I received my pilot’s license in 1976 and flew private planes in one of the most nerve-racking and congested areas in America — Los Angeles — right next to LAX, and other airports in Torrance, Hawthorne, Compton, Santa Monica, Van Nuys, just to mention a few, and all of them within a twenty mile radius of LAX. I learned real quickly: keep your eyes focused out the windshield for other aircraft.
In flight school we were taught to follow power lines as a visual reference when flying because they usually ran fairly straight, were easy to pick out on the ground because of the large green belt they were placed in the middle of, which could be easily identified from a distance. And then I went flying, in and around the wonderful Los Angeles area, and guess what? I couldn’t see a power line to save my life. It wasn’t until years later when I was flying in Missouri that I actually saw my first power line. Forget about following miles and miles of green belts in Los Angeles; there are none!
Now one of the clients my consulting firm had was Flying Tiger Line, the first scheduled cargo airline in the United States. Corporate offices were located at LAX, and the company’s main aircraft was the Boeing 747. One day the manager (whose name I cannot recall, but lets assume it was Bob) approached me and said, “I hear you’re a pilot.” I answered proudly, “Yes I am.” He then smiled. “Would you like to fly a 747?” I remember thinking, Yeah, sure, let’s go. I’m sure I can handle it. Heck, I can fly a Cessna 182!
Flying Tiger Line had a 747 simulator on the premise, which they used to train their pilots. They also rented it to other airline companies for their pilots. Anyway, after scheduling issues were ironed out, it was arranged for me to use the simulator, and what an unbelievable experience it was.
I walked into the simulator, which was an exact replica of an actual 747 cockpit, and took my seat at the controls — in the pilot’s seat, I might add. No co-pilot seat for me. Remember … Cessna 182. Bob gave me some instructions and then started the simulator, saying that I would be taking off from LAX with a maximum weight load. So I taxied the aircraft onto the runway, only to have Bob abruptly stop the flight and inform me that I was turning way too soon onto the runway and would run the front landing wheel aground. I was told that a 747’s front wheel was many feet behind where I sat, not directly below me as it was on a Cessna 182. Ouch, that hurt! So I made the correction and was given clearance to takeoff. Now let me tell you, the instrument panel and controls on a 747 are a bit more congested than my 182, but I found the throttles and applied full power. The plane began moving and slowly gained speed as my eyes scanned the instruments. And then I waited … and waited … and waited for the plane to reach takeoff speed. I could actually see the end of the runway before I was able to lift off. Learned something else: 747s take a tad bit longer, more speed, and a lot more distance to takeoff than a 182. Okay, okay, I’m getting this.
Once in flight, Bob told me to stall the aircraft so I could experience it. Put simply, stalling entails lifting the aircraft’s nose until flight is no longer possible. In a Cessna 182, a high-pitched whine is emitted and grows in volume if the stall isn’t corrected. When I heard the simulator whine I nodded to myself, knowing exactly what to do. But Bob said to hold it a little longer, so I did, watching the airspeed drop precariously low. Then suddenly the yoke started vibrating rapidly, almost shaking me from the seat. “Hold on,” Bob instructed. So I tighten my grip and held on for dear life. Then a few seconds later, a voice blared out at me, filling the cockpit with an alarming scream, “Lower the nose! Lower the nose!” Bob then told me to perform a stall recovery, which I did. He then informed me that in certain instances, pilots have not responded to any of the three warnings, holding the yoke fully back and never letting go. The outcome is not good.
Anyway, I eventually landed the aircraft in Hong Kong and got a pat on the back for my flying skills. As we were leaving the simulator, I asked Bob how much the session would have cost had I been a pilot with another airline. This was a while back, in the 1980s, and he said, “About $5,000, and you’ll be getting an invoice in about a week.” Then he laughed and walked off.
Now I’ll be honest, I love to see people’s mouths drop when I tell them that I once flew a Boeing 747. Problem is, I’m still fearful of that invoice showing up someday.