Temperature in Minnesota in January: 3 degrees Farenheit
Looking like a dork in your airplane headgear: Priceless
I will admit, I was a bit nervous about this flight. Ever since meeting hockeyfag on ElJay, he has offered to take me for a flight should I ever come to visit him. I always thought this was a nice offer and promised to take him up on it. And while I was excited about the prospect, I was also a bit wary. I've flown on commercial airliners a number of times which have multiple engines, which not only provide them with ample power for the thrust required to lift them off the ground but it also provides built-in redundancy in the event engine failure. I had taken a flight in only one prop-plane prior to this day, and it had been a tri-prop plane with engines in either wing and in the nose.
But a Cessna?
Only one engine. Only one propeller. Only one way down. Heh. You know in La Bamba when Lou Diamond Phillips gets in the plane at the end of the movie? I kept thinking about that scene over and over. But I fought back my fears with the usual rationalizations we like to make when we clamber aboard any plane. It's perfectly safe (JFK Jr.)... statistically it's safer than driving (Buddy Holly)... people do it every day (that Senator from Minneosta)... wait, that Senator from Minnesota!?!?.
hockeyfag performed a rather lengthy pre-trip inspection of the plane. As with any mode of travel regulated by the federal government (like interstate trucking and air-flight) vehicles must be thoroughly inspected prior to their use. And while I was freezing my skinny ass off, I was thankful for his diligence. He dutifully inspected the cables and wheels and fuel tanks, insuring that everything was in proper working order before pulling it out of the hangar.
When you grab the wing of one of these puppies and give it a little shake... the whole plane shakes. Just so you know. I wasn't any more relieved seeing her in the bright daylight.
Nor by the view of the cockpit.
It looked so... primitive. Where were the flashing lights and computer screens and gizmos and doo-hickeys and thingamajigs that were supposed to give me my peace of mind? Surely in the 21st Century even these small planes would be filled with all manner of sophisticated gadgetry so that even a child could fly one of these things, right? I wasn't any more relieved watching my pilot go through his checklist.
I had visions of us hurtling toward terra firma in a fireball while hockeyfag consulted his checklist. Rationally, I knew this was to make sure that no steps were skipped... just sayin'. It also didn't help when he warned me that he was prone to making gutteral sounds of relief upon landing. Great, my pilot is thankful and grateful when he has landed safely. Soon I was strapped in and my pilot fired up the engine. Then he throttled it up and the carburetor sputtered and coughed as it warmed up. And I thought of that scene in Until The End Of The World when William Hurt is flying in the airplane. I won't spoil the movie if you've never seen it, but the engine stops in mid-flight and there's this shot from outside the airplane and it just goes silent and begins to drop. After warming up, though, the engine began to run more smoothly and we got clearance from the tower to proceed onto the runway for take-off. I know this because I got to listen to all the radio chatter through my headset, in addition to being able to communicate with hockeyfag through it. He and the tower people talked that cool call-sign language where all the letters of the alphabet have their own word associated with it. You know, like Alpaha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, etc.
Roger that, we were Two Four Yankee, over. A reference to our tail-number.
Soon, we were on the runway and barrelling down it for the clear blue sky.
And all my fears melted away. To be honest, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I thought the ride would be bumpier and that I would be white-knuckling the door handle the entire time. hockeyfag had even asked me at some point if I got sick easily, which had not done much to assuage my fears either, I might add. But the ride was remarkably smooth. My pilot attriubted this to the cold weather - the air was so dense that it provided really good lift. Also, there was little or no wind to push us around from the sides. As smooth as things were going, I got busy with the camera. I took nearly a hundred photos of the flight!
We quickly achieved an altitude of 3500 feet and my pilot began to point out things of interest from the sky.
Incidentally, while I may look like a dork in my headset, hockeyfag manages to pull off that cool aviator look with the sunglasses and all. Maybe it was the close-shaved manner in which he wears his hair, or perhaps it was our trip to the Mall Of America the previous day, but I was reminded of Snoopy when he pretends to be the World War I flying ace. All that was missing was the neck scarf.
So what did we do in the air? Well, we basically flew in a big circle around Minneapolis, its steaming buildings ever-present in our view.
We were allowed to do a fly-over of St. Paul. Unfortunately, most of this was going-on on the other side of the plane, but I managed to get this shot to turn out pretty well.
We also flew along side the Minneapolis airport and got to see a Northwest jetliner taking off below us.
We also flew by the Mall Of America which we had visisted yesterday. Remember me remaking on how big it was?
Doesn't look so big now, does it? This also gave me an opportunity to really put the optical zoom on my camera to the test. Pay close attention to this next picture of the Mall. See the Ikea store right behind it? All that yellow and blue?
10x ZOOOOM Baby!
I found something else interesting about our view from the air. Minnesota is called the Land Of Lakes for a reason, they have a ton of them. Mythologically, it has been supposed that the lakes of Minnesota are the remnants of footprints left by Paul Bunyon. In the winter they all ice-over and stay that way in the deep-freeze of a state they have up there. Winter sports are naturally a big-time thing. On a previous visit to Minnesota, I found it remarkable how along the highways there are trails worn into the sides of the road from the incessant snowmobile traffic they have. Apparently, they drive them over the lakes quite a bit as well.
Some of you with sharper eyes may have noticed the structures ON the lake in that last photo. Yup, ice fishing houses.
Go, go, gadget optical zoom!
People who live on the lakes also like to make home-made hockey/skating rinks behind their houses.
Probably my favorite thing about being in a plane, though, especially when flying in-to/out-of/around cities, is the symmetry of urban sprawl; the roads cutting lines and curves through the trees and buildings,
objects on the ground arranged in patterns like school buses in a parking lot....
...or the landscaped trees of a golf-course.
And probably what has become my favorite photo from the flight. You know those cookie-cutter sub-divisions they have in the 'burbs where all the houses look the same? I hate those neighborhoods. The houses have little character and for the most part I find them ugly. But from the air, it made for a neat picture.
After an hour in the air, we returned to the airport for our final approach. Those fears from earlier began to creep back. Just the phrase "final approach" speaks volumes of the task at hand. Final. The End. Point of No Return.
And within seconds of that shot we touched down... rather smoothly I might add. hockeyfag said it was one of the best landings he had ever performed. For that I was thankful. And in case you're wondering.... on the way in, as we began to sink out of the sky, I could here the distinct sounds of hockeyfag moaning. It increased in volume and intensity as we approached the ground. Imagine a really noisy orgasm and you have an approximation of what the landing sounded like in my headset. I had an awesome time on the flight, I can only imagine what it must be like to actually be performing the tasks required to make that happen, especially the landing which is arguably the toughest part. I imagine it would correllate to sexual climax.
As for me, I had a cigarette immediately after my feet touched the ground.