I’ve never been a thrill-seeker per se. I’d say I’m adventurous, but thrills also come with chills and spills sometimes, which I’m none too crazy about, so I back off at that level. But I have friends who’ve bungee jumped off the Royal Gorge Bridge near Canon City, Colorado; I have a couple of friends who sky-dive, and I’ve known a bunch of people who ski the black-diamond hills. And I’ve got a friend who’s a fighter jockey and had to bail out when both his engines failed, going over 450 knots – something he was very lucky to survive.
Me? I don’t even do roller coasters. Ferris wheels? Forget about it. I’ve been on Splash Mountain at Disneyland, and almost shit an entire brickyard. I’ve been to the top of the World Trade Center a few times, the observation deck of the Empire State Building, and inside the crown of the Statue of Liberty, but each time, I would grab hold of the rail, lean backwards away from the edge, and peek down, always keeping my center of gravity low, and leaning backwards. Lame, ain’t it?
But one thing I do love despite my avoidance of heights is flying. Whether it’s in a real airplane or in front of my computer, flying Microsoft Flight Simulator. I just love to fly. The closest I’ve ever come to flying for real was taking the co-pilot’s seat in a United Airlines 767 simulator at their Flight Training Center in Denver. The pilot/instructor who was demonstrating allowed me to overfly the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. Incredible experience.
In real life, I’ve been on a Continental MD-80 whose nose-wheel snapped right after we’d rolled off the active runway on landing at Sea-Tac; another one that had to be emergency-evacuated because of a leak while refueling in Spokane; and I’ve experienced a couple of aborted crosswind landings, which can be extremely unnerving, because they’re so unexpected. I also flew out of Denver a day or two after a Continental DC-9 flipped over on takeoff, the wreckage still sitting in the grass between the north-south runways.
I was on a United Airlines non-stop flight from Seattle to Hong Kong a bunch of years ago, before Kai Tak was closed in favor of Chek Lap Kok. The plane was a 747-SP, which I believe no longer fly — that was the short, fat, long-range version of the widebody, a Special Performance model. And it was a 13-1/2 hour flight.
United Airlines Boeing 747-SP
We took off and headed north/northwest, over Vancouver Island, and then over some of the most beautiful, pristine scenery I’d ever seen – the Aleutian Islands. Thankfully, the skies were clear, visibility was unlimited, and I was on the right side of the plane in a window seat on the upper deck, with a front-row view.
Here and there I could see lakes on some of the mountaintops. Heated by the volcanism that makes the Pacific rim the Ring of Fire, they steamed as their surfaces shined. Only a thin film of wispy clouds ever came into view; this was a flight I’d always remember. We also overflew Wake Island, its distinctive shape making it look like a lone galaxy surrounded by an infinite universe of water.
I had one last Black Russian and went to sleep for awhile. Woke up just in time to see Mt. Morrison, the highest mountain on Taiwan, below us. It’s part of a range of mountains that runs north-south on the eastern side of the island. Breathtaking scenery. Makes me wonder how come Taiwan isn’t a traditional vacation destination?
It was getting close to evening. We’d taken off from Seattle at 1:30 in the afternoon, and it was getting towards early evening as we began to approach Hong Kong. We encountered some clouds, and then we flew into a thick layer of them before the air brakes were extended and we slowed down for the approach.
It began to get bumpy as we descended through 10,000 feet, and the weather wasn’t improving any as we continued to bleed off speed and altitude. Every now and then we’d hit an air pocket and drop suddenly, and the engines were whining some kind of spooky sounds, and I was getting a little nervous.
We were still in the clouds when the announcement came that we were on final approach, and as we finally broke through the clouds a few seconds later, I looked out the window, and saw a woman in her high-rise apartment watching television, in a 6- to 8-story building, not much taller. My next thought was, “Oh no….”
I honestly thought we were going to come down in a residential neighborhood. I could see people sitting down to dinner, and watching television, and I could see the clothes on their clotheslines so clearly, I probably could have ballparked what size they were.
As I dug my hands into the arms of my seat, we banked slowly to the right, then leveled out, and the next thing I saw was the airport’s inner marker, and then the stripes on the wet runway beneath us. I sat back and waited for the bump of the wheels, and as they touched the ground I began breathing normally again.
The arrivals area was a sea of humanity; the taxi area worse. It was by now almost 8 pm in Hong Kong, and a day later, and it felt like the middle of rush hour. I soon learned it was always rush hour in that city, but from that day on Hong Kong was my base of operations in Asia, and my hometown away from home.
Here are two videos for your reference. Unfortunately, the site admin is a dickhead, and refused to allow me to re-post them here.
Landing at Kai-Tak in the rain, cockpit view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8g-ArLYsloI
What these approaches look like from street level: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyU9OLqQ8XA
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