Saturday, March 14, 2009


I didn't fly this past week, so I'll take this post to respond to some of the keen comments the last post attracted.

For "Anonymous" who suggested the parallel contrails were the Thuinderbirds going to an airshow: El wrongo. But I suspect that was a jab from a Blue Angels fan. The contrails are miles apart. He/she is absolutely correct about the fire.

gpb0216 isn't too savvy about fires but he's right on the nose with the contrail analysis.

Sequ likes the header and loves the blog. Brad and I thank you.

Scott wants to gather at the river and sing. The Crazy Woman had a fine voice. Jeremiah too.

Dancer asked, "So do you think the scene with the Indian meant they finally reached a truce?" By the way, that indian's name was "Paints His Shirt Red," a fact I know you knew. I think you would enjoy reading Mountain Man, by Vardis Fisher. His tale was the basis of the movie. It will answer your question better than I can. Also, check out Crow Killer by Raymond Thorp. It's the definitive account of John Johnson's life and times, but get ready to be grossed out by Johnson's menu selections. Then there's that classic of mountain man fiction, A.B. Guthrie's Big Sky. A must read.

Dan in Alb got both riddles right. He likes those kind of photographic interpretation challenges. More of them to come.

Squatch got the fire right but botched the contrail riddle, although he put forth a reasonable theory. I'll see what Brad thinks about bringing the Yak back into the header. Can't have bad karma.

Northwest Captain Mike Moe sent me this. He really says that at home.

(From the New Yorker)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

His Name was Jeremiah Johnson

How does the new header look? It's great to have a graphic designer extraordinaire like Brad Cockrell in the family.

Last Sunday I flew the "PS" route from LAX to JFK. I don't do that very often―our New York crews usually do it. PS stands for Premium Service and if you want to ride it you will pay a handsome premium. We have a few 757s dedicated to this service and they are extravagantly configured for discriminating passengers who want it and can afford it. We only run PS service between New Yorks's JFK airport and Los Angeles or San Francisco. 

Consequently you can usually expect at least one celebrity on the PS run, and that day we had four. Truth be known, the flight attendants had to tell me who three of them were. Those were Clay Aiken, Josh Hartnett, and Judith Light. They didn't have to tell me who the fourth one was.

Before we pushed I went back and greeted the First Class passengers, as I always do, not just because the celebs were there. I didn't know the other three from Adam, but I knew Robert Redford when I spotted him on the back row of first class. He was traveling alone and seated beside a somewhat geeky looking fellow who was plainly quite astonished about his seat mate. The guy was clearly nervous and was ordering a drink when I greeted him and Redford.

I shook Redford's hand and told him he'd always be “Jeremiah” to me. He must have approved; he grinned broadly and said, "Thanks."

I'm not an autograph chaser so I left the man alone and continued my stroll to the rear. When I came back through, both Redford and his seat mate were up in the aisle. The guy was apologizing profusely while Redford dabbed at his trousers with a napkin. A glass lay on the floor and the seat was wet. We called for a new seat cushion. I went back to the cockpit snickering.

Honestly, Redford is not one of my favorite people but he starred in the best film of all time, Jeremiah Johnson (1972). That was the story of a fur trapper―more commonly called a Mountain Man―trying to survive in the Rockies in the 1840s. If you haven't seen it you've missed a classic. The film has developed a cult following over the years, and I'm hopelessly captured into it.

While sailing high across the snowy Rockies, pushed by a smashing good tailwind, I thought of Jeremiah Johnson toiling down there, trying to trap a few beaver, always watching his backside for some local gentleman hankering for a scalp with which to adorn his lodgepole.
Pondering Jeremiah and the passenger in seat 3B who portrayed him I realized that we were not far south of a navigation station named Crazy Woman VOR, with the chart identifier CZY. It's located in the area where the real Jeremiah encountered a distraught woman who had lost her family to a Black Foot Indian raid. (Check this site out for a look at the real Jeremiah: Damn Interesting.) 

He wanted to take her to civilization but she stayed in a shack by the graves and spent the rest of her days grieving. Mountain Men regularly dropped in on her bringing food. The story is half legend, half truth if you look it up. But the legend survived and even made it into the annals of aviation navigation names. It's only a matter of time before some crazy feminist activist finds out about CZY and tries to get the name changed.
CZY is a constant reminder for me that people didn't always sail over this vast and rugged land in a few hours, drinking cocktails, watching movies and complaining about the service. They froze, they starved, they lost their hair, they died. A few made it through to the west coast and eventually built factories that made 757s, and the like, so that the crossing could be a little easier. After that, they forgot about the travails of people like Jeremiah and the crazy woman and took cross-continent air travel for granted.

A few pics (click to enlarge):

The left winglet, viewed from the captain's left rear window.
These things save 4% fuel burn and look magnificent.
(Sorry about the dirty window.)

The Control tower at Washington-Reagan.
Here's a riddle: Are those contrails from
planes flying parallel to each other? Or
is there another explanation. Post your answer.

The brown smudge is the scar of
a fire in eastern Colorado.
Next riddle: Where did the fire start and
from which direction was the wind at the time?
(Top of the photo is north.)