It’s a good thing that titles can’t be copyrighted. With apologies to Erica Jong, I title this self-confessional column, “Far of Flying.” I can’t say I’m afraid of flying, but I’m a reluctant air traveler. I am right. I had two close encounters with an air disaster. The first was as a boy. A man with his brand new pilot’s license took me for a ride in his Cessna. It wasn’t really a trip. We took off, circled and landed.
He looked as white as a ghost.
“We almost crashed.
He had made two rookie mistakes. He misjudged my weight (I’m heavier than it looks), and he took off downwind when he should have taken off into the wind. More lift that way.
“We almost crashed into the trees at the end of the track,” he explained.
It was the end of our flights.
The second time really scared me. The first time no. I had no idea of the two errors of my maiden pilot. I was flying for the first time and I was delighted.
The second time shook me. I was working as a screenwriter and cinematographer on a documentary about Carolina bays. We needed aerials to show the distinctive elliptical shape and parallel alignment of the bays. A pilot with Vietnamese helicopter credentials, David “Super Scott” Scott was to take us by helicopter to film aerials of important bays in Horry County, South Carolina.
The helicopter refused to start, a warning perhaps. No problem. Scott said he would fly over us in a little fixed-wing craft, the best Cessna I can remember. We took off and soon passed Horry County. Strapped in as I was, I leaned over and filmed the bays below. Their sandy borders—white crescents—contrasted against the dark green of the bays. We shot a good sequence and headed back to Columbia Metro Airport.
Coming into sight of the airport, we saw a commercial airliner approaching the runway we were to use.
“We don’t want to get caught up in his propeller wash,” Super Scott said. “We’ll go around.”
We circled and then made our approach. Everything seemed fine until we were about 200 feet above the runway. The propeller wash still surprised us, causing the plane’s wings to flip vertically. As Super Scott was leveling the plane, the camera gear slammed into the back of my head and we landed and taxied down the runway.
Since my two misadventures I have flown to Winnipeg, Los Angeles, all over the USA and Europe twice, I have traveled all over Germany, France, Spain and Italy . But the next incident could be my last act in the drama called Air Travel. The third time is the charm, people like to say. Thus, my reluctance to steal. I will fly but I choose very carefully when where and why.
I knew a person who died in a plane crash, a classmate who was a missionary in South America, I believe. He was a good man and he deserved a better fate.
Another fear I have is witnessing a crash. I saw roadside “art” installations of what are supposed to be humorous take-offs of plane crashes. There was a glider in a tree near Winnsboro, South Carolina. And there’s one in Georgia, the one you see here. They’re a little fun, but deep inside me fear lurks.
Fear of flying. For a few years I made the mistake of watching a show, “Seconds To Disaster”, which realistically recreated air disasters. Towards the end of the program, they showed footage of the actual crash site. It did nothing to reduce my fear of flying or my reluctance to defy gravity.
I’ve heard the arguments that flying is safer than driving, and I’ve heard the old adage that you’ll leave when it’s your time. But I heard a comedian make a joke about it all. “Hey, maybe it’s time for the pilot to leave, and he’ll take me with him.” There’s another saying that comes in here: a lot of truths are told in jest.
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