One Small Step

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

One Small Step

(I was working on another story, but due to certain events, I tabled that story for another time.  I have no facts, no insight into the man’s thoughts, but this is how I like to think it happened.)

The man was ready to stretch his legs.  At just under six feet tall, the muscular man was ready to reach his destination.  The food, the confined area; it was time to be free.  He had spent what felt like years in the cramped vehicle and his destination was in sight.  Really, his destination had been visible for the past several days, but now he and his two friends were drawing ever closer.  Their end destination was in sight.

There was much excitement; also much to do in the metal container.  The man felt that the air was getting stale, much like his two companions.  There was only so much three men could do to stave off that stagnant smell.  Happily they all were enjoying the ride, especially the spectacular view.  The man pondered if the folks at home knew how important it was to really see the bigger picture, that there was more to the world than just them.

Daydreaming would have been easy, but the man and his two friends had work to do.  Michael kept his hands on the controls, making sure their trip didn’t end in a crash.  Soon, the man and Buzz parted ways with Michael and three became two.

The man ran over a checklist in his head.  Now was not the time for mistakes.  Money had been spent.  Hopes had been raised.  This wasn’t just his own little road trip.  He had a purpose.  He ran lines in his head.  He thought about what to do.  And before he knew it, he was standing at the door.

He moved slowly, carefully.  The excitement grew within him.  He gripped tightly to the rung as the thick gloves challenged his dexterity.  As his breath echoed in his ears, the man started to hear voices talk to him.  He acknowledged the others who were rooting for him and the man went about his work.

The ladder was steady and secure.  The environment outside the man’s suit was silent and desolate.  The world that he was used to was millions of miles away.  There were no other people, no seas of endless colors, and there was no sign of any life or activity.  The wave of accomplishment washed over him.  His inner-child fought to come out and play.  He felt the ground greet his shoe as he placed his foot on the rocks and dust.

So it began.  And thanks to Neil Armstrong, everyone on Earth got to go along for the ride.  Rest in peace.

Thank you, Mr. President. It’s a great honor and privilege for us to be here representing not only the United States but men of peace of all nations, and with interests and the curiosity and with the vision for the future. It’s an honor for us to be able to participate here today.” -Neil Armstrong

(If you haven’t seen it before, I highly recommend watching, In the Shadow of the Moon.  Armstrong declined to be interviewed, but you can feel him throughout the entire documentary.  Every other person who went to the moon is represented.  I can’t say enough great things about the film.)

The Day I Crashed a Commerical Flight without Even Trying

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Day I Crashed a Commercial Flight without Even Trying

I bet the main reason the police keep people away from a plane crash is they don’t want anybody walking in and lying down in the crash stuff, then, when somebody comes up, act like they just woke up and go, ‘What was THAT?!’” -Jack Handy

I would like to start off by stating that I had absolutely no business being in the pilot’s seat that day.  Others that were present may claim that I offered to take the stick.  However, when all was said and done, I was woefully unprepared for the responsibility of landing a Boeing 747.  I hadn’t completed the necessary training and I shouldn’t have been put in charge of such an unwieldy airplane.

Granted, I had seen others in my class land the same plane with much greater success.   I was still quite overwhelmed by the cockpit.  I was just one young student trying to comprehend the sheer volume of all the controls that were in front of me.  Until you actually sit in the cockpit of such a large plane and have the hundreds of lights and switches stare you down, you don’t really grasp how complex the process is.  I had undergone instruction and I had been witness to other successful landings.  Still, as the man over my shoulder offered direction and navigational updates, I knew I was in over my head.  In hindsight, I probably should have leapt away from the pilot’s seat and asked for someone more experienced to take over before things went horribly out of control.  But I didn’t.

ImageIt started off well enough.  The plane appeared to respond kindly to my touch.  The views that flew by in the cockpit window were pleasant.  There were no blue skies or puffy clouds to admire since the instructor had chosen a night flight for me.  Mostly, I was greeted with a black sky with the world beneath me glowing happily in a vast array of tiny lights.  I’m sure that each light beneath me represented a building full of hope and happiness for the people on the ground.  If only they’d known.

It wasn’t long until my instructor tried to coach me in the art of landing.  He pointed me towards the landing strip.  I had a hard time trying to make out where I was supposed to go.  The constellations of lights on the ground confused me and it took me a while to find the series of parallel lines that he pointed me towards.  I didn’t have a headset on, so I was not in communication with any tower personnel.  The instructor pointed to the ground and tried to offer helpful suggestions.

My first approach was a mess.  My aim was off, my speed was somewhat reasonable, but my angle was all wrong.  I pulled up faster than I should have and went for a missed approach.  I agonized over how long it took this lumbering giant to climb back up and turn around in air.  Again, I felt the pressure to control such an expensive and complicated behemoth.  It was about then that I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get the plane on the ground like I was supposed to.  It was at that moment that I should have walked away and let someone else take the stick.  But I was young, eager for a win, and foolish.

The second approach was a flat out disaster.  My hands gripped the wheel firmly, but out of fear, not confidence.  Had I fully appreciated what I was about to do, I’m sure rivers of sweat would have trickled down my forehead.  Either way, I came in too fast.  The instructor did his best to remain calm, but I was frustrated and wasn’t used to the controls.  I’m not trying to excuse my actions.  Still, someone should have stopped me. 

I barreled towards the ground.  The instructor started to realize this was not going to end well.  He told me my angle was off.  I grew more frustrated, but did not change course.  I tried to raise the nose of the plane, but I overcompensated.  The instructor suggested strongly that I pull up and go for another missed approach.  That was it for me.

I took the stick, shoved it forward, and watched the plane rush to meet the ground.  The instructor tried to get me to change my mind.  At the last minute, I forced the stick to the side and watched the plane immediately veer of course.  Gone was the view of strip lights or any landing facilities. Instead, the darkness of water below came into view and at a thirty degree angle, the enormous commercial plane crashed into the ocean. 

The instructor, not as shaken as I thought he should be, reinforced what I had suspected.  “Well, you just crashed a 747 and killed three hundred and twenty-eight people.”  He told me the cost of the plane, but my mind has blocked out the figure over the years.  I, as a pilot, was a failure.  To be fair, it was my first lesson.  And I was only a junior high student.

There were other students who had landed just fine.  They had a few bumps, but at least they had gotten the tires to touch the tarmac.  My crash was by far the most spectacular, though I couldn’t bring myself to brag about my failure.  The instructor tried to give me some post-flight advice, but I was done being a pilot.  He flipped a few switches and the simulator began to adjust itself.  I stepped out of the large white box and watched as the massive hydraulics reset and repositioned the replicated cockpit back to its default setting.  I’d like to think that I would do better now that I’m older and wiser, but I have never been back to the Boeing Factory.  That one junior high field trip was enough flight experience for me.  I’m sure the three hundred and twenty-eight imaginary passengers and their loved ones are relieved that their lives are no longer in my hands.

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