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Ode to Flight

Updated on September 9, 2014

LabKitty Presents

Fact: aside from eradicating smallpox, flight is the only thing humans have accomplished that is noteworthy. A few years from now, when the Earth is but a dead baked ball, the sum total of our works appearing in the cosmic ledger will be: (1) eradicated smallpox; (2) flight. (If the universe is feeling charitable, there might be a third entry about those blankets you can wear.)

Machines that fly. MACHINES THAT FLY! That's something that gets lost In the rush of modern air travel, what with the crowds and the hassles and the TSA squeezin's and whatnot. Caesar, Charlemagne, Constantine, Washington, - not one of those guys knew machines that fly. You do. Remember when people got dressed up for a flight?

Ode to Flight

Yes, LabKitty is an airplane nerd. And the only thing worse than a science nerd is an airplane nerd, and we outta know 'cause we're both. Picture having this conversation with your significant other:

LK: Hey, let's have the honeymoon in St. Maarten.

SO: Sweetie! That's so romantic. The sunsets! The cafes! The beaches!

LK: Yeah, AND THERE'S FREAKIN' 747s LANDING LIKE 10 FEET FROM YOUR HEAD!

Alas, it did not end well.

That's ok, airplanes still love us. Except for the one that tried to kill us, now that we think about it. But that is a story for another time (that time is about half-way down the page). In the interim, please to be enjoying some of the best flight-themed entries YouTube has to offer. Tributes made from light and sound to the power and the glory of that most majestic mistress of all human endeavors. Although we hesitate to use the term "panegyric" (because we just used it for our YYZ tribute) the term would not be out of place here.

LabKitty gives you: Ode to Flight

The Greatest Music in the World - Pratt & Whitney

Speaking of great music, it doesn't get better than this. Triple Pratt & Whitneys spinning up on the roll out. Unless they're Rolls-Royces (we never can figure out the difference). Some girl starts singing or some such at 0:22; you may choose to rewind at that point.

We know what you're saying: where did I put those headphones!. The grumpier of you might be saying something about this not being a flesh and blood MD-11 and what's up with that?

Alas, the problem with most live airplane vids on YouTube is that the sound quality ain't so hot (we luff you guys but for Cat's sake buy a windsock). So it was with much joy that we came across this tribute to the MD-11 featuring gorgeous albeit simulated turbine music, taken from a popular flight simulator whose name we shall not speak here due to a blood feud / stipulation in our plea bargain.

As Arthur said of waiters, Fed Ex is wonderful: you ask them for something and they bring it to you. Also reason for much nerd love is that they snatched up all those MD-11s (nee DC-10s) decommissioned by the major passenger carriers. LabKitty's vote for the most gorgeous airplane of all time, especially when dolled up in Fed Ex's bitchin' white and purple livery.

Even though one tried to kill us that one time (dun dun duuuuuuun!).

Just a little foreshadowing there. Just keepin' the reader turnin' pages.

The Bestest Honeymoon of All - Airplane Nerd Mecca

Are you here for me or for the airplanes? Why can't it be both? is never (never!) the correct answer. Love would be easier if it were more like StarCraft, with its frequent save files.

Anyhoo, here it is, Mecca for Airplane Nerds. Funky warm Medina. Sure, most islands have an airfield and with space being tight (because, hey, island) the runway tends to bump up against the beach/tiki bar. But St. Maarten doesn't just handle piper cubs or the occasional corporate Gulf Stream filled with Bear Stearns execs come to spend some of that bailout money on Caribbean prostitutes and wheelbarrows full of coke. No, this is Princess Juliana International Airport, the main hub for traffic arriving at the popular vacation paradise from around the world.

Thus do you have major commercial airliners touching down literally feet from the beach. Everything from Dash-8s all the way up to 747s. This has created a plane-spotting destination of legend (literally! It was featured on the Discovery channel, and there just doesn't exist a higher nerd pedigree than that).

We dig the landings, but then there are the hard-core crazies that hang on the fence and surf the wake turbulence created by departing jumbos. Here it is that an appreciation of fluid mechanics spoils our fun (stupid smart brain!). The thrust of a turbofan at take-off is enough to blow a school bus downrange. Although the human form is not nearly as drag-sensitive as a school bus, it will rather unhappily suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, not to mention random bits of debris blown back at 120 knots (and given this crowd, for "random debris" read "broken Dos Equis bottles").

UAL 232 - Fate smiles upon LabKitty

We are gathered here today to celebrate flight, not dwell upon its tragic missteps. But we promised you one detour into the heart of darkness, so here it is.

United Airlines Flight 232 will always have a special significance for LabKitty. We were on that plane.

Granted, we were on it two days before it crashed, but still. The cause of the accident was metal fatigue, so do the math. You add back a couple of canceled flights or otherwise put a dozen or so more hours on that #2 turbofan before July 17th and LabKitty might be paws-up in an Iowa cornfield rather than amusing you with our charming wiseassery.

Brief recap for those unfamiliar with the incident: United 232 was a daily flight from Denver to Chicago. On July 19th, 1989, the center engine exploded mid-flight resulting in catastrophic damage to the aircraft's hydraulic system. The crew managed to limp the plane to an airport at Sioux City Iowa using only differential engine thrust to steer. WIthin moments of touchdown, the right wing dipped and snagged the ground, causing the DC-10 to cartwheel and break up, eventually coming to rest in a cornfield.

Amazingly, 184 of the 295 people on-board survived, although many were severely injured. Notably, all four pilots on board survived the crash and returned to flying. More amazing is that they came this close to getting a 99% uncontrollable aircraft onto a runway. These guys are worth every penny.

The Jeff Bridges movie Fearless was inspired by the events of United 232 and features perhaps the most disturbing airplane crash recreation ever put to film.

ATC Chatter - The Right Stuff Channel

Does anyone else remember when you could listen to air traffic control on the in-flight headphones? Now all we can find are the dulcet tones of Celene Dion and some sort of Casio keyboard malfunction entitled "Urban Beat."

They're just so gosh-darned polite.

Departure, good morning. Cactus-two-niner-niner with you on the Breezy Point climb at four thousand headed for seven.

Catcus-two-niner-niner, departure. Roger. Maintain runway heading, climb to niner thousand.

And it doesn't matter what they're talking about. THEY'RE JUST SO GOSH-DARNED POLITE:

Departure, good morning, Cactus-two-niner-niner with you on the Breezy Point Climb at four thousand headed for seven. We hit a cow during takeoff and would like to return to the airport.

Catcus-two-niner-niner departure. Roger. Turn left, heading zero-one-zero. Contact approach at one three two decimal four.

And is there any more surreal an experience than to be getting bounced around back in coach, the angry sky mistress ready to undo our puny efforts at aloftness any moment now, to the point were you are digging through the seat pocket looking for the in-flight will only to hear the pilot drolly explain to ATC yeah, we're getting some mild chop up here?

Alas, no more. Although we hear rumor that the feature is still available in first class. Curse you marketing gnomes! You do so tempt us with forbidden fruit!

Thompson 757 Birdstrike - This is what it sounds like when doves cry

It is no secret that birds are driven to heights of jealous rage by the hu-man's capacity for flight. They may have been doing it since the time of the dinosaurs, but did birds think up frequent flier miles? Miniature booze bottles? The $9 bagel? No, they did not. Here is an amazing video of one of these enraged terror-chickens caught on tape attempting to bring down a 757. Score: Pratt & Whitney 1; Birds 0.

Aside to Mr. Pilot: Ok, a calm demeanor is fine and all, but when ATC asks for "souls on board" you do realize it's because they're headed down to Bodybags-R-Us with a purchase order, right? At that point you could at least humor us with some quip about how you should have given up your seat to Ron or Cindy or something. Sheesh. You're making the rest of us look bad.

Anyhoo.

We won this round, yet they do not relent, these feathered agent provocateurs. A bird strike of some import occurs somewhere every couple of months. Our solution? Feral cats, posted on the wings at regular intervals. Now we can already hear some of you thinking: but what about the litter box? One step ahead of you there: Tiny. Cat. Diapers.

And yet LabKitty labors in obscurity. Where is the justice?

Shuttle Launch Seen from Passenger Jet - Segue!

Space Shuttle - Power Launch!

LabKitty associates who have flown experiments on the shuttle and were therefore invited to see a launch in person all say the same thing: holy buckets is the freakin' thing loud! You don't really get that from launch footage.

Except for this one.

The 4-inch-thick ballistics-grade plexiglass bubble protecting the camera should give you a hint: this is how the pros do it. The first whoosh you hear just before the other bigger whoosh is the release of eleventy gazillion gallons of water used for sound dampening (and not for fire suppression as any reasonable person might assume and then have to run naked across the quad after losing the bet).

Interesting shuttle factoid: after the first minute or so of flight, the shuttle will weigh about half of what it did on lift-off, the excess being spent fuel. Another interesting albeit macabre factoid: the shuttle, like any significant chunk of launch hardware, is equipped with a self-destruct mechanism controlled by someone on the ground known as a Range Safety Officer. Should the shuttle go out of control after launch, he (or she) is to take it out by triggering explosive charges that split open the solid rocket boosters, which is basically the mechanism that destroyed Challenger in 1986.

And you thought your job was stressful.

UPDATE: We should really change all the verbs here to past tense, as the shuttle is no more. (Thank you trillion-dollar wars and bank-bailouts. Not that we're bitter.) But we digress.

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Endeavour - Final Mission - This is the last sky you will ever see

It is a tragedy of national character that even with the danger and the difficultly and the technological prowess and the complexity and the uncounted hours spent and gazillions of problems solved the average American is bored with the Space Shuttle. This from the same people who follow the exploits of Gene Simmons or Lady Gargle in slack-jawed rapture and can tell you who played short-stop for the Giants every year since 1925.

Isn't there some way NASA could, you know, sexy this up?

No there isn't, Jethro. Especially not when We the People are happy to spend ten times more money on corn dogs and tight ends than funding technology that may one day be called upon to save your bacon.

As long as a second-string third baseman is making more than a New York city public school teacher, football just isn't being taxed enough.

LabKitty: the voice of reason in a world gone mad.

Russian Space Shuttle - MIGs in Spaaace!

Now if Americans want to get to space, they have to go beg the Russians for a lift. JFK must be spinning in his grave.

Oh well. Say what you will about Pockocmoc, at least they don't use Helvetica.

Human Flight - Hey, where's my air bike?

Nerds may carp about jet packs, but what we want to know is: where are our flying bicycles? It would easily be the third-most-popular nerd sport ever, right after jai alai and pointing out mistakes in movies. Heck, parents would probably have no trouble getting their little pork barrels off the Nintendo if playing outside really meant flying outside. Just make sure you have decent dental and orthopaedic coverage.

So why is human-powered flight so dang hard? What gives, man?

A respectable explanation would require a discussion of things like Wilkie's curve and mitochondria. The interested can find these (and much more!) in Steven Vogel's excellent Prime Mover - see linky below. Short version: we suck. Humans already skirt the boundary of being too heavy to get airborne (LabKitty has alienated many a niece by patiently explaining that the only way Princess Pegasus Pony was going to fly was if she got a pilot's license). Humans then take another weight hit because we require apparatus to compensate for our flightless physiognomy. And the hardware is about as good as it's going to get. A hundred years of aerial combat has given us superb airfoil designs and lightweight construction materials mean that the bulk of the remaining weight is the meatsack of an engine. Then there is the prodigious energy expenditure required to remain aloft, to say nothing of the physical and mental stress of maintaining controlled flight in a shifting aerodynamic environment.

So it would seem that human-powered flight will remain the purview of professional test pilots and recurring dreams for the foreseeable future. Speaking of which, here is the apotheosis of human flight: Bryan Allen crossing of the English Channel in the famous Gossamer Albatross.

Once the oil runs out, this is what the red-eye from JFK to Heathrow will look like.

Primer Mover on Amazon - Steven Vogel: the Stephen Jay Gould of biomechanics.

Acknowledgements

Happy astronaut from the nice folks at wpclipart.

--

All other weirdness (c) 2011-14 LabKitty Design

Omygawdomygawdomygawd - This might be the best thing EVER.

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      nogginfogger 3 months ago

      sry, maybe I didn't get it? You say you were on that same *flight*, but you do not explicitly mention if it was the same *aircraft* too?

      That would make all the difference, y'know...

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      Natta 2 years ago

      It's kind of sad. It was nice that you were able to share that moment of hitosry with your son. I remember sitting with my family in the living room the day that we landed on the moon. Unforgettable. Thanks for posting.

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      cmadden 4 years ago

      Wonderful ode to flight, such fun, too! I *was* expecting "High Flight" somewhere along the way....

    • sidther lm profile image

      sidther lm 6 years ago

      Lucky Kitty! So glad you survived that evil fatigued plane! I don't go on them anymore because of the fires and falling down but I do love watching the Raptors shake my house! You have such fun lenses- a beautiful ode to flight.

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      LabKittyDesign 6 years ago

      @ShamanicShift: Thanks!

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      ShamanicShift 6 years ago

      What FUN -- blessed by a SquidAngel!