Saturday, March 20, 2010

Right Deviation

Plowing contrails gives you a lot of time to think. You think about how the world is, and how you would change it if you were the planetary monarch. You think about how common sense and logical reasoning seem to have gone the way of Nehru jackets and bell bottoms. And then suddenly something happens that proves it.

I had just told the passengers to get their cameras ready. The Grand Canyon was ahead. You know what a nut I am about the Canyon. I'm a degreed geologist and the Canyon captures me into it every time I see it. Remember the post I wrote about following Buddha down into the Canyon in a pair of A-7s? (Mar 21 2008).

Approaching it from the east, I called the Los Angeles air route traffic control center and asked them, as I have done dozens of times, if they would approve a “canyon tour.” It's not a real “tour.” The pilots and controllers have informally dubbed it that over the decades. It's just an approval by the center to deviate slightly off course to overfly the Canyon and make a few S-turns so passengers on both sides can get good views. The people love it. 

But the controller's reply left me aghast. “I'm sorry we can't do that anymore.” I waited for elaboration but he offered none. I asked why. He said a new directive came down forbidding the controllers to approve Canyon deviations. He said he thought it came from outside the FAA from people concerned about noise levels in the park.

I looked at the first officer and we both shook our heads in disgust. Then I punched the mic button and registered my commentary: “No more kids in the towers. No more Canyon tours. What's it all coming to?”

A few long few seconds of silence passed. I imagined him pondering my rhetorical question. I expected he would probably call back and say, “Yeah, that's too bad,” or something similar. Then he called, but he didn't comment on the question. Instead he said, “There's an area of reported turbulence ahead. You're cleared to deviate right of course as necessary.” Right was exactly the direction we needed to turn to get over the Canyon.

I cracked a gigantic grin and pressed the mic button. “We're getting into it now. We'll deviate right and report when we are able to resume course.” There was no turbulence. The people got their view and after the flight many of them thanked us.

Maybe our noise did filter down faintly into the canyon and spoil the natural ambiance of some of the rim gawkers and hikers down there. But dammit, our passengers owned that Canyon too, and they deserved to experience its grandeur from above. I'm an out-doorsman and I love the wilderness, but I've got no apologies for letting a bit of jet noise settle into the Grand Canyon.

Yeah, if I was king, I'd command the return of common sense to the planet. And I'd appoint a certain guy sitting in a dark room in front of a radar console in Los Angeles to head up the effort.   

(Obviously some insolent first officer made 
this nasty write-up about his captain.)

Look at this amazing breached anticline in Wyoming:

Here's how it was created.
Amazing Creator.