On Thursday I zipped out to Ohio for the day to meet a customer with a colleague. We had the luxury of taking the company plane; a rare treat that saves us a wealth of time and the pains of airport patdowns and lines. The machine is a small Cessna Mustang from 2010 – with fairly up to date technology. The cockpit glows from the multitude of bright electronic maps and screens.
It’s mostly quiet inside the cabin. There’s a constant growl from the engines, but it’s comfortable enough to carry on a conversation. The plane itself is fairly steady – we weren’t deeply effected, outside of a schedule setback, by the 100knot headwind.
That headwind was just one piece of the wacky weather that marched into New England on Thursday. While we were out in Ohio the fog rolled through Connecticut like a tsunami of marshmallow fluff. On our landing approach the cabin carried an eerie light, illuminated via the thick white clouds that blanketed the windows. As the plane began its descent I looked to the cockpit and watched the altimeter.
Mike D: We’re at 1000 ft.
Colleague: Wow. Clouds are low.
Mike D: 800.
Colleague: Can you see anything? I can’t see anything.
Note, we were landing in Hartford which has an elevation of about 180ft. So at this point while our altitude was 800, we were only about 620ft off the deck.
Mike D: 700.
Mike D: 600.
Colleague: That can’t be right. I still can’t see ground.
Mike D: We’re at 500ft.
At this point one of the two pilots was looking out the window trying to see ground. The other pilot kept his hands tightly on the yoke.
Mike D: 400ft.
Still complete white.
Mike D: We’re at 300.
Colleague: this is crazy
Mike D: 250.
Suddenly, the pilot pulled back hard on the yoke and threw the throttle all the way forward and we climbed climbed climbed from 250 to 4000 in what felt like seconds.
The pilots kicked into action mode and immediately started pulling out charts, flipping switches and bantering back and forth. A decision was made. We took a hard turn looped around and 30 minutes later were on the ground in New Haven, where the winds of the sound held the carpet of clouds at bay.
It was more fascinating than frightening. It was interesting to be able to witness the decision and the action of a pilot in a less than ideal situation. Both of the guys in the cockpit are ex-airforce guys and it was quite clear given their reactions; The pilots acted with impressive authority.
When we first got in the plane, one of the pilots guided us through the emergency exits. “If we’re in an emergency and you need to escape the aircraft, pull this lever, turn it clockwise, pull the door in and it’ll come right off. If it comes to that feel free to pull the rest of us out of the plane too.”
And while I never felt at risk, I’m still glad to be home!