Monday, September 18, 2006

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

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(Continued from Part IV)

Next to the door at the bottom of the tower was the intercom. This didn't faze me in the least. Long ago, I learned a neat trick in New York City where almost everyone lived in apartment buildings with an intercom system. All I had to do was press the button and simultaneously pull on the door handle until the person upstairs buzzed me in. I did it again that morning.

Closing the heavy vault-like door behind me, I saw before me a long, winding staircase that forever spiraled upward. The steps were muddy and the walls were murky brown, giving off a dark, ominous feel to it. I was immediately transported to a windowless medieval castle from the Middle Ages. Taking a deep breath, I began the long ascend.

A slender 5' 8" man with a fast receding hairline was waiting for me at the top. Clipped to the pocket of his polyester shirt was a government-issued badge with a badly outdated photo. He had looked a lot younger with gobs of hair back then. Glancing beneath the photo, it read, "Shift Supervisor." He was alone - the others would probably be arriving shortly.

Although uncertain and somewhat apprehensive at having been summoned to the tower, I bravely offered my hand to thank him for the light gun landing.

To my surprise, he laughed heartily and said, “No problem. Very happy to help.” In a split-second, the energy in the air seemed to shift from negative to positive. Maybe I wasn't in trouble after all. But I still I wasn't sure.

Then I noticed a huge red welt across his forehead. Curious and concerned, I decided to ask him about it.

“Sir, what happened to your forehead?”

With an air of self-depreciating humor, he said, “You know how it took forever to give you the green light?”

“Oh yes!”

“Well, see that table over there in the corner? I had to climb on it to get the light gun off the ceiling. The problem was, I didn’t know how to unlatch it. When I finally figured it out, the darn thing came crashing down on me!"

"Suddenly feeling sorry for him, I stammered, “Oh my gosh, I didn't mean to put you through all that trouble sir!"

“Not a problem at all. Please enjoy your breakfast downstairs. When you’re ready for takeoff, you will use Runway 32 on the other side. Just call us like you did this morning and we'll take care of you. "

Glad that I really wasn't getting a verbal reprimand for my mid-morning adventure, I enthusiastically replied, “Well, thank you sir, I'll do just that!"

Going down the narrow staircase was a tad trickier than coming up. It was much steeper than it first looked - it seemed to spiral straight down into the abyss.

It was a relief to finally push the heavy door open and step outside into the bright sunlight. Wiping the sweat off my forehead, I found the restaurant next door. It was moderately busy but there were plenty of tables to choose from. I took one by the window with a full view of the airport.

A perky waitress quickly appeared out of thin air, magically extracted a pen from the back of her head, dabbed it on the tip her tongue and took my order. I decided to splurge and ordered a ham and cheese omelet with extra bacon, whole wheat toast and coffee. After downing two cups of coffee and mopping the plate clean, I paid the bill and went back out to the plane.

While conducting the pre-takeoff inspection, I kept glancing up at the tower to see if my new-found friend was watching. He wasn’t. Perhaps he was busy tending to traffic.

Finished with the preflight, I climbed in the aircraft, pressed the start button and the engine roared to life. Switching on the radios, I put in a call for permission to taxi. A flashing green light came right away. I couldn't tell if it was from the same controller or not.

Upon arriving at the run-up area, the plane was turned around to face the tower so that when it came time to request permission for takeoff, I could see the light signal without having to crane my neck like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist."

In a matter of minutes, I was ready to go.

“Jackson Tower, Piper 455H, request takeoff clearance, Runway 32.”

A moment later, huge, gigantic blinders that covered the entire southeast side of the tower rose up majestically. It was like watching the curtains go up at a Broadway show.

They had a surprise in store for me. Rather than getting a solid green light like I expected, I received a flashing green signal instead. It took a second to realize they were giving me clearance to taxi to the runway and hold for release.

I soon understood why. A corporate jet was taking off from an adjacent runway. As if in a trance, I sat awestruck in the middle of Runway 32 and watched the sleek jet climb two thousand feet a minute while its landing gear folded gracefully underneath. It had a hypnotic affect on me.

After it was a mere speck in the sky, I snapped back to reality and turned to focus at the tower.

As soon my eyes adjusted, a solid green light appeared. My heart leapt with joy.

Thrusting the throttles wide open for maximum take-off power, the Piper Archer rose effortlessly into the pretty blue sky. When the plane reached a thousand feet, I put her in a gentle climbing turn to the right - the direction of my home airport.

As we climbed, I reached for the radio one last time and bid farewell to the controller. In my imagination, he was smiling back at me.

When I got back home, I learned it was a good thing I did not try to fly home the night before. Apparently, someone had a gear-up landing accident, causing my home airport to shut down for several hours. Imagine the consequences had I not listened to my intuition and made my first maiden night flight!

Food for thought: Have fun, be adventurous and be sure to act on your intuition, for it may safe your life. Helen Keller once said, "Life is either a great adventure or nothing."
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