NOTE: I’m sorry it took me awhile to write this. I wanted to do it earlier, but to tell you the truth the seriousness of it started sinking in a couple days later and it just didn’t feel right. The funny thing is, I’m sitting on a plane right now flying to Texas for my wedding, and suddenly it seemed like the right time to finish this. Weird.
I travel a lot. A lot a lot, compared to normal people. And the truth is I used to travel this much or more back in my corporate days, only I was flying in the front of the plane in First Class back then. Now, if being politically correct, I call it the Supplemental Restraint Section, because these are the seats where the people sit that are going to cushion the blow for the rest of us when the plane falls out of the sky and finds itself coming to rest in old “terra firma” like an oversized Lawn Dart. Despite my comfort in flying, I always know who is sitting where, where the exits are, and who is going to be the dipshit that is responsible for your death, because they had to have an emergency row seat but can’t find their ass with both hands in an emergency, etc. On the afternoon of Thursday May 15th, I actually thought I was going to have to use all that information, when American Airlines Flight 2287 had an engine that blew up outside my window on takeoff. Here is how it went down.
On my way to Tulsa Oklahoma for the famed Throwdown in T-Town at Osage Casino Tulsa Raceway Park, I had to make a stop at DFW airport in Texas. The American flight from Ontario California to DFW was uneventful as always, and because I only had an hour or so to kill between flights I didn’t call my parents, who live nearby, to come get me for a quick bite or something. Instead I hung out in the airport and waited on my flight. For this flight I was sitting in my preferred window seat, but a little too close to the Supplemental Restraint Section for my taste, in seat 15F. That happens to be the seat on a Boeing 757 that is directly at the front of the wing, even with the front of the right side engine. Normally I like sitting in the area over or just behind the wing. It’s the strong part after all, and if the plane did pull Lawn Dart duty you’d hope those big bastards would slow down the burial at least a little.
Sitting next to me was some guy in his 20’s who was making me nervous because he got on the flight at the last minute and was spending WAAAAYYYYY too much time studying his drivers license. What is up with that? Terrorist? Freak? Who knows. Turns out he wasn’t going to be a problem. Next to him on the isle, some average business guy who was a bit chatty, but fine. (Surprisingly the only time I don’t talk is when I’m on planes.) Across the isle from him was some dude that looked European, but was wearing a racing engines jacket with a Canadian flag and was with another guy in his thirties that looked like his son. I would later find out they were from Canada and were going to Tulsa to meet with TRP Co-Owner Keith Haney to buy his Pro Mod Camaro.
Breaking the rules as usual, I was still sending emails and text messages trying to get more work done when the plane took off. After all, 3G and 4G service usually work up to around 10k feet in the air, so you have some time to finish up a few things. And I haven’t crashed a plane yet doing that, so I wasn’t worried. Paying no attention to anything in particular, I feel that we are turning onto the runway and feel the pilot square the big 757 up for a full pull down the runway. I glance out the window as the pilot mats the pedal (okay it’s levers I know) and off we go down the runway. As usual, people are chatting and paying no attention, myself included. I look down to finish sending a text, feel the nose rise, and look out the window to watch us leave the ground. This is the cool part of a takeoff normally, because it’s the only part that gives you any actual G-forces..
For the first few hundred feet, everything is fine, the big bastard is leaping into the air with the grace of the Albatross Orville from Disney’s ‘Rescuers’ move, when all of a sudden I start to feel a vibration in my ass. At the moment I realize I’m feeling this, the vibration gets really really bad and LOUD. Loud like me and Brian were on the wing swinging 15lb sledge hammers at this thing. Loud like 100 times worse than when you lie and tell your wife that you can do the laundry, only to load it wrong and send it hopping around the laundry room when it hits the spin cycle. By the time it is making noise I’m looking out my window to see the right side engine shaking like my dog after a bath, and the wing looking as if it really would prefer if the engine would leave. Looking back behind the wing, there is fire, smoke, and I’m pretty sure lots of aluminum flying out at a rapid rate. HOLY SHIT!!! This thing just kicked the rods out at 1000 feet!!! And the pilot must have been a drag racer because like every idiot on the track who tries to drive through the miss or shooting ducks, this dude stays in it for 10-12 seconds in hopes that it is going to “clean up”. WTF!?
Oh and did I mention that we’re not very high up at this point? Yeah, 1000 feet vertical is NOT good because the plane decides it doesn’t like to fly with one blowed up engine so it dips to one side and starts to drop. Like stall kind of dip and drop. We aren’t high enough to do any kind of normal stall avoidance at this point, and I’m well aware of where we are, how low we are, and how bad this is going to be if we can’t stabilize this bitch. (I say we, because I’m willing this flailing beast to recover so we can at least have a fighting chance at survival. I watched “Lost” back in the day, if those guys could survive on a magic island full of monsters, I can survive a hard landing in Burleson for an hour while waiting for the cavalry.)
With only one engine still with us, the pilot treats it like a nitrous motor with one hole going away…, and gives it more nitrous! The poor left engine is pissed off, but was apparently listening when I told it “we’re counting on you little buddy!”. (We would find out later that the left side engine, our only engine, experienced a flame out when the right side engine kicked the rods out, and apparently restarted itself to be the hero of the day.)
At this point I am looking out the window assessing our current location, and am realizing that if this all goes horribly wrong we have no place to land this big bitch that won’t kill us or tons of other people, but despite rocking and rolling a bit, the clearly limping 757 was maintaining altitude. I opened up my compass app on my phone, and got our heading, ground speed, and altitude. Alarmingly we were only at 1400 feet, and were cruising at just 212 miles per hour. Only 50 miles per hour more than the take off speed of a the Boeing 757, I would find out after hitting up Google on my phone. There were varying numbers online for the 757’s stall speed, but considering that our 212 mph speed was dropping, I wasn’t looking forward to finding out just who was right. For those of you not in the know, the stall speed is the speed at which the planes stops flying. No bueno.
We’re less than 5 minutes into this entire adventure, and we’ve not heard anything from the pilots, presumably because they had much more important things to take care of than talking to us. At this point I’m thinking I need to let someone NOT on this plane know what is going on, and send a text to good old Mom and Dad who live nearby. Here is what I sent. “Weird takeoff in Dallas. Sounded like bad engine noise. Big shakes. Not sure, but think it kicked the rods out. Don’t call Daphne. Just giving you a heads up.” A few seconds later, “No word from Pilot but we are turning around maybe. Not sure yet. We are not climbing. Circling and may be getting back in the pattern to land. ”
Mom of course sends “Oh my god. Keep me posted immediately. I love you.” After a couple back and forths with the typical Mom telling me she loves me stuff, I send one back that says “Captain is on. Right engine blew up. Coming back to land. I called it.” Her response? “You always do. LOL Tell me when you are safely landed.”
Meanwhile the mood on the plane is anything but good. Nobody is in full Freak The Eff Out Mode, but people are crying, hugging, and praying like mad. It’s not until the pilots make the announcement that we have in fact “lost” the right engine, that people actually start questioning things. One woman sitting behind me opens her mouth and remarks that “It sure took them a long time to tell us what’s going on!” My response, in my normal quiet voice, was “Would you rather those dudes fly this airplane to a safe landing, or talk about our problems on the way to the crash?…Cause I’ll take the flying part.”
I was instantly the only intelligent person on this plane outside of the cockpit. Now it was armchair pilot time. Once the pilot indicated that we were going to circle around and land, some people became less concerned with their well being, and reverted back to the normal whiny bitches they are. My favorite was when the pilot came on just prior to landing and said that we were going to make our landing and then stop the plane as quickly as possible. That emergency crews would be on site and would immediately pull up to the plane in order to make sure we were not on fire. If we were on fire, we would be using the front and rear doors with slides to exit the plane, and to please leave all personal belongings behind.
I have to say, there was a part of me that really was looking forward to getting my slide on at this point. I think I was the only one.
Here is where the flight gets interesting again. We are coming in for our landing, with only one engine, and I make the assumption that since we only have one engine we can’t use the reverse thrust that normally slows a plane down on landings. After all, if you cranked that bastard up I would think you would make the plane turn hard on landing and that would be bad. Apparently I was right, because the pilot sets this thing down, with complete silence on board the plane, and then gets all in the brakes like he’s running into Canada corner at Road America with his ass on fire. I’m sure the pilot and co-pilot were both all in the brake pedals, and I’m sure that isn’t good for the planes brakes longevity, but let m tell you, this sucker stopped like right now. I mean head forward and snapped back kind of stop. It was awesome. But I digress.
So we have come to a stop, fire trucks are scrambling from their staging points approximately 1/4 mile away,, and they completely circle the plane. While they are performing their careful inspection of the plane to make sure that our right side engine wasn’t burning while attached to it’s fuel tank, aka the wing, miss mouthy “I wish the pilots would tell us something”, starts in and is at it again.
She says, and I quote, “Why are we so far from the terminal? Why didn’t they get us closer so we can get off this plane? We are so far away!”
Again in my normal quiet Chad voice, lol, I turn and give her the following sermon.
“Seriously? You don’t understand why they have landed us out here and stopped this far from the terminal? Seriously? Listen lady, if the shit went down and we came in hot and ended up in a fiery ball tumbling down the runway, do you think the people sitting in planes at the terminal, or eating lunch at Chili’s inside it will really give a fat shit that our intention was to get good and close for the convenience of off loading while they are all burning to death right with us? It’s called limiting potential casualties!”
I simultaneously became the guy nobody really wanted to hear from on the plane anymore, while at the same time becoming the guy most all of them were deciding they would follow if the shit went down and we had to get out of this bastard.
Being the media whore that I am, I made sure that this big bearded BangShift wearing talker was near all the television cameras in the airport. I of course made mention of BangShift.com, Tulsa Raceway Park, and the Throwdown in T-Town when I was being interviewed, but they cut that part out. Oh well, it was worth a try.
I’d like the say that was the end of my weekend’s flying adventure, but hours of sitting around to finally get on another flight to Tulsa was the easy part. On Sunday, after boarding a plane for DFW from Tulsa, our plane’s landing gear broke the front axle as we were being pushed back from the gate. We got pushed back to the gate, had several hours of delay, and then couldn’t get on a connecting flight back home to California without a jillion hour layover. So, I had Mom and Dad come get me and we ran around town and ate and stuff. Not bad, but a long weekend of jacked up flights.
With as many flights as I take each month, it’s not surprising, but that was an action packed weekend for sure.
A couple of things surprised me about the entire adventure though. First, I was impressed with the calm that most people had, but surprised at their almost immediate resignation to certain disaster. I guess it’s the fight or flight thing, no pun intended, but while my heart rate definitely went up and it was scary to think of our possible disaster, every ounce of my being was focused on what was happening, and how could I use that information to either understand what our options were, or how could I use that information to somehow affect the outcome of our situation. I was tracking our speed, direction, altitude, and GPS coordinates within moments of the engine shaking like a dog and throwing the rods out. I could not see anyone else on the plane who was doing the same thing. The law of averages would say that there surely were others on board doing the same thing, but given the response and comments from many on board, I wouldn’t have held my breath as a bet on that one.
Besides the relative calm, and people’s resignation that bad things were going to happen, I also noticed, and was incredibly alarmed by, what i would guess is a pretty good sampling of “average” Americans having no ability to think logically with regards to the potential outcome of our situation. The woman asking why we weren’t close to the terminal is just one example of the things I heard, and in fact one woman asked if they would “fix” the engine. Her husband said that he didn’t know if they could fix it without it taking a long time, but that maybe they would just take this one off and put another one on it. Seriously? I’m no aircraft mechanic, but I’m 100% sure that the replacement of an engine on a Boeing 757 is a little more involved and time consuming than putting a new one in a Volkswagen Beetle. It has to take more than the Bugs floorjack and 4 bolts to get out and back in.
I could be wrong.
In the end, we all got home safely, and I was on a plane again the next weekend. And the other people I was on the plane with? Well, the French Canadian guy that was meeting with Keith Haney at Tulsa Raceway Park actually spent several minutes of the adventure trying to convince his wife that he was in fact on a plane that was in trouble, as she thought he and his son were playing a joke on good old mom. It wasn’t until the next night when she saw a reenactment on tv that she actually believe them! We compared notes on the flight several times in the pits over the weekend as he and I were constantly being bombarded by questions from people.
As for the lady with the loud mouth and no concept of actual reality? I’m sure she went home and told the ladies in her Yoga class all about it. I can only hope she described this loud mouth with the big beard as abnoxious and perhaps condescending. And if this abnoxious condescending dude makes her think even one time about the reasoning behind something, I’m good.
And remember folks, kiss your kids, your wife, your husband, your parents, your dog, every time you leave them. You just never know.