On a boys trip to New Or­leans for Jazz Fest, every­thing was fine, un­til it wasn’t

EVERY­THING WAS JUST FINE, WHEN ALL OF A SUD­DEN ...

Flying - - CONTENTS - By Dick Karl

Not just any­body can join this group. We’ve been meet­ing for close to 30 years, and we guard ad­mis­sion with dili­gence. To be­come a mem­ber, you must be a man who looks good on pa­per, but be a bit of a mess in real life. Turns out, there are a lot of us.

In the early 1990s, this group usu­ally met at my house be­cause I had three kids, no wife and pos­sessed pots and pans. I served the same meal each time. Though some in our group had im­pres­sive Ivy League pedi­grees, their state of af­fairs in those days could be char­ac­ter­ized as “un­set­tled.”

My youngest daugh­ter, Kelly, then a teenager, would wait un­til some al­co­hol had had its ef­fect and then de­scend from her room to flirt and sell sub­scrip­tions to mag­a­zines no­body ever heard of, or ads for the high school year­book. She named our group “The Men of No Par­tic­u­lar Am­bi­tion.”

In the in­ter­ven­ing three decades, every­body has mar­ried and, to a cer­tain ex­tent, grown up. We are plas­tic sur­geons and lawyers, one for­mer NFL player, and air­line cap­tains. We still look good on pa­per, and not too good in real life.

So it was with high an­tic­i­pa­tion the six MONPA mem­bers signed up for a night in New Or­leans. The plan was for me to fly our Premier jet from Tampa to New Or­leans Lake­front Air­port on a Sun­day. It was Jazz Fest. With tongue in cheek, we de­cided to ap­por­tion re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as fol­lows: The plas­tic sur­geon was in charge of lac­er­a­tion re­pair and an­tibi­otics, the lawyer in charge of bail money and le­gal coun­sel, the Amer­i­can Air­lines cap­tain in charge of ground trans­porta­tion (Uber), the JetBlue cap­tain in charge of Cham­pagne for the flight, and the At­las first of­fi­cer in charge of en­ter­tain­ment. I was in charge of flight plan­ning, safe con­duct of the flight and pay­ing for every­thing other than gas.

A 1330 show for a 1400 go was planned. I had cho­sen the “over­land” route, north­west to a fix near Tal­la­has­see, Florida (SZW), and then pretty much west to Semmes VOR (SJI) and the SLIDD2 ar­rival into New Or­leans. Sur­pris­ingly, this was only four min­utes longer than the over­wa­ter route across the Gulf of Mex­ico, al­though it was 56 nau­ti­cal miles longer.

Tom, the Amer­i­can Air­lines cap­tain, was awarded the right seat; ei­ther Ja­son (JetBlue) or Andy (At­las) was go­ing to get the priv­i­lege on the way home, as­sum­ing we all sur­vived din­ner at Gala­toire’s and mu­sic at a venue called Snug Har­bor.

We were in high spir­its as I briefed the emer­gency exit and the airstair door han­dle.

There are six pas­sen­ger seats in a Premier; a club seat­ing ar­range­ment sits for­ward of two back seats. Andy sat back­ward-fac­ing on the right, Wy­att the sur­geon and Kevin the at­tor­ney sat in the for­ward-fac­ing seats. Ja­son sat in the back — a good place from which to shoot some video and look for his house on climb-out.

We were given the ENDED7 de­par­ture, which is pretty much a straight out from Run­way 1R, with in­struc­tions to climb to 6,000 feet. At 1400 on the dot, we tax­ied onto

Run­way 1R and I brought up the power. Though we were only a few hun­dred pounds un­der max take­off weight, the air­plane climbed gladly. I was sure my air­line friends were im­pressed.

With Tom run­ning the ra­dios, we were soon turned over to Jack­sonville Cen­ter and told to nav­i­gate di­rect to ENDED and climb to 12,000 feet. I pushed the “di­rect to” but­ton on the FMS and lifted my head to the glareshield to en­gage the nav mode. Then I moved my hand to the right to set 12,000 in the al­ti­tude pre-se­lect. As I did so, I thought I saw a flicker of white ob­jects just at the bot­tom of the wind­shield.

Bam.

We hit some­thing. There was com­mo­tion in the back. “Bird strike,” said Ja­son. Andy re­leased his seat belt and came for­ward, kneel­ing be­tween Tom and me. “Looks like a bird hit the right wing, close to the fuse­lage,” he said.

I looked at our en­gine in­stru­ments. N1 and N2 were nor­mal. There was no smell of in­gested bird in the bleed air. The air­plane re­mained pres­sur­ized as we con­tin­ued to climb. I re­duced power from max con­tin­u­ous. If part of the air­plane was about to fall off, there was no need to go fast.

I was stunned — as in that feel­ing im­me­di­ately af­ter an au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent. It was quiet. We con­tin­ued the climb. Jack­sonville cleared us to Flight Level 260. Ev­ery­one seemed calm. Only later did it be­come ob­vi­ous that out­ward ap­pear­ances be­lied inward emo­tion.

I gath­ered the air­line guys up front. No ob­vi­ous dam­age to the air­plane could be seen, but there was blood on top of the wing. I said, “Let’s break this into two parts: safety first, then con­ve­nience.” The air­line folks are used to car­ry­ing on to their des­ti­na­tion af­ter a bird strike if every­thing is func­tion­ing nor­mally. Usu­ally main­te­nance is avail­able at the des­ti­na­tion, and pas­sen­gers have paid for tick­ets to get them to where they are go­ing. I told Jack­sonville that I’d like to level off at Flight Level 240 while we fig­ured out what to do. I knew, and had briefed Tom be­fore take­off, that we were over weight for land­ing. With no im­me­di­ate dan­ger, we had time to de­lib­er­ate and to burn gas.

The sec­ond is­sue was con­ve­nience. Though every­body was look­ing for­ward to a night in New Or­leans, we all lived in Tampa Bay. The air­plane is based at Sig­na­ture, right next to the Tex­tron ser­vice cen­ter. Re­luc­tantly, I de­cided to head home. I asked the pi­lots to in­form the non­pilot pas­sen­gers.

Af­ter land­ing, we got out to ex­am­ine the dam­age. It was heart­break­ingly im­pres­sive. We went into the FBO and opened the Cham­pagne and sat there, giddy like kids who had rolled their dad’s car. Wy­att said that when he heard we had hit birds, he thought, “Oh, no, we’re go­ing in the Hud­son, even though it is two hours away.” Kevin said, “You mean Hud­son, Florida.”

Ja­son, who flies for JetBlue, opened his phone and the video he was tak­ing. He had cap­tured the strike. It was a pel­i­can — a big bird in­deed. They weigh 8 to 10 pounds; the event was the equiv­a­lent of a bowl­ing ball hit­ting the air­plane at 290 mph. It looked as if we were about 5,000 feet in the air. Spell­bound, we watched the video over and over. The two bot­tles of Cham­pagne dis­ap­peared. We de­cided to go to a New Or­leans-themed restau­rant in Tampa.

The vol­ume (liters) of al­co­hol con­sump­tion and the vol­ume (deci­bels) of the gai­ety gave ev­i­dence of ev­ery­one’s re­lief. We might be ex­pe­ri­enced avi­a­tors and pro­fes­sion­als, but that sud­den bang shook us all. Andy said, “I was glad when the gear came down. I wasn’t sure if the bird had hit down there too.”

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