Archive for January, 2012

I’m on a plane

Just when I thought I couldn’t have anymore adventures before my looming departure, this happened.

I flew a plane.


I later broke the law, but we’ll get to that.

So here’s the story. Around lunchtime I met up with my lovely WEP coordinator, Julienne, to sum up my time in France. Once she had left, my host mum unexpectedly told me to dress warmly and get in the car. We drove for a while, and I began to get suspicious around the point when we were driving in the woods. When we arrived at the municipal airport I really began to wonder exactly what they had planned.

Inside the airport’s tiny lobby, I surveyed my surroundings. I could see no mention of parachuting and was relieved and disappointed at the same time. I don’t really want to leave France, but I didn’t want to die here either. We walked outside and climbed into the back of an airplane the size of a small airplane. But instead of being seated next to my brother, Lucas as I expected, Michel climbed in the back with me. It wasn’t too far out of the ordinary that Lucas would get to sit next to the pilot, somehow he always managed to get the front seat of the car. However it did take me a minute to realise that it would not be the pilot flying this plane.


Lucas was a bit (ok maybe a lot) nervous to be sitting in the pilot’s seat, but it took him only a few minutes to get the basics down. Soon we were hurtling down the runway. I trusted my brother’s instincts, but I wasn’t quite sure that he did. We took-off, and within a few minutes had reached 5000 feet. It is a funny feeling, feeling safer at 5000 feet than at 10 feet.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h05m30s230

We were flying towards the Spanish border, watching all the tiny people and tiny houses and tiny etc. below us. It reminded me of my countless hours of playing sim city 4 deluxe edition but safe in knowing that the traffic jams weren’t a sign of my poor city management, I could just relax and indulge in the fact that I wasn’t them. I must have drifted off into my head, because after a few minutes we had reached the border. How did I know exactly? The majority of the Spanish-French border is a mountain range called “Les Pyrénées”. As we began to fly over the first peaks and I began to wonder if this was all just some elaborate plot to get me out of the country and leave a dead trail when the immigration come looking for an expired visa. I didn’t have much of a chance to think about that – a more pressing issue filled my mind.SANY0226

What once felt like a safe 5000ft didn’t feel that safe anymore. The peaks below us reached almost as high. I tried not to panic and consoled myself that if these were my last moments, that at least I would be spending them with family, that it would be an extraordinary exit to the afterlife, and that hopefully the snow would engulf my body, conserving my good looks so I could have an open casket funeral. Even though he was seated in the co-pilot seat, I trusted our pilot’s decision to take control from Lucas. This, I realised, was about to become serious.SANY0220

We rounded the first peak and made a sudden dive, leaving us truly in the depths of the ranges. I didn’t see how we could pull up in time to make it over the next peak but it turns out that wasn’t our goal. We banked a sharp left, almost perpendicular to the ground, and sped up. Out one window was sky, the other, ground. My head spun so I tried to focus on something. The windscreen. I focused my eyes and saw what I gathered was our escape – a gap between two more peaks. We were still some distance away, so I expected the gap to widen as we approached. It didn’t and suddenly we banked again, miraculously passing the gap. We made it.

I looked around us in our moment of security. Dug into the mountainside below us was a huge open cut mine. Curious, I asked what it was. The pilot replied that it was talc. I told him it was the same word in English. Even so, Michel, being the greatly humorous father that he is had to explain the various uses of talc for me. Suddenly the plane dropped. The land below us had sheered off into a  which has caused a change in air pressure. No biggie. We levelled out again and Lucas took the wheel. No more mountains before us, I felt safe again.SANY0222

The pilot pointed out something on top of a small peak to our left. As it came into focus, we realised what it was, a fortress. After we had passed it, he pointed us our next destination, another airfield not too far away. As he guided Lucas to the runway, I realised that he wasn’t going to land it, Lucas was. Hours of Aircrash Investigations ran through my head simultaneously. The pilot pushed some buttons and we started slowing. The ground came towards us much faster than I would have liked and soon we were metres from the tarmac. The plane nosed up suddenly and dropped gently onto the runway. We taxied and made a brief stop to change our seating.vlcsnap-2012-01-20-09h43m12s0

I had drunk a lot of water before the flight so took this golden opportunity to jog over to the grass and well you know. I looked around at this beautiful day. The sun sifting through the clouds and reflecting of the snow sprinkled slopes in the distance. The breeze drifting lazily through the long yellow grass and HOLY CRAP IS THAT A FREAKING HELLICOTER. The noise of the still running plane motor behind me had silenced it’s approach, and as it drifted not 50m in front of me I read the word GENDARMERIE in huge white letters on its side. Yes ladies and gentlemen, yours beloved, urinated in plain sight of a police chopper, showing it is possible to fulfil a bucket list item quite by accident.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h10m12s216

I hurried back to the plane having decided it would be best to get out of here as quickly as possible. In retrospect it was kind of obvious, but it still surprised me when the only empty seat was the pilots. I climbed in, adjusted my seat, attached my safety belt, and put the plane in gear. Listening to my instructions, I taxied the runway. At the end, I turned the plane around and faced destiny. I released the foot brakes and we sped of. The plane swerved left, and I pushed the pedal to adjust. I had trouble understanding my instructor. What number did he say to wait for? 50? 60? Were we still veering left? Did the cops think I was trying to make a getaway? He signalled to pull the yoke (an aeronautic steering wheel) so I did and as we separated from the tarmac, all my worries vanished.

After a few minutes we levelled out and I adjusted our heading. Occasionally we would bank, but it became easier and easier to stay level. It occurred to me that I had never driven a car but I could fly a plane. I resisted the urge to barrel-roll in delight. The pilot looked behind us for a long while then instructed me to speed up. I snatched a glance behind us. The sun was setting, and even though an early sunset would mean no time to joy-ride for me, the glance I had was enough natural beauty to make it worth it.

Enough clichéd sentimental bull, Ned. Just get to the part where you realise you have to land the plane too.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h02m15s43

Oh yeah, That. As soon as the airfield was pointed out to me, it dawned on me that like my brother, I too would have to aim this contraption at the ground in the hope my instincts would save me. I listened as intently as I could and did everything I was told to: fly over Leclerc, then line up with the runway.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h02m44s85

He told me to aim for ‘34’ written at the start of the runway

I overshot it.

We were too close to the ground

I pulled up sharply.

Our downward momentum keep us falling.

The tyres touched tarmac.

We rolled along the runway.

I congratulated myself.

I had just flown a plane.


We avoided the traffic jams and made it home safe.



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2011 in review

Thanks to everyone who read my blog last year. I really appreciate your support.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report. WITH FIREWORKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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