Sunday, March 23, 2008

I Misspoke

It was a treacherous night landing. Ice had formed on both of our wings, and as I looked out the port window, I could see it breaking into shards, flying off into the night sky with each near barrel roll of our C-50, highlighted by the flares shooting past on either side of the cabin, turning them into falling prisms of wildly careening light.

As the cabin lurched back and forth and the sounds of rocket fire percussed the urgent, faltering rhythm of our right engine, I unfastened my seat belt, and, finding my center of gravity, rose from my seat, moving past aides who were frozen, stock still in their chairs, arms locked like girders against their arm rests in terror, and walked up the center aisle to the pilot's cabin.

"How long to Kosovo"? I shouted over the screaming whine of the altimeter's alarm, marking our steep descent. The pilot turned, looked at me in shocked recognition--" did you make it up here? No one has ever walked up here in these conditions before! How..."

"Never mind that!" I barked, with what I hoped was a not too stern forcefulness, yet laced with sufficient steel and empathy to create an impression of firm imperturbability. "Check the master FMC! Is it working or has it failed?"

The pilot paused, as if in amazement at my readiness, and then himself awakening to crisis, looked to the Control Display Unit . "It's down! It's down!" he shouted. Beads of sweat began to form on his brow.

I knew what I had to do. "Get out of there!" I commanded, and pulled him from the seat, from where he crumpled to a fetal position on the floor behind me. Stepping over him, I took the chair behind the console.

"Check the Central Maintenance Computers and activate the NAV RAD for alternate radio tuning capability!" I shouted to the co-pilot. He, too, had broken down in tears, his head buried in his hands. I looked to his ID on the console. Another newbie.

Well, this was another one where I would have to go it alone.

Quickly, I tore the scarf from my neck and fashioned it into a crude lasso that could be used for EFIS/EICIS control. Catching the lever with my right hand, I activated the cabin loudspeaker with my left. I knew that the passengers had likely been gulled by the earlier soft patter of the pilot. "Brace yourself! Get ready! These aren't just words!" Then I pulled the lever back hard, sending us rocketing towards the runway.

"You'll never make it!" A voice behind me--I knew that voice, and turned. Richardson! How did he trundle up to the cabin? "Out of here, Judas! And take that quivering beard with you!"

I could feel bolts straining against Pennsylvania steel as I pushed the '50 down, down, down to the ground below us. Suddenly, an explosion punctuated the sky--Hand held rocket fire at 3' o'clock!

I quickly performed the evasive maneuvers that I had learned for so long, and so well. My face became angry, then sad, then gentle, then intensely serious, then was finally rocked by a powerful squealing, an unnatural burst of laughter. That did it! The rocket exploded harmlessly behind us.

Now. Now it was time to take the stick and bring this shaking, careening flight, parts straining against themselves until nearly ready to burst, down to the ground. I put my arms to the twin arms of the FO-AP, set the APC, and with all of the strength remaining in me, began to push the levers down. Straining, I pushed harder. And harder. I could see the runway rising before us in the glare shield. I would have to find the remaining strength to bring it down.

Finally, as if a burst of superhuman might had somehow been delegated to me, I pushed the levers into locked position. I could hear Penn in the cabin shouting "We're landing...We're going down!" as I felt the rough shock of the landing gear snapping into place.

Sparks flew as we hit the runway, bullets ricocheting off of the cabin, one wheel touching pavement. I looked straight through the windshield--the militia, arms at the ready stood at the runway's end. The last obstacle.

I turned the craft hard, sending it hurtling sideways across the pavement. It swept the militia away in a single screaming motion that combined with the screaming that arose from the cabin, as we continued to move towards the small, makeshift terminal, where the dignitaries, negotiators, and heads of state awaited my arrival.

I did not close my eyes. I did not let go of the wheel. I watched--as we ground to a halt just before the doors of the terminal.

I looked fore, at the dignitaries protecting themselves from the sniper fire that raged around them. I looked aft, at the passengers, shaken but safe.

We had arrived. All was good.

Just a moment...

Due to the discovery of a video of the above described occasion, I would like to make a few small corrections. The flight was in fact actually a regularly scheduled chartered flight that was actually flown by the pilot and co-pilot--although the pilot did have a cold, and during the flight, I did at several times give serious attention to our flight conditions (notes indicate that I found it "a bit bumpy"). I would also note that the dinner, Salmon with Creamed Potatoes, was undercooked, and was served with a Riesling that was unusually dry. It is also true that we were met not by a militia, but by a girl's youth soccer team. However, it was necessary for me to dodge a soccer ball as team members demonstrated their often aggressive skills. No other shots were fired.

In short: I misspoke.

-Dr. Alan J. Lipman