Thoughts On Heavier Than Air Flight
Written on the wing between Rhode Island and Chicago.
According to science, modern humans have existed in pretty much their current state for up to 250,000 and at least 70,000 years. As such, though considered commonplace by many, air travel on board jet aircraft represents just 1/1,400 to 1/5,000 of the entire human experience. Flying aboard a turbojet leviathan at 35,000 feet is one of the more magical experiences in the history of humanity, yet so many fail to revel in its facets beyond mere utility. When on board an airplane, I first make my peace with the universe, as once the plane lifts off my fate is no longer in my hands until I reach the ground once again. This process entails a review of my life so far, judging it to be worthwhile, and then getting on with the rest of my journey. This preparation enables me to enjoy the entire flight, even the potentially beautiful climax of death that each passenger tries to forget as they board the aircraft.
Air travel also allows us to experience the fractal self-similarity of the natural world and contrast it with the pattern-limited confines of most man-made things. Stratus clouds rippling at their evaporation altitude prove both self-same and analogous to other structures, such as the undulating designs exposed at low tide on sandy beaches with lazy waves. Though many will say that satellite imagery is enough for their contentment, the power of viewing the land from above is something that intrigues me with every flight I take. To think that anyone could take this God’s-eye-view for granted puzzles me. How can anyone find this humdrum and boring, no matter how many times they do it? There are always systems to discern, weather systems to analyze, light to see shifting in angle and color. Too many things for me to stare blankly into canned entertainment projected eye-level soundless and soulless for my lack of headphones; the real world is outside the window. The window into wind, rain, ice, sleet, thunder, lightning, hail, tornadoes, sunlight, smog, breath, life, eternity.
If the natural world does not interest the traveler, then perhaps the mechanical majesty of the flying apparatus itself can come to the rescue. The enormity of the whole contraption, both in physical dimensions and mathematical complexity is simply staggering. The sheer unmitigated horsepower just feet from you converting liquid to gas and heat, the resultant increase in volume expelled through a finely machined nozzle and converted into forward thrust. The g-forces on take off as you feel this powerful chariot of man flip gravity the bird then float among them. The exhilarating no-man’s land on landing, wondering if this bank to the left is just a little too steep or if that bank to the right is going to turn into an uncontrolled spin. Why not concern us with the skill of the pilots? They have the ability to safely maneuver such large beasts day in and day out with effortless precision, flights choreographed like an aluminium-skinned ballet, taxi-dancing from gate to runway. Let us not forget the flight crew, who manage to maintain a smiling visage in the face of drooling babies and boorish drunkards, confused grandmothers and grotesque curmudgeons.
Oh the irony! A savannah ape with magic thumbs and a large skull now passes over patchwork fields where fecundity is a byproduct of man’s intervention and not the bounty of the earth’s guileless devices. The fields themselves are white quilt patches sewn together with the black lines of roads, dirt tracks, tractor paths, hedgerows, trees, irrigation ditches, highways, byways, waterways, and thoroughfares. Sometimes the quilt is evenly stitched, seemingly by a careful spinster’s hand; other times it appears as incongruous as the word salad of a schizoid man, haphazardly thrown together without rhyme or reason or rational thought of any kind. In January the snow blanket is king, the fields await the spring before their secrets may be sown and told out over the course of a summer only to hush up again when they fall, heaped together in a combine. The snow and its albedo, a sort of heat reflecting libido insatiable in its quest to cool but protect; the grounds may freeze but a few feet beneath the worms toil awating their day in the sun. The same six-fold symmetry that creates the snow nucleates the tiny crystals clingling on in 500 mile-an-hour winds only to breathe their last gasp of steam as we descend into warmer altitudes. They sublime into the sky, for they are not the ice crystals of the ground and the trees but the ice of the air, subtle, floating, suspended. They cannot be tamed to the earth, they’re born and die in the sky condense sublime condense sublime like a monk momentarily distracted by a fly landing on his nose who accepts the interruption and proceeds to reconnect with his god.
This entry was posted on January 24, 2011 by Justin Benttinen. It was filed under Thoughts, Travel and was tagged with airplane, crystals, flight, flying, fractals, god, history, ice, mechanics, science, snow, travel.