The View From The Cockpit

9 06 2009


“Excuse me…pilot? Can you keep your radio communications down…I’m trying to sleep.”    


In the good old days prior to 9/11, it was possible to visit the cockpit during a flight. I don’t think they admitted just anyone and probably denied access to anyone wearing a bandolier of large-calibre bullets even then, but children were regularly taken to the cockpit for a look around. Today, I’m not sure that even Britney Spears dressed as a schoolgirl would get past the 3-inch thick armour-plated door before a slot opened and she was hosed-down with high-pressure tear gas and a barrage of taser fire.


It’s a shame really, because flying is a lot more exciting than sitting in a pressurised bubble with a plastic tray of luke-warm food and the germs of 400 other people. It’s just that you rarely get a hint of flying at all…which for some people is probably a very good thing!


Very small commuter aircraft often have no division between the passengers and the pilot. I remember one such flight in northern Ontario when the pilot simply turned around in his seat and asked the dozen passengers to let him know if it was too hot or too cold. Somehow, attempting to tap the average 747 pilot on the shoulder would likely end up with you pinned to the floor by several burly plain-clothed Skymarshalls and shot out of a torpedo tube to Guantanamo…or wherever they send people now.


I love watching what the pilot does. Sometimes his or her actions can actually be a little disconcerting, like when he starts fighting with instruments or controls or leans forward and frantically scans the sky all around for something unseen that’s clearly of considerable concern.


Some airlines used to have cameras which provided passengers with live views of take-off or landing. That stopped when it was rumoured that passengers aboard a doomed DC-10 may well have watched themselves cartwheel into the runway. That was many years ago and I believe that some airlines now offer that again on one of the channels of the backseat personal entertainment system.


United Airlines have an audio channel that provides you with all the communications between your aircraft and air traffic control. I love spending the entire flight listening to my aircraft being handed off from Albuquerque control to Salt Lake centre and so on, or hearing the pilot request permission to change course to avoid some particularly rough weather. ATC re-direct us to 33,000 feet on a new heading and the next thing I know, my aircraft is banking and climbing. Such eavesdropping adds a new dimension to a flight and makes a 5-hour cross-continental haul far more interesting than watching a re-run of a 7-year old sitcom on my backseat screen.


Even if there’s no live video or audio, most airlines do at least now offer the ‘Map’: the video channel that plots your progress on a moving map and provides you with live information on your altitude, speed, outside temperature and your ever-changing time of arrival.


Of course, none of these are quite as interesting as sitting in the cockpit itself, but all of them beat being arrested by Homeland Security and banned for life for simply knocking on the pilot’s door!


Post and photo by: Simon Vaughan © 2009



One response

11 06 2009


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