Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Let's go "Joy-Flying"

First there was Bill, who was hired by GSRI around 1968.  GSRI (Gulf South Research Institute) needed to staff highly pedigreed PhD economists to satisfy its institutional eligibility for issuing RFPs (requests for proposals) and conducting Louisiana-based economic feasibility studies. 

About a year after Bill was added to the staff then came Bob, another PhD economist.  Though highly qualified in their respective fields of economics, both were party animals when not on the job.

Bill had been a jet fighter pilot during the Korean War.  Bob had not.  Bill had recently purchased an 8 year old single engine Cessna and relished “joy-flying” every chance he got.  Bob was not a joy-Flyer.  Other than each having expertise in their respective fields of economics and the fact that they loved partying, they otherwise had very little in common.

Then came a major research contract and both Bill and Bob were assigned to it.  Actually it was a 2-part project and Bill and Bob each had been designated project leaders.

At one point in the course of this contract a major conference (pertinent to this research study) was scheduled to take place in Shreveport. Bob was about to book a flight to this conference when Bill said "Bob, don't book a flight.  We'll fly up in my little Cessna."  This sounded practical to Bob, so it was agreed that they would attend this conference via Bill's private Cessna.

On the date of departure Bill and Bob arrived at the Baton Rouge downtown airport where Bill kept his little 2-seater Cessna.  Bob helped Bill move the plane from its mooring onto a taxi strip.  Now able to better survey this mode of transportation, Bob began to harbor some misgivings.  The Cessna's landing gear was badly worn.  In fact there was no tread on the wheels.  The aileron hinges were rusty and the cockpit interior was tattered and torn and generally disheveled.  Bob said "Are you serious?" to which Bill replied "What do you mean?" Bob said "This thing can actually fly?" "Hell, Bob, if it couldn't fly why would I be bringing us out here?"  Bob gulped, then allowed his tentative and disquieting trust in Bill's judgment to impart some measure of relief on his concerns.  Surely Bill would not fly a plane that was ready for the junk yard.....WOULD HE?

Bob was further reassured when he buckled himself into the passenger seat.  At least the seat belts were not tattered.  He breathed a little easier.  He asked Bill how long he had had this plane.  Bill said he had bought it about 6 months ago for $2500.  OMG! Bob asked "Why only 2500 bucks?" to which Bill responded "Well, LOOK at it.  Do you really think its worth more than that?  I'm pretty mechanical and I felt like I could fix it up and make it air-worthy."  Gulp!!  

But now they were in flight and Bob's tension eased somewhat until SPUTTER! SPUTTER! went the engine.  Bob yelled "What's wrong?" while Bill frantically pumped something that resembled a bicycle pump.  Bill said "This plane doesn’t have a fuel pump.  On a climb I have to manually pump fuel.  Once we level off it will be OK." Realizing he was captive, Bob tried again to relax, but he vowed NOT to return home in that wreck once the conference was over.

After about an hour into the flight Bob's composure was once again shaken when suddenly the plane began severely vibrating.  Before he could express his concern to Bill, he was asked by Bill to "help me find a place to land."   SAY WHAT! Bob yelled "What do you mean 'a place to land'?" "Just what I said.  The cable to the vertical stabilizer has snapped."  SAY WHAT!  Bob was now in a state of shear panic when Bill announced "There's a spot" indicating a long, deserted stretch of cow pasture in a remote area just outside of Alexandria.  He calmly said "Just hang on till we touch down." Bob hung on alright, white knuckles and all.

The touch-down was pretty rough.  The little Cessna bounced and bobbed until Bill was able to safely bring it to a stop.  He cut the engine, then opened a toolbox.  Planning to find a stretch of barbed wire fencing, Bill pulled out a pair of wire cutters when suddenly he looked around and was not able to see Bob.   Peering out the windows, he scanned the horizon and saw Bob jogging eastward.  Bill yelled "Where the hell are you going?" to which Bob yelled back "I'm going to find a highway."

Knowing Bob was not going to find a highway, Bill shook his head and started his quest for some barbed wire fencing. Not finding a highway,
Bob found his way back to Bill and the plane. Bill quipped "What, no highway?" to which Bob responded "Hell no. Why didn't you tell me?" knew you'd find out for yourself."  Bob said "What are you doing?" "I found a stretch of barbed wire fencing and cut out this piece which I'm splicing onto the snapped stabilizer cable."

Still not at all comfortable with this aerial misadventure, Bob asked "What happens if we can't take off?" "We'll take off" "BUT WHAT IF WE CAN'T?!"  "THEN WE'LL DO A LOT OF WALKING." Bob shook his head and patiently sat down on one of the plane's tread-bare wheels. "Shit!" Bill asked "What?"  "I said SHIT!!" Bill said "You worry too much." to which Bob replied "NO SHIT!"

Bill completed the splicing task, returned the wire-cutters to his toolbox and said "ALL ABOARD".  Bob said "It's done?" Bill said "It's done."

They were soon airborne again with Bill pumping the manual fuel pump until they leveled off.  Realizing they were now some 40-50 minutes from their destination, Bob was able to settle back and endure (not enjoy, but endure) the rest of the trip.  The vibration was gone and it was smooth sailing into Shreveport. Whew!

When the conference ended, Bob, carrying his overnight bag, was seen by Bill loading into their boss's company car. Bob announced "Bill,
no hard feelings, I hope.  But Charlie is giving me a ride back to Baton Rouge."

Bob and Bill remained friends though Bob never again chanced a ride in Bill’s little Cessna or any other aerial contraption Bill might soon be toying with.  Whenever they partied after that, it was by ground transportation ONLY.