Posted by: joevanderfluit | October 1, 2015

Some Perspective on Air Travel

In a couple of weeks I’m finally going to finish off another part of my odd and twisted pilgrimage. Five years ago, I made the trip to Washington D.C. to gawk at all manner of historic airplanes. This time, my hajj takes me to Seattle for the Boeing 747/777/787 factory in Everett. Now, it really isn’t news to me that humans are very, very good at performing incredible achievements and then instantly becoming jaded and disinterested in the very same achievements. I mean, name the third and fourth men to walk on the moon.

Unfortunately for me I only had one vacation day left when I booked this little trip. Which means to maximize my time geeking out over big things being put together I have to get up at 4am, take off my shoes and metal stuff, and cram into a seat in the very, very back of a propeller-driven tube and get to the coast in time for breakfast. I say this smiling like an idiot, and other people give me a weird sideways glance as they dial 9 and 1, just to be safe. I’m used to it. I’ve been since I learned that most people can’t tell the difference – or don’t care to know the difference – between a 767 and A330, which was many many moons ago. I’ve lived on the approach to an international airport’s runway for almost three years and I still run outside and look up if something particularly loud comes in. I’m content in my own private madness. Until someone like Delta drops a brilliant piece of art dressed as and ad that sparks me into coming on here and waxing poetic for a bit:

Now I want to shake the bleary-eyed, gloomy. miserable folk at the airport until they realize how freaking nuts what they’re doing actually is. Flying. Like, in the sky. I mean, what would our ancestors say? You can chase the sun across the Big Water with a screaming metal thunderbird. Do you understand how epic that sounds? How freaking Metal that is? And yet, we have the audacity to bitch that we don’t get the whole can of Coke. An Airbus A380 can take off weighing over 1.2 million pounds; bringing a certified maximum of 853 people from Los Angeles to Sydney like in ain’t no thing.

There's nearly a metric tonne of paint on there.

There’s nearly a metric tonne of paint on there.

By this point we’ve got a gun to God’s head and are screaming at physics to bite the curb while complaining about standing in line. But that miserable line is the queue to literally do the impossible. A Boeing 777-200LR can take you and 265 of your friends from wherever you are to any airport in the world in less than twenty hours. As in, not even a day. Every soul from history who has ever had to endure weeks or months on a sailing ship or ocean liner or covered wagon owes a tremendous slap to every modern-day whiner poking at their hot meal on their little plastic tray table. Is Economy comfortable 9 hours into a 13-hour leg that started on Tuesday and will end on Thursday and you don’t know what day it is because you’re crossing time zones at 900 kilometres an hour? Well, no, it’s not my marshmallow mattress on a lazy weekend. But it beats the hell out of hardtack and scurvy or bunking with rats in the belly of a steamship or dying of dysentery halfway to Oregon. By all rights that is something we should not be able to do, but here we are. We’ve been wielding hidden forces of air pressure like rogue wizards, buzzing around the sky since 1903 flashing lewd gestures to the birds and the forces that would have our feet firmly planted in the dust and the muck.

Oi, bird! Suck it!

Oi, bird! Suck it!

In 1947 it took an orange, bullet-shaped rocket dropped from a bomber – and the brassiest set of cojones to ever clang together – to poke past the speed of sound. In 1961 a DC-8 – a large, ordinary jetliner – broke the same sound barrier by pointing down a little bit.

Supersonic experimental rocket

Supersonic experimental rocket

Accidentally supersonic plain old airliner

Accidentally supersonic plain old airliner

Every 747 at cruise tickles the underside of the natural speed limit that used to tear airplanes apart. Every passenger shuffling off the jetway should rightly swagger like Chuck Yeager. Or, hell, like the gods of the ancients. Because, come on, you just finished riding a giant metal dragon propelled through the sky by spinning death-blades and fire at a height that is fatal to mortal groundlings.

I suppose there is a measure of pride to be taken in the fact that the utter mastery of the invisible has become one of the modern age’s most tedious tasks. Personally, I’d rather never be not excited when a loaded triple-seven floats back to earth like a leaf after streaking across half the world.

First 777F Freighter Lands after B-1 Flight K64503-40

Leafy.

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