Monday, October 03, 2005

Analyze This: Up the Creek Without a Pilot

Standing at the open cargo bay door of the Hercules aircraft, I watched the clouds crawl past below and marveled at the fact such a huge plane could even get off the ground, let alone stay aloft.

Looking back, I saw the fighter jet holding position a little below and behind us, despite the lack of a pilot. I guessed the autopilot must have been engaged. Without question, someone would have to land the plane, or it would eventually run out of fuel and plow into the ground. What were the odds the impact would occur in an unpopulated area? Not good, I was sure. Bottom line, we had to find a way to bring it down safely.

I turned to see if either of my companions had a brilliant idea that would save the day. Alec Baldwin stood holding onto one of the massive hydraulic arms that operated the hatch, staring back at me with his patented cold stare. Or maybe it was a blank stare and I have over-estimated him all these years... It was hard to tell. Rockstar (of "Scenes from the Forklift" fame), on the other hand, was already springing into action. Without a word, he hurled himself out the back of our plane and plummeted the 40 or 50 feet separating us from the jet.

Miraculously, he hit the fuselage about midpoint and was somehow able to cling to the smooth metallic surface. Turning himself around, he straddled the fighter and inched his way forward until he was positioned just behind the canopy. Then, gripping two small handles that I hadn't seen before, Rockstar gave a tug and remotely activated the ejection seat. With a violent burst, the canopy came away from the plane. Half a heartbeat later, the empty pilot's seat erupted upwards, climbing for a few moments before the chute deployed. I quickly lost sight of it as we left it far behind.

Knowing we had little time left to avert a potential disaster, Alec and I jumped as well. I suppose I should have been terrified, jumping out the back of an airplane without a parachute, hoping to hit what seemed an impossibly small target, but it all happened too fast. Before I knew it, I was standing on the wing of the fighter, looking at the profile of Mr. Baldwin and wondering how his hair stayed so perfectly still as we screamed through the sky. Come to think of it, should I have been able to stand up and walk along that wing without the airflow ripping me from it and sending my body tumbling to the ground far, far below? Probably not, but I didn't have time to think about it. We still had a plane to land.

I climbed into the cockpit and situated myself on the floor. Without the seat, I wasn't able to sit high enough to see out the front of the plane, but the wind whipping in my eyes probably would have prevented me from seeing anything anyway, even if it didn't blow Alec Baldwin's hair out of place. So, gripping the flight yoke, I disengaged the autopilot and, using instruments alone, settled the fighter into a level course.

As I got everything under control, Rockstar and Alec climbed into the cockpit as well, one on either side of me. While trying to stay focused on the little floating ball with the white line that told me I wasn't about to flip the plane over, it crossed my mind that the inside of the jet had quite a bit of elbow room, considering we were sitting three abreast, much like Cylons from the old Battlestar Galactica series. Being the experienced pilot that I somehow sensed he was, Rockstar began barking out orders and Alec jumped to flip various switches and turn assorted dials in response to his instructions. Working together like a well-oiled machine (but not in the homo-erotic sense), the three of us were on the verge of landing the plane and saving the day.

Suddenly, the cockpit was filled with a raucous noise that threatened to break my concentration. I turned to find out were the sound was coming from and realized it was chatter from my headset. No... Wait. Not from my headset. It was coming from the radio...

...on my nightstand.

Time for this Fly Boy to hit the showers and get ready for work.
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