So if you can’t get to Tarragona, Spain anytime soon, you may enjoy this production as a way to escape from your own job.
It’s probably every paragliding pilot’s biggest nightmare – flying within a gaggle of other pilots in search of lift and, even though you’ve kept your head on a swivel carefully watching for traffic, you notice something out of the corner of your eye behind your risers. A hang glider is coming at you.
One pilot, flying in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy, had exactly this experience a few days ago and caught it on his camera.
Fortunately, even though the hang glider pilot’s parachute failed to open, the flat spin was enough to let him down slow enough that he was able to survive the impact with the trees.
With the advent of GoPro cameras, many hang glider and paraglider pilots record their moments in the air. That has led to an abundance of scary, ‘there I was – I nearly died’ YouTube videos involving the sports.
While paragliding in Utah last week, building up my experience for a future “Cockpit Chronicles” article on the sport, I was initially surprised at how stressful it was to fly in a confined area scratching for lift with 20 other pilots. Occasionally, I had to give up the search and try for another flight later in the day when the traffic died down.
Paragliding enjoys a remarkably good safety record (a point that’s subject to debate as you’ll see in the comments below), so hopefully these videos won’t discourage you from trying this purest form of flying.
Al “Blacky” Blackman has reached a milestone few can claim. He has worked for 70 years as a mechanic for American Airlines based in New York, starting when he was only 17 years old.
Surprisingly, he has no plans to retire. “I don’t consider this work. It’s being able to do what you like and getting paid for it.”
On Tuesday last week the folks at AA threw a party for Al, his friends and his co-workers arranged for a painting sufficient in size to make even Al blush, which covered the back wall of Hangar 10 at JFK.
The next day they arranged for a few fellow employees, along with representatives from the media, to join Al in what has to be the most fitting way to mark the occasion, a ride in an original AA DC-3 around Manhattan.
The DC-3, which is operated by the non-profit Flagship Detroit Foundation, is the oldest DC-3 still flying. It is an airplane that AA operated until 1947 – five years after Al started as a mechanic.
Members of the press gathered around and asked Al a few questions before we were led across the ramp for our chance to fly with Al in the vintage airliner.
After he had a slight misstep while boarding, someone offered to hold Al’s cup of water for him. Handing it off, he joked, “You know what they say, If you can’t hold your drink … “
Soon after the 20 passengers found their seats on the plane, some remarked about the lack of air flowing through the cabin. Zane Lemon, the president of the Flagship Detroit Foundation, and our flight attendant for the trip, pointed out the gasper vents that would only supply cool air as we gained some airspeed, and the narrower seats from the time period.
“You have to remember, in the mid ’30s, the average passenger weighed 136 pounds,” he said.
“What was the average temperature?” someone quipped.
I was thrilled to be embarking on such a time-warp, even if the temperature was 95 degrees that day. A flight up the Hudson right by the Freedom Tower in a DC-3? Sign me up.
But my enthusiasm couldn’t come close to that of my friend Sebastian Toovey, dressed in an AA hat and T-shirt, who saw this as the flight of a lifetime. Sebastian’s article will appear in the October issue of Airways magazine, and the assignment was destined for him, as I’m sure you couldn’t find a bigger fan of American Airlines.
As promised, shortly after liftoff the cool air flowed as the view of the New York skyline came into view. It was explained that the flight path would take us north up the Hudson River, giving those on the right side a good view of the city followed by a turn over the George Washington Bridge that would offer the left side passengers an equal view.
The cockpit door was open, allowing those who were interested a cockpit view of the city. We managed to fly past the Freedom Tower, still under construction, which dominated the copilot’s window since we were only at 1,500 feet. It felt surreal to be in an antique airplane while puttering by New York’s newest monument.
Al pointed out the area where he attended school, the Aviation High School in Manhattan. “It was a long time ago!” He shouted over the engine noise.
It was clear that Al was enjoying himself, occasionally talking with pilots over the intercom. Instead of a southerly flight back down the Hudson, air traffic control surprised us with a direct routing from the bridge over Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge before entering the pattern at JFK. The captain later told us that this was extremely rare, and a few of us wondered what it looked like from the streets of New York.
After we parked, Sebastian asked Al to sign an info sheet that described the senior most employee at AA’s career progression. By this time, it wasn’t clear who had enjoyed the event more, Sebastian or Al.
I have to offer Kudos to American for commemorating such an accomplishment, not only of an airline employee, but for anyone who works for a living. Seventy years is nearly three full careers for most people.
And congratulations to Al, who says, “if you enjoy what you do, why stop?”
I couldn’t agree more.
Photos by the author and Nicolas Mace.
“Cockpit Chronicles” takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as a captain on the MD-80 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the “Cockpit Chronicles” Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.
Paragliding pilots have the ultimate perch to get out and see the world. For two Icelandic women, a planned camping trip to the highlands of their country turned into one of the most mesmerizing videos I’ve come across.
In July 2011 two girls borrowed a 4×4, filled it with camping gear and paragliders and drove up to the Highlands of Iceland.
They experienced a new side of their own country, found some extreme flying spots and quaint people, learned how to drive across rivers, up mountains and how to read maps.
4 weeks later, having killed the vehicle, they returned and made this film:
I can think of no better excuse to travel than to take up paragliding and meet other pilots around the world. In fact, I plan to do just that. Stay tuned.
Want to learn to really fly? If you live in the U.S. look up a paragliding school close to you. It’s less expensive than you think.
After building a plastic model airplane I used to fantasize about what it would look like crashing. This urge became overwhelming when my best friend was over at my house trying to annoy me to death. So I sent a B-52 across my bedroom for a bombing run.
The end result was a crash that was a bit of a let down.
Someone at the Discovery Channel recently had a similar idea, albeit on a more grand scale. Back in March, Kate Nixon, a producer working for Discovery, emailed me looking for a ‘727 guru.’ She told me that they had purchased a Boeing 727 that they would be crashing in April for a scientific study. I’m sure the fact that it would make for some great T.V. was also part of the plan.
I explained that I was hardly a guru on the old three-engine Boeing, but that I might be able to put her in touch with someone. At the end of the exchange, I asked her what the “N” number was of the airplane to be crashed.
“Our aircraft is a 727-212 built in 1978 registration N293AS,” She said.
A quick check revealed I had flown that exact airplane when working for ExpressOne International (pic), a passenger charter airline. In fact, my sister Kim had flown it as a flight attendant at Alaska Airlines (pic), the original operator of the doomed airplane.
Kate swore me to secrecy and explained that the planned crash that would be extensively filmed for an upcoming special. They were mounting cameras inside and outside to capture the event. I suggested testing some AmSafe airbag seat belts that I had recently seen while sitting on a 737 at a bulkhead seat.
Of course I wanted to share it with all my friends at those two companies. But I had to keep quiet, at least until now.
They apparently used a pilot and some form of radio control device operated by a chase plane to guide it during the final moments. The pilot jumped out (D. B. Cooper style?) before the final descent into the ground.
And of course, in this day of cell phone cameras everywhere, someone managed to capture the crash, and it looks like the results for the Discovery Channel are far from a let down:
Here’s the full press release from the Discovery Channel:
DISCOVERY CHANNEL CRASHES A PASSENGER JET FOR SCIENCE DOCUMENTARY
A Boeing 727 passenger jet has been deliberately crash-landed in a remote and uninhabited Mexican desert as part of a scientific experiment for an unprecedented international television documentary for Discovery Channel, Channel 4 in the UK, plus Pro Sieben in Germany. The pilot ejected the 170-seat aircraft just minutes before the collision after setting it on a crash course, it was then flown remotely from a chase plane. The crash went according to plan and there were no injuries or damage to property.
Rather than carrying passengers, the plane was packed with scientific experiments, including crash test dummies. Dozens of cameras recorded the crash from inside the aircraft, on the ground, in chase planes and even on the ejecting pilot’s helmet. The program is being made by award-winning British production company Dragonfly Film and Television Productions.
The project aims to recreate a serious, but survivable, passenger jet crash landing with a real aircraft in order to allow an international team of experts to study the crashworthiness of the aircraft’s airframe and cabin as well as the impact of crashes on the human body, plus possible means of increasing passenger survivability and evaluating new ‘black box’ crash-recording technology.
The plane was crashed in a remote and unpopulated part of the Sonoran Desert of Baja California, Mexico. The location was chosen after an extensive international search to find a suitable location offering the perfect conditions for this groundbreaking scientific project.
For safety reasons, an exclusion zone at the crash site was manned by security teams, as well as the Mexican military and police. Ahead of the crash, a full safety review of the project was undertaken by the highly-qualified pilots and commanders as well as the Mexican authorities who concluded that it was safe for all concerned.
Following the crash, the aircraft will be salvaged and an extensive environmental clean-up operation is being carried out by a reputable agency with the full co-operation of the Mexican authorities.
“This ground breaking project features an actual crash of a passenger jet and explores the big questions about how to make plane crashes more survivable; it’s the ideal premiere episode for our CURIOSITY series that stirs the imagination of our audience, bravely asking questions and fearlessly seeking answers. This latest production captures that audaciousness perfectly and I can’t wait to share it,” said Eileen O’Neill, Group President of Discovery and TLC Networks.
“For the first time, leading scientists and veteran crash investigators, who have been enthusiastic supporters of this project, witness a plane crash in real time and explore what happens to the airframe and cabin, as well as the effects on the human body during a catastrophe of this magnitude. We hope to provide new information about how to improve the chances of survival while providing scientific results on passenger safety and new technologies, including new ‘black box’ flight data recording systems.”
Executive Producer, Sanjay Singhal, from Dragonfly Film and Television Productions, said: “NASA were the last people to attempt a crash test of a full passenger jet three decades ago. Now, with the improvements in filming and remote control technology we felt that the time was right to do it again. It’s never been safer to fly, but we want to use this as an opportunity to provide scientific data that might help to improve passenger safety in those extremely rare cases when a catastrophic aircraft accident does occur.
“This has been an extraordinary feat of organization, involving up to 300 people on location, including the production team, pilots, experts, risk management, plus local crew, military, fire teams and police. This is the culmination of four years of planning and hard work. We’re particularly grateful to the Mexican authorities for their assistance and support.”
The crash and the results of the accompanying research will be shown later this year in a feature-length documentary on Discovery Channel in the United States, Channel 4 in the UK plus Pro Sieben in Germany. The program is made by award-winning production company Dragonfly Film and Television Productions.