Back in my Mead Corporation days I had the luck to occasionally fly on one of the two Corporate jets. They sat only seven people, but in great comfort, and included a well-stocked bar. They could fly directly into about any airport, making the trip to Escanaba, Michigan a relaxing ninety minute jaunt instead of an eight-plus hour, long-layover ordeal. No security lines, and the pilot would meet you at the hangar door to take your luggage. Puts the best first-class commercial flight to shame.
As much as I loved these flights and would jump at the chance to climb aboard again, I had three experiences in these jets that you might think would make me swear off them forever. So in the order of increasing panic, I tell these stories.
The Long Escanaba Landing
After the typically smooth ride from Dayton to Escanaba, the jet touches down with its usual, light bump. A few seconds after that, I notice that we’re slowing down, but not as quickly as normal, and without the typical “whoosh” sounds as the engines help slow the plane. For what seemed a small age, we slowed little by little. I know that Escanaba doesn’t have a long runway, and I began to wonder if we would run out of slowing before we ran out of runway. Fortunately that was not the case, but for more than a few seconds I was getting increasingly worried. The pilot later explained that the plane had lost its reverse thrusters and that the plane could not return to Escanaba’s short runway until the problem was fixed. So our return flight had to originate in Green Bay, Wisconsin. After our business was concluded I drove a van through a nasty fog around Lake Michigan, white-knuckled all the way. Then to make the journey even more memorable, the moment we entered Green Bay, we hit a patch of black ice and the van was at the physical forces of nature. All I could do was hold the steering wheel straight and wait until either the tires found traction on the road, we run into a ditch or perhaps an even worse fate. After a few seconds, the tires found the road and disaster was avoided, and except the wear and tear on my nerves, all was good.
The Dayton Almost Landing
A group of us was returning from somewhere unremembered during some not so pleasant weather. We approached the Dayton airport well strapped in as the plane bounced around. Lower and lower we descended. Then almost as I expected the familiar and welcome bump of tires on runway, a nasty sounding alarm came from the cockpit. Less than a second later the engines came to full power and the nose of the plane shot nearly straight in the air. A minute later the pilot came on the speaker to explain that the sound we heard was the wind shear alarm, which warns the pilots that there is a danger the outside air would push down on the top of the wings, pushing the plane down to the ground. Having avoided the plane crash, we traveled over to the Fort Wayne, Indiana airport, had a nice dinner while we waited for the weather system to clear and then returned, uneventfully, to Dayton.
The Flash of Light
A group of my co-workers and I were very fortunate to catch a “deadhead” leg to Jacksonville, Florida on our way to a DP Manager’s conference at Mead’s Cabin Bluff facility. The jet was going to Jacksonville to pick up a valued customer and nobody would be on the jet from Dayton. So for the cost of almost nothing, seven of us eagerly boarded the plane for an enjoyable journey. Until the weather again decided to play havoc with our nerves. About an hour into the flight we experienced a simultaneous boom and flash of light, which totally surrounded the plane. For a few terrifying seconds we waited to see if the plane would descend, if an engine would stop or some other equally bad symptom. Nothing. The plane continued without a hitch. A week later the pilot would tell us that we had been hit by lightning, which left a small bore bullet sized hole in the plane, and we had to fly the customer back on a commercial flight as the jet was grounded for repair.