When I was a boy I used to cycle from my house to Croydon Aerodrome. Not a great distance for an adult but quite a ride for a small boy. There we used to watch the planes landing and taking off. Croydon Aerodrome was once THE airport for London and England. The rich and the famous; politicians, film stars, opera singers, athletes and royalty would pass through the airport lounge. It was a glamorous, bustling, glittering place….. a long time ago.
Croydon Aerodrome was tiny.
The planes we watched, like the glory days of the airfield, were from a different era. Biplanes, ancient flying machines with double wings, that looked like they were made from cardboard and string. Some had open cockpits, the pilots and passengers wore leather flying helmets, goggles, and scarves that flapped in the wind.
Flying looked like fun.
Flying should be fun!
Last month we left Amsterdam airport for Bishkek. We travelled in a metal machine that weighs around 33,000kg when empty. How much it weighs when full of freight, passengers, baggage, and microwave meals I don’t know. Just think about it! It is really amazing that a machine weighing so much can actually leave the ground at all! A miracle of modern science! Yet everything conspires to make flying one of the most tedious experiences. Something you “just have to put up with”. It all starts when you arrive at the airport three hours before departure. You shuffle in a queue to check in your baggage, another queue for passport control and then one or more security checks. Then you have to spend two hours in the airport lounge. Looking at overpriced souvenirs gets boring very quickly. You can’t afford more than one cup of coffee. Time passes slowly until, long before you need to, you join the queue at the boarding gate. At last boarding commences; business class, families with babies, and wheel chairs go first.
Once in the air the view is spectacular: seas, mountains, deserts, and forests can be seen from a great height. Or you can watch and wonder at the beauty of the ever changing cloud formations under a never ending blue sky. That is if you have a window seat and your undersized window is not overlooking the wing. You don’t have a window seat – bad luck!
If it is your first flight you will feel a little tension and excitement, especially during take-off or landing. However, generally instead of being an exhilarating experience the whole process is deadly dull. Like riding in a bus but with less leg room and smaller windows.
Flying should be fun!
It should be possible to design aircraft with larger windows providing panoramic views. Cabin crews and pilots should be dressed in uniforms based 1950s science fiction films: thigh length silver boots, cloaks and above all silver or gold helmets with wings on them. In the 50s that is what they thought air travel would be like in the future: flashy and exciting.
When some flights land, the passengers clap, obviously relieved to have touched down safely.
Well, what about a huge cheer at take off to celebrate flight – the absolute peak of engineering?