Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How I, a Deaf Pilot, Turned an Idea into an Adventure-Part III

(Continued from Part II)

Making my way across the inky black ramp to the airplane, a gust of cold air blew across the landscape, causing me to shiver involuntarily. Goose bumps spread like wildfire causing me to rub my arms vigorously. A cold front was passing through.

Opening the door to the luggage compartment, I hurriedly rifled through my duffle bags, not remembering whether I had packed a sweatshirt. All I had that was remotely useful was a lightweight Gore-Tex jacket. In the far corner, I noticed something clumpy. Thinking that it was a blanket, my hope surged and then went flat in one fell swoop when it turned out to be a bunch of oily rags.

Shit.

Crestfallen for not being more prepared for something like this, I climbed into the cockpit, eased the door shut and clicked the lock into place with a resounding snap.

Sliding into the co-pilot seat, I surveyed the makeshift hotel. Paris Hilton would certainly not have approved. And a contortionist I was not, my expanding waist saw to that. But it will do.

First, I stretched across the two front seats, curling into a fetal position but when protruding seatbelt buckles poked out menacingly, I tried lying on my back, then on my stomach. It went like this all night. With each new position, my legs were forcibly crammed into very unnatural positions.

Oh my.

This was actually the least of my problems. Not only was I shivering uncontrollably but I had the sheer audacity to park right by the rotating beacon, which kept waking me up every 60 seconds. It reminded me of those prisoner-of-war movies where powerful spotlights swept across the prison yard, spilling light in and out of dark bungalows along the way.

Somehow I got the hang of it and fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.

At daybreak, I sleepily looked outside the cockpit. What I saw made me think I had died and gone to heaven.

The entire airport was completely fogged in!

The fog swallowed up everything in sight, including the wings of the airplane. I knew I wasn't leaving anytime soon.

For three hours, I bumbled around the airport, watching the rising sun cut swaths through the fog. It was beginning working its magic because the surrounding tree line, completely shrouded earlier, was now becoming visible with each passing minute. Glancing at my watch, it was 9 am. In another hour, I would take the plane up for a "look-see" by circling directly above the airport and survey the surrounding area. If it was still foggy in the outlying areas, I would come right back down and wait some more.

At exactly 10 am, the "look-see" plan swung into action. Advancing the throttle wide open, the plane roared happily and lifted into the morning air with nary a bump. During the climb out, I scanned left to right. Aside from occasional wisps of fog, almost all of it was gone. Relieved, I punched my home airport identifier (KVLL-formerly known as 7D2) into the GPS and turned to the correct heading.

Within five minutes, my stomach was growling, reminding me that I hadn't eaten breakfast yet.

"I'll be home in another forty-five minutes, you can wait," I told my stomach.

It growled louder in defiance.

It was then I remembered there was an airport along the way that had a restaurant right on the field. I had been there many times and the food was pretty good. Why not stop there?

There was one problem.

This airport had a control tower.

"How would I, a deaf pilot, get in?" I thought.

As I was pondering this, I remembered something someone had told me at the Kansas fly-in. This person told me that by making special arrangements with the tower supervisor the day before or day of departure, that he was able to fly in and out of controlled airports with no problems.

How he did this was by contacting the supervisor via a special phone service (from home or the home airport) and asking if it was possible for him to make a landing via a light gun signal (used nowadays in cases of radio failures). If the controller was willing to accommodate him, a date, approximate time of arrival and runway of use would be agreed upon. When the deaf pilot was within the vicinity of the airport, the tower would flash a powerful beam of green light, giving him permission to land. (There are other lights that mean different things but a green light is what deaf pilots want to see).

As I was recalling this conversation, I realized I hadn't made any such arrangements.

"Oh well, there's always another time."

The moment I thought that, a crazy idea was born. I smiled for the first time since that morning.

To be continued........
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