Sunday, December 27, 2015

The End of a Flight

A good pilot knows when to eject.

Sometimes the plane just doesn't want to fly.  Or worse, it's over.  The plane is going down in flames and the pilot knows he's not going to make it.  Some folks just want that flight to last forever, as if the restrictions on the plane didn't exist, and the laws of physics excluded them.

But no, every flight has to end.  What comes up must come down.

And a good pilot knows when to eject.

Our pilot is contemplating this right now.

Do I eject?  Is it time to get out of this machine?

It's a final thing, pulling the EJECT lever, and launching yourself out of the aircraft you once knew so well and out into the void.  The great unknown is waiting.

A good pilot knows when the time has come.

"Take good care of your aircraft," they said.  "You'll never get another one," they said.  Bullshit.  Our pilot had flown several aircraft over the vast expanse of his career.  And from what he could remember, those flights weren't so bad.  They all ended abruptly, he recalled.  Violently, even.

The big difference was having a co-pilot on those journeys.  With a co-pilot, sitting next to you, turbulance didn't matter.  Navigation was simple and there always seemed to be a lot of blue sky. Plenty of blue sky, really.

But not this flight.  No, this flight was shit.  Tons of heavy, dense cloud cover.  Terrible communications, storm after storm, and flak from all sides.  Right from the moment of take-off, it seemed, he was taking severe damage that compromised his flight.  Instead of a scenic path over beautiful terrain, he was dodging mountain peaks because he just couldn't climb out of the dense fog.
All along his fuselage were scars.  Holes and torn sheet metal, while some bore blackened scorch marks and hydraulic fluids.  It had been a rough flight right from the moment his wheels left the tarmac.

Just an hour ago he took a massive shot from another aircraft.  It tore a gaping hole in the underbelly.  Flames shot out through the other holes left by previous attacks.  He knew it was coming.  It had to come.  That other plane was going to fire upon him, he knew it.  But he had to fly his course and keep his path because he had a line-of-sight with that plane and he thought if he could just keep that line-of-sight they could get out of this miserable cloud cover and into blue skies together.

But he knew it would fire upon him instead.  The pilot took the damage knowing it would almost destroy him.

A good pilot always knows when to eject.  An hour ago it looked like it might come to that, but he somehow managed to keep his plane in the air.  Still no blue skies, though.

It wasn't the plane's fault.  It had been a decent plane, actually.  It took damage that would have knocked other planes right out of the sky.  In a way, our pilot felt bad about ejecting.

But a good pilot knows when to eject.

He wanted those blue skies.  Once again, just once, to be above the clouds and soar high into the stratosphere.  Our pilot found blue sky once.  It was just for a few fleeting minutes, but he was there, out of the clouds.  Sunlight bathing him, warming him, nurturing him, feeding him.  Sunlight, beautiful sunlight, piercing through the thinner cirrus clouds as if they weren't even there.

But something happened.  Catastrophic failure after a series of fluke wind-sheers.  He was in a dangerous valley and his engines just didn't have the horsepower to climb high enough.  He lost all airspeed and went into a stall, then a flat spin, as he tried to correct the plane.  Eventually he got the nose down, built up airspeed, and got the plane moving again.  But he was too low.  The peak of a snow-crusted mountain tore off his Number Four Engine in a ball of fire, sparks, and smoke.  And down he went into the heavy cloud cover.

A good pilot knows when to eject and he didn't eject then.  He fought to keep the nose up.  He ignored the loss of heat in the cabin and the dense black smoke that made it hard to see.  He kept that nose up and got enough control back to avoid running into the side of a mountain.

But that was hours ago.  And while he's not in a flat spin anymore, he just can't seem to climb out of the dense clouds, storms, and fog.  Blue sky seems to be a fairy tale now.  He's gone over and over again his memories of blue sky as if they were the only minutes of the flight worth talking about.

He just wants blue skies again.  And it doesn't seem like he's going to make it.  Blue skies, he suspects, are for other planes but not his own.  His plane was never built for blue skies.  It was meant to drop down into the clouds and fly until a wind sheer or mountain peak knocked him out of the air.  This plane, this entire flight, was about him crashing into a ball of flames on the ground, where would smolder and burn until there was nothing left but ashes.

So maybe it is time to eject.  Why bother?

A good pilot knows when to eject and this might be the time.

But what would he tell them back in the hangar?

Yeah, I got sick and tired of being alone in the clouds with shit tearing my plane up so I decided fuck it, I'm out of here!

They would ask if the plane was still in the air, and he would have to tell them it was, because they'll pull the flight recorder and see if he was telling the truth.  He would have to be honest and say the plane was still flying.  

It wouldn't make for a very epic tale to be told to children, he realized.

"So children, our hero the pilot gave up on finding his blue skies and decided to jump out of a flying airplane because he just didn't think he would find blue skies again.  The end."

That wouldn't do.  Children, stupid and happy, would see right away there was a problem.  No mythological tale ends like that!  Not one.

A good pilot knows when to eject.

Our pilot looks down at the EJECT lever and knows it is always an option, but one that will have to wait, because there might be another chance.  Maybe this cloud cover will lift a bit.  Maybe these mountains will end.  Maybe he'll fix his remaining engines and get his nose up, and out, of these storms and flak.  Or maybe he'll find another plane, establish a line-of-sight, and together they'll find blue skies.

A good pilot knows when to eject and our pilot is a good pilot.  He's flown through storms of shit, taken heavy damage, gotten thrown around in hellish winds, and navigated the harshest of valleys with smoke and freezing cold flooding his cabin.  He's a damned good pilot.  Not the best, but good enough to have lasted this long.

He decides to give it another hour.  One more hour of this flight to see if somehow he can reach his blue skies, or at least find a reason to keep in the air, because right now he doesn't have one other than the simple question, "what if?"  That single question is all that is keeping him from ejecting right now.

It's not hope.  He refuses to call it hope.  Instead, its a calculation.  There is still a chance and while it grows slimmer by the minute, it's enough for right now.

And a good pilot knows when to keep flying.

1 comment:

  1. Keep flying. Blue skies on order for two-oh-one-six. Just for you.