Tuesday, February 9, 2010

If You Ain’t a Pilot

In regards to the previous post about Milford Sound, I feel I should take a moment to own up to an act of stupidity I committed on my way there.

Initially, when the company that flew me out to Milford Sound called me in my hotel room, I was told I wouldn’t be able to go — bad weather. But five minutes later, the man called again to say that I’d be able to go after all. This gave me pause: The weather was previously so bad that attempting to fly through it would have created to great a risk of a horrific crash, with the lightning and the winds and the splintering metal and blistering fire, but in five minutes the threat level had decreased to “Hell, let’s give it a shot”? How much safer was it? Was it entirely safe or just safe enough? Additional nervousness resulted when the man also explained that I’d be the only passenger in the plane. I’d never been in such a situation before. Logically, it just being me and the pilot wouldn’t make the flight any less safe. There could be a dozen other people in a plane whose pilot suddenly drops dead, but if none of you know how to fly the thing, you’re all goners. The extra people just make for extra fatalities, really. Still, I had the urge to cancel the outing on grounds of religious convictions or propeller allergies.

Regardless of the guarantee of death (basically), I agreed to go. A cab dropped me off at the Queenstown airport and I walked into the flight company’s lobby. There, a cute girl about my age stood behind the desk. She took my name and my payment and then instructed me to follow her. “Let’s get you out to the plane,” she said as we walked out onto the tarmac. “How nice!” I thought. “This young lady is taking me to meet my pilot!” When we got to the Cessna, she opened the door and begin going through various compartments and flicking on and off switches and buttons. “How nice!” I thought. “This young lady is getting the plane ready for the pilot!” Eventually, she finished making sure that all the levers did, in fact, still have on and off positions. “Well, get in,” she said. “And be sure to watch your head.” So I climbed in, hitting my head sharply on the doorframe, and slid into the copilot seat, now in full view of the doodas that keep you from dying. Right behind me, the girl climbed into the main seat. “She had better finish up soon,” I thought, “or the pilot’s going to get mad at her for sitting in his seat.” Then she handed me the headset and closed the door. “It’s good the weather cleared up so quickly she said,” as she started the plane up and effectively drowned out any words that might have been spoken. Which was a good thing, because the next words out of my mouth would have been “Oh shit! You’re the pilot!” followed by “I’m sorry, but aren’t you too young and pretty to not crash this thing?”

Of course, I went and returned safely. The pilot warned me that there might be some turbulence, but the flight went was smoothly enough that I didn’t even spill my coffee. (Which would have been bad, given my proximity to the doodads that keep you from dying.) She flew the plane expertly and even told me through my headset about what we were flying over, how long she’d been a pilot, and other bits of interest. (She had recently flown the cast and crew from America’s Next Top Model into nearby Glenorchy, so the next cycle presumably sends the girls to the Land of Kiwis, where they’ll try to look composed while riding sheep and getting pushed off bridges.) In the end, I felt stupid — sheepish, even — for having made such a sexist assumption in thinking the woman preparing the plane for flight couldn’t actually be the pilot. And I usually try to not be that guy.

In taking so many pictures during the flight, I managed to get part of my pilot in one shot. So I’ll post it here.

flight to milford sound 21

And I’ll let it remind me that not only are women as capable as men, but most women are more capable than me, who, if this little adventure ended differently, would have had to take control of the plane during an emergency and plunged it into a mountain in what would have been record time, if such things were a contest and records were kept. May they never be.

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