Back on the Road

November 707 Foxtrot Foxtrot

It is quite a thing to fly in an airplane like this one. I am talking about a Beechcraft Bonanza. Actually, it is already quite a thing to get into the copilot seat. Once you’ve made it there, you fasten your seatbelt, and shut the door, which requires a certain amount of force and coordination. Then you check whether it is properly locked. You put on your headset, make sure the noise canceling is on, because otherwise your ears will fall off due to the noise of the engine and the propeller. You have to make sure that the microphone is stuck to your lips, because otherwise you cannot be heard. Ben even points his lips at all times to make sure that his mouth is always connected to the microphone.

As for the pilot, my dear friend Ben, I truly fail to understand what he is all doing, but there’s a lot going on. He’s pushing buttons, turning buttons, pulls and pushes handles, controls the status of the engine and the oxygen supplies, because when you’re flying at a certain altitude, you will need to inject oxygen into your nose through a respiratory tube, that you fix around your neck and stick in your nose. Prior to each take off, Ben works off a checklist to make sure everything is in place and working properly.

Then, provided there’s a tower at the airport of departure, he connects with the controller on the ground and clears our path for departure. If there isn’t a tower or a controller on the ground, as seems to be the case for many smaller airports, he still communicates through the radio to inform other pilots in the area that he is there and what he is going to do next.

As for the takeoff, imagine driving a van at full speed until you lift it up in the air. This has nothing to do with a takeoff of a commercial airplane, where you are simply tilted back in your seat until you have reached the ultimate flying altitude and where really, you don’t feel a thing. Here, you feel the power of the air, things are in motion, and then, you fly. The ground beneath you, houses, streets, everything become smaller and smaller, you break through the clouds, and then, you are at peace. There is a sense of detachment, a sense of freedom.

As you keep listening to the communications through the radio between various pilots in the air space you are in and various controllers on the ground, you feel that there is a certain team spirit at work. Messages are short and concise, mostly not understandable to the normal creature who does not know the radio alphabet. You hear a lot of Alpha, Zulu, Foxtrot, Tango, Yankee, November, X-ray, Juliet and more. The tone is calm and professional and friendly. People of a certain kind are at work in a steady flow.

I have discovered a new side of the American way of life. Flying in private airplanes of all kinds, be they engine or jet planes, is far more common in the United States than it is in Europe. It is far less regulated and embedded in the principle of responsibility. Ben is an excellent pilot, and no matter how short the runway and whether of asphalt or of grass, Ben will get his bird off and on the ground with an impressive level of serenity and know how.

Our longest flight was from Atlanta, Georgia, to Newport, Rhode Island, where we reached a flying altitude of 17,000 feet, and spent a little more than four hours side-by-side flying from the South to New England. And please note, there are no toilets on board. So either, you can hold it for the duration of the flight, or you have to help yourself.

The landing in Newport is quite an experience, after the sky clears over the Atlantic ocean, and you see Long Island on your left and Rhode Island ahead of you and you dive back down to the ground, back to the hustle and bustle of mankind. You want to hold on to the moment. You do not want to let it go. Yet every journey comes to an end, and then the flying van touches down on the runway.

We have meanwhile arrived at our final destination for this leg of my trip, namely Wellesley, Massachusetts, the home of Ben and his family, where I have spent the last 36 hours with them, before heading to Los Angeles from Boston tomorrow morning. Surely, I will have the time during my flight to reminisce and write about my short time in New England, but I will leave it there for now.

My days with my brother and commodore Ben have come to an end, as sad as it is. I am a bit afraid of our farewell tomorrow morning because I fear that my sadness will be overwhelming.


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