flying into Kai Tak..

Posted by Ted on Dec 7, 2003 in Memories

..or, driving in Boston during a blizzard.

So one time when I flew from Sydney to Hong Kong, I asked if I could sit up in the cockpit for take-off and landing. I learned that trick from a co-worker at the time; ask to sit in the cockpit, claim that you’re learning to fly, or interested in getting a pilot’s license. obviously this works better with foreign airlines, and I expect it was easier 5 years ago than it would be today.

That said, I was lucky at the time, and sat in the cockpit for take-off and landing. that was totally awesome. strapping in with a 5-point harness, and having the pilot’s view of taxiing from the gate to the runway was amazing. you got to see all of the other planes landing, taking off, and otherwise jockying for positions. then take-off.. wow. watching the pilot push the throttle forward, feeling and seeing the nose lifting, and then the back wheels, and then all of a sudden, all that is in front of you is clouds.

Landing was cool, too. the setup for the landing starts some 100 miles away, with minor adjustments until about 30 miles away, and finally lining up with the runway. I hadn’t realized before then just how automated the whole procedure was; most course corrections were done via entering the degrees, altitude, and speed via dials and switches. I remarked upon this at the time, and one of the Aussie pilots nodded, and said that yes, much of commercial airline pilotting of large aircraft is done via the autopilot, with the pilots providing the course adjustments. the other pilot remarked, somewhat wistfully, that many pilots flying in and around Asia Pacific missed flying into the decomissioned Kai Tak Airport. Kai Tak is the old airport in Hong Kong. it was most famous for the fact that it was situated so close to Kowloon, that passengers on planes landing or taking off could see what was on the TVs of the apartment buildings the plane was passing.

Pilots couldn’t use the autopilot. they had to fly under manual control. and it gave them a chance to use the skills that they’d learned in flight school.

Driving to and from Brighton this evening in order to attend a friend’s party, in this wonderful first blizzard of the winter, reminded me of that. I felt like I was using the skills that living through 17 Boston and 11 Cleveland winters has taught me. of course, I’ve only been driving for 13 of those 28 years, but you learn being a passenger, too. it was very technical driving; altogether not too bad. the worst part was getting out of our driveway, and parking, and avoiding stupid people in the middle of the street.

Now I realize that it’s 4:30a, and I’ve been spending too long writing this entry. good night, all..

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An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through photography and writing, found at The Pocket Explorer. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


Dec 7, 2003 at 12:30 pm

I’ve always been a bit sad that I never made it to HK before Kai Tak was decommissioned.

Dec 7, 2003 at 1:09 pm

obviously this works better with foreign airlines

Only works with foreign airlines, because for quite a while (even pre 9-11) US planes and other planes in US airspace have been under regulations that don’t let them allow anyone else in the cockpit.

Dec 7, 2003 at 3:14 pm

I was once flying from Frankfurt to Paris, and the pilots had left the cockpit door open as we started our descent. I decided to spend some time waiting for the lavatories that happened to be right by the cockpit door. :-)

Another time, flying back to Boston from Seattle, I got an illustration of how far out they start the descent when I recognized the NY Thruway bridge over the Hudson (with the CSX railroad bridge right next to it), and right then we started descending.