Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"This is Your Captain Speaking"

Yesterday I flew a plane. No...wait...let me say that again because I'm not sure you heard it correctly. YESTERDAY I FLEW A PLANE!!!!! Just call me Biggles.

I was supposed to be flying out of Sleetmute on Sunday, back to Aniak so that I could fly to Kalskag first thing on Monday. However, a couple of the planes were down with mechanical trouble (the duck tape had come off the window or something :o) ) so they were going to fly me out on Monday instead. "Your plane will be there at about 11 or half 11 or maybe earlier." So on Monday morning I was all ready by 10 and decided to go for a last walk down to the river. I called in at the school to be met by a message "They're sending Fred's plane for you. When you hear it scurry out to the runway." Oh, those pesky check-in procedures.

So I waited and waited and eventually at 1pm the plane came. This was fine. I was due to fly out of Aniak at 3.15 to go to Kalskag. Fred had to pick up a water sample in Chuathbaluk which was about 45 minutes away. Since I love take offs and landings out here, that was excellent news.

So, there we were. I sat next to Fred, put on my headset and we took off. It had been snowing lightly in Sleetmute and the sky was grey, but as we got to about 5 minutes out of Sleetmute the weather cleared up and it was lovely. "Would you like to fly the plane?" said Fred. I twisted around in my seat, just in case there was a co-pilot stretched out in the back who I hadn't noticed. "ME??? Fred, I don't even drive a car!"

"It's easy. Just steer us along the course of the river. Move this." he pointed to what I shall call the steering wheel, since I don't know the technical term (they didn't teach us that in flying school)."to the left when you want to go left, and right when you want to go right. Pull it back when you want to go up and push it down when you want to go lower." Or was it the other way round...? This dial tells you where we are - try and keep that in the middle except when we're turning. This dial tells you what height we're at. Try and keep it around 900 feet except when we're going through the hills. If the fog rolls in, take it lower so that you can see the river." I looked at him. "Sometimes it gets so foggy that you can't see one side of the river from the other." I whimpered. "I'm not expecting that to happen."

So I took control of the plane. I FLEW THE DAMN PLANE! For about half an hour I was in control. Keeping at a steady 900 feet...OK, at first it was an UNSTEADY 750 to 1300 feet (looking at TWO dials AND where I was going was really tough, you know...I flew along the line of the river. At one point Fred said "You're doing great. Just follow the river and you'll get to Aniak. Wake me up when we get there."

Because the river meanders and twists there were a couple of times where we took a short cut through the hills. I swear I thought I was going to crash us into the trees. "How do you aim the plane when you're not following the river." Fred set a dial for 250 W and said "Keep it at that setting."

"THREE dials? You want me to watch THREE dials?" So I did. We flew in between hills and then back along the river.

"Just point the plane at that patch of white there. That's the runway in Chuathbaluk."

"You're going to take over now, right Fred?"

"Nope, you're doing just great." He went onto the radio and said we were 5 minutes out of Chuathbaluk. "Now bring it down steadily at about 100 feet a minute." I concentrated hard. "Donna, that's 300 feet in 30 seconds. We're going to be there 3 minutes early." Whoops. As we came in over the trees I reluctantly handed control back and Fred brought it into land.

As he was taxi-ingalong the runway ready to take off again he said "Do you like roller coasters?" "Oh yes," I said. So he sped along the runway towards the trees at the end. As I opened my mouth to say "There's a squirrel sitting on that branch and I can see the whites of its eyes and it looks as petrified as I am." the plane lifted sharply into the air and my stomach did a back flip. I'm very glad I didn't have that piece of blueberry cheesecake for breakfast.

He then flew about 50 feet over the river so I could see the ice floes. This far down the river they have stopped, blocked up at Aniak. The ice is all lumpy at the moment, made up of little separate floes. At some point the weather will warm up, the ice will melt a bit, and it will smooth out.. He then sped up and did the stomach churning bit again. This time, I went weightless and came out of my seat. "That's cos I got us to 2 Gs" he said "Do it again! Do it again!" I squealed.

Flying will never be the same again. I took a few photos but not as many as I usually do becaause, I'm not sure if I mentioned it but I WAS FLYING THE PLANE!

I had to wait a while for the flight to Kalskag as they took me off the earlier one and put me on one at 4pm. It was really a novel experience for the airport manager to say "Donna - there's a phone call for you."

I arrived in Kalskag and was taken to Karen and Dave's house. Lovely people - I stayed with them last year. Dave made dinner - Caribou and bear. Yes, I have added Winnie The Pooh to my growing list of epicurean sins. Dave caught the bear. It was a black bear so I made sure to get its credentials before I ate it, as bear meat takes on the flavour of whatever it had been eating. Luckily, this one wasn't found at the town dump but sitting in the blueberry patch with its furry little lips all blue and juicy. And it tasted dee-lish-us. And very tender. Why do I sound like Hannibal Lecter?

Photos will be added and comments will be commented on (I'm looking at YOU Ewan and Paulie Walnuts), but right now I am late for school :o)

Tata my lovelies.


sally906 said...

One word:


Bobbie said...

Holey Moley Sheesh Capeesh WOW!!!!!


Do It Again!!! Rolly coaster fun in the tiny plane and snowcovered land....watch the squirrel!

Once again, you top my list of Great Adventurers.

I've been in those tiny planes. The pilots sometimes have their own set of rules, and are very good at those rules. Independent, adventurous, humourous, but excellent at the job they do, these pilots I've met. So glad you had this HUUUUGGGGEEEE ADVENTURE yourself, and now can say...loudly...I FLEW THE PLANE!!!!! WHEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

Bobbie and Larry

Julie said...

FANTASTIC!!!!!!! Oh, you lucky gal, what a superb exerience!!!!

I had a wee flying lesson once and flew towards Durham Cathedral (it's still standing...) but as lovely as Durham is, that simply doesn't compare to what you just did. Awesome! You never cease to amaze me, my lovely! J x

Anonymous said...

Dear Biggles, DONT touch the red button.

Donna said...

Sally - wow indeed. I haven't been able to stop grinning :o)

Bobbie - the bush pilots here are excellent. Someone told me that there are old pilots and there are bold pilots but there are no old bold pilots :o) As we were flying in to Aniak Steve pointed down and said "That's where my friend crashed my plane last summer." I said "At least I never did THAT" :o)

Jools - I think I would have managed to hit it so well done you!

Dad - that's what all the pilots have said. And that red button is sooooo tempting.

Ewan said...


Well, Donna, at first I thought - fuck me, how brilliant is that?! How many people get to do that in their lives!? But then the penny dropped, and I realised what's going on. Donna, don't you see what they're doing?! First, they get you to teach in their schools, right? THEN they get you to fly a plane. THEN they say, oh, sorry, Donna, can you just mind the shop for a minute, honey, I need to nip out to the honey bucket for a second,and before you know it you'll have to run the shop for them. THEN they'll make you one of those VPSO's they're in such dire need of. It's insidious, Donna, get you to do a little bit more, then a little bit more, so that you don't notice it creeping up on you, until one day, you wake up and realise they've turned you into their slave, Donna, into their bitch! That's how it works, Donna, that's how they get you! Trust me, Donna, I know about these things. GET OUT OF THERE! NOW! BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE!

gary warren niebuhr said...

WOW! I mean, really--WOW! You were my hero before but now--WOW! GWN

Steve Ward said...

Randomly found your blog looking for pictures of Kalskag to show a co-worker where my parents live, and see you telling this nice story about them. Of all of the adventures you write about, you REALLY took your life in your hands when you let my dad cook for you! Haha, just kidding. Anyway, thanks for saying nice things about them.

Sofia Alissa said...

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