From Wrong Way to the Right Way

9 07 2008

Australia Air 2

The calm before the storm (Hyden, Western Australia)


In 1938, DouglasWrong Way’ Corrigan left Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn destined for California. Shortly after take off, Corrigan took a wrong turn that many pieces of luggage have since followed and 28 hours later landed in Ireland – thereby becoming one of the very first to cross the Atlantic alone. Corrigan insisted it had been an error, but the fact that his application to fly the Atlantic solo had been declined shortly before left many believing that ‘Wrong Way’ had indeed flown the Right-Way!


Today, in an age of radar, air traffic control and satellite GPS, it would be almost impossible to veer off course for long before someone let you know. But sometimes, even with the latest in modern technology at your fingertips, it is a new-fangled take on the old tried and true methods that bring you back to earth.


Recently in Western Australia, our 10-seater Cessna found itself in a violent thunderstorm. Our aircraft was thrown around the sky and violently battered, the rain lashed the fuselage loud enough to drown out the engines, boiling black clouds filled every window and our pilot gripped the controls to keep us on course.


By the time we emerged at the other side, several people were eyeing the motion sickness bags covetously.


However, the best was yet to come…as what goes up must come down.


Our destination was a small rural airfield near the Indian Ocean coast. The runway was a stretch of level ground carved in long grass, licked by salt air, watched by kangaroos and devoid of anything more sophisticated than an air-sock. Before our pilot could put us down, he had to be satisfied that the airstrip’s surface was firm enough to handle our landing after the heavy rains.


Australia Air 2

Is this New Zealand? (Jurien Bay, Western Australia)

Had it been 1938, we would have swooped down out of the low-level clouds, stuck our heads out the window and simply looked…before crossing our fingers and lining up for a rough landing.


But our pilot had a better trick up his sleeve.


From his pocket he withdrew his mobile phone and sent a text message to the driver who was due to meet us. With his hands still on the controls, he asked him to snap a photo of the airstrip with his camera-phone and text it to him. Moments later, the photo arrived and the pilot studied it earnestly on the small screen of his own phone. The image inconclusive, he asked his contact to drive down the centre of the runway and photograph the indentations that the vehicle’s tyres made in the soft surface. If his tyres dug in deeply, our aircraft would dig even deeper and could tip tail over nose upon landing.


A second photo quickly followed. The pilot was clearly still dissatisfied, changed course, and advised us that we would instead land on a more solid strip 25 kilometres away.


We popped out of the swirling clouds just a few hundred feet above the ground and did a fly-by inspection of our new airstrip before swinging back around, slewing sideways in the crosswinds and then safely and firmly settling down. We taxied over just as our vehicle arrived and clambered out, re-accustoming our wobbly legs to terra-firma.


Wrong Way would undoubtedly have been impressed…although somewhat disappointed that we’d landed where we intended and not in New Zealand!


Photos and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008




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