Sunday, January 6, 2008

Slingshots and Jet Planes

Living a few miles from National Airport (cannot bring myself to call it by it's new name!) we hear and see interesting things. For example: just now an inbound passenger jet caused an outbound jet to make a haul-ass-take-off. We know this because we can actually hear and feel the power of the engines as the pilot floors it to take off in time for the other plane to land on the same runway. That, in turn, reminded me of a memorable take-off from the old Charles Lindbergh Airport in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. some years ago. When I first visited the Virgin Islands in 1972 with my former college roommate, it took three, separate flights to get to our destination: Tortola, one of the gorgeous British Virgin Islands. We flew into Puerto Rico, switched to a 40-passenger prop plane to St. Thomas which still had a Quonset hut, dirt-floored terminal. Eventually, it was onto a 6-seater/single engine puddle-jumper that landed on what appeared to be a beach on Tortola. It was fun flying below and around the clouds to maintain visual contact with the ground. Years later, spouse and I spent our honeymoon in St. Thomas. Aside from snorkeling way too long and burning the backs of my legs to a crisp, it was a great trip. The runway at St. Thomas has always been short and the first time I had gone down there, we heard about an American jet that had hit the mountain at the end of the runway. This must have been the last straw for the authorities, because they dynamited most of the mountain and extended the runway into a bay at the north end. Waiting for our flight, I looked out the window of the newer terminal to see what we'd be flying. It was only when we went out to climb the very tall stairway to the plane that I realized we were getting into something way too big for this airport. As I expected, the pilot tried to make a casual joke about take-off saying it would be fast and not to worry. Uh huh. . . The normal chatter quickly dropped-off as the plane made it's way to the very end of the runway and, with brakes on, revved the engines to full power. Men and women alike screamed as we took off like a slingshot, dipping slightly, then rolling to the left to avoid what was left of the mountain. Wild cheering and tears of relief didn't phase the flight attendants as they started their routine. Amazing!

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