a truck pulls out on the active runway and I’m forced to abort the landing. But clearly, that would be too easy. I mean, I must have a full sixty minutes experience by now, so Jim introduces a fire in my right engine while I’m reconfiguring the plane for a go-around. With a press of a button, the fire is magically extinguished and the power of the sole functioning Pratt and Whitney engine effortlessly takes us around for another landing approach.
Ninety minutes later I’m safely on the ground and applying reverse thrust when Jim pipes up one more time.
“Leave the reverse thrusters on and see what happens”.
Quickly the plane stops and then begins to back up! What not to do? Step on the breaks. Instantly the Beechcraft tips back like a tipped cow with nose wheel in the air until it comes to rest on its tail. Lesson over, but another 1.5 hours logged of complex, multi-engine time in a plane I would never have dreamed to fly. Thanks Jim.