Tuesday, October 12, 2010



Hagai Cohen

“We are the only flight tonight,” I said to Manny after we had crossed longitude 40 west.

“Nobody flies on Christmas night,” said Manny. “Anybody with any little sense stays home.”

Even the oceanic controller in Gander, judging by his voice, had been asleep. It was a very boring cargo flight.

Manny was in the middle of complaining about our bad luck when a woman's voice came over the radio.

"This is delivery 036 transmitting blind, request relay.”

It was a call from a female pilot on flight 036. She wanted us to call Gander for her. To our ears, her voice was like the singing of the sirens on the Aegean Sea. The night was shaping up after all.

“Delivery 036 Echo Lima Yankee 851, go ahead,” said Manny on the radio.

“Delivery 036, position, Checked 40 west 52 north at 08:35 flight level 110 estimate 30 west 54 north at 11:05”.

I looked at Manny and he looked at me. What she said meant that she was flying too low and too slow.

“Repeat your Estimated Time over 30 west,” said Manny. And the lady answered “Echo Tango Oscar 30 west 11:05”.

I could not conquer my curiosity and I said to her “What airplane are you flying?”

“A piper cub,” was her answer.

“What?! Are you flying a single engine aircraft over the Atlantic?”

“Yes,” was the incredible answer. “That’s what I do for a living. I deliver small airplanes from the manufacturer to the customer.”

“What is your flight plan time from Gander to Shannon?"

“I'm lucky today,” she said. “I have good winds. 12 hours and forty minutes. And my name is Marge.”

We relayed her position to Gander, introduced ourselves and continued to talking with her.
We spoke on the VHF radio which have a limited range and using the emergency frequency, always 'on' when an airplane is airborne.

Marge Many and I were the only people on the radio. We felt quite comfortable chit chatting with her although it was against the regulations. She was very cooperative answering our interrogative questions.

"Call me if you happen to be in Köln, Germany or Annapolis, Maryland, I live in both places, I promise to answer all your questions and to prove to you that I am not crazy” she said and gave us her phone numbers as her voice faded out.

"A woman flying over the ocean with a single engine is, in my opinion, an unimaginable provocation against manhood. I would never dare to fly as she does. I don't have the courage and I’m definitely not an idiot. She is challenging her luck. She must be crazy, do you really think she wants us to call her ?” I said to Manny.

She was very friendly, and I think she wants to brag about her ability and prove to us she is as good and as professional anyone could be.

In truth, I was full of respect for her bravery and somewhat jealous. “We have to see her one day; there are a million questions I'd like to ask her.”

Four months later, Manny and I were assigned to fly together to Köln.

“Jack,” said Manny “did you ever call Marge?”

“No. I have been in Köln twice since that flight, but I just didn't have the guts.”

“I neither," said Manny. "I didn't know what to expect”.

"Well, we’re together now so why don’t we pool our poor courage and give her a call?"
“OK let’s do it.”

“I thought you'll never call,” she said over the telephone. “I was sure you had forgotten me. I’ll pick you up at seven. I have a place in mind for dinner but I have to call first.” In answer to our question, as to whether she was changing her plans for us, she answered, “Definitely not, but I would change my plans for you any time.” Her statement left us wondering. Is she so desperate? We decided to plan against uncertainty. “In the event we don’t like her, we'll make an excuse about an early flight and leave,” we agreed.

We were sitting in the lobby waiting when a man and a woman walked through the door. There was no one else in the lounge. We did not pay much attention to them as they looked too young and we were expecting a woman alone. They started to walk in our direction. As they approached, the woman said: “Manny? Jack?”
We stood up and said together “Marge?”

Our jaws hit the floor. The lady in front of us was a glamorous blonde dressed in an evening gown. We learned later she was just twenty four years old. She could not possibly be the lady from 40 West. Women like this are not let loose, I thought. The last time I saw a woman like Marge was in a James Bond movie.

“This is my husband Julius,” she said. "He is a pilot too and we work together." Marge drove us in her big Mercedes to Aachen, a nearby town. “I have reserved a table at the best restaurant I know, it's a part of the Aachen casino and run by a world renowned Chef George Lemoine.”

To get into the restaurant, we had to go through the casino. The rule of the house was, one must state one's occupation to the guard. It really seemed funny. I could not imagine anyone announcing: "gambler," “Bank robber,” “Kidnapper,” or such. Julius led the way in.
“Piloten,” he said and walked passed the guard. Manny followed and repeated “Piloten.” I was next and I recited the magic word. The guard looked puzzled. When Marge said “Piloten,” the guard pushed a button and two oversized gorillas appeared from nowhere grabbed the four of us and pushed us towards the door.

I do not know what Marge said to the older gorilla, which had a good hold of her arm, but it was very effective. In less than a second, the giants became as soft as marshmallows and immediately apologized, straightened our clothes and led us into the lounge. The owner of the casino came rushing in apologizing for the ignorance of the stupid gorillas, summoned the Maitre d’ and said,

“These people are my guests.”

Then he turned to Marge:

“Well, Well, Well! It took you far too long to report in. Please enjoy your evening, I will join you later,” he said and left.

“What's going on Marge”? I asked.

“Oh, nothing, He owns several casinos throughout Europe. He needed an airplane to hop between the casinos and I delivered it.”

“You knew he'd be here tonight”?

"Yes, of course. I called earlier."

I was beginning to respect Marge; she looked to me less and less crazy and more and more calculated, and definitely not spontaneous.

The entire menu was recommended by the chef in person. He came to the table at the owner’s request. We let the chef decide for us. The outstanding dinner suggested by the chef was, Pate de foie gras au truffe as an appetizer. “Soupe de tortue aquatique , and as a main course Faisan A la Georgienne, a Russian aristocratic dish, cooked only on special occasions.
The sommelier came to the table to suggest the wines wearing a traditional costume with a big golden key on his chest, the key to the wine cellar of course.

The conversation was mostly about flying. While drinking an aperitif, Julius explained the structure of their airline. Marge is the president of the company,” he said. “She deals with the commercial aspects. I am the vice-president of operations; I deal with the technical aspects. We have ten pilots working for us. Marge founded the company, some three years ago. She is a born pilot. She has been flying since she was fifteen. I was hired only after the company was founded.”

“Any privileges for being the boss’s husband?” I asked.

“Privileges! I get the worst flights because Marge is afraid to lose her pilots,” he laughed.

The more we learned about the technical aspects, the more we realized we were dealing with professionals. Special equipment is installed for the delivery: extra fuel tanks, anti-icing systems, navigation equipment and a special radio. They carry a survival suit made to sustain body temperature up to a hundred hours in the cold north Atlantic waters. The suit is equipped with special candies for energy and a water desalination kit, enough to survive for a long time.
For Manny and me, it was a completely new facet of aviation and a very fascinating one at that.

We learned about Ms Diane and her husband in Bangor Main, who do the necessary installations. We were educated about the flight watch services for delivery pilots, about the flight plan and route calculations,when the delicious appetizer, the goose liver paste with truffles arrived.
"Marge" I asked

“Have you experienced any hazardous incidents?”

“Not too many.”

“Tell us about them."

“I'll tell you about two” said Marge, "both of which happened while delivering birthday presents to the rich."

“You mean airplanes?"

“Yes, a Swiss banker” she smiled, “wanted to give his daughter an airplane for Christmas. I brought the airplane to Bangor for the installations. I had to take off on time so the Christmas present would not miss the chimney.

It was evening, Bangor airport was under light snow; with sub zero Fahrenheit temperatures. The airplane was refueled for an eighteen hour flight, from Bangor to Bordeaux, and was very heavy.

It was a very long takeoff run on powdery snow, and a very slow climb after the takeoff. At an altitude of a thousand feet, the right door burst open, left hanging on one hinge. The airplane became almost impossible to handle because of the extra drag.

To descend to the runway took more than thirty minutes. I could not dump the extra fuel so I had to descend very slowly.

During the extended descent I got very cold, my goggles fogged up and I had to remove them. My frozen eyes could hardly see the instruments or indeed the runway. I had to defrost for an hour after the landing.

Diane and her husband decided to weld the broken hinge. Luckily the door itself was not damaged. They took it to the repair shop and two hours later, I took off again and happily started my climb. The hinge broke again at fifteen hundred feet. The door blew away completely and caused some damage to the stabilizer.

Handling the airplane was easy this time as there was no door. Unfortunately I made a big mistake. I was too quick to celebrate. During my initial climb, it was quite warm and I had decided to unzip my overalls. To do it, I removed my gloves and placed them on the seat next to me. When the door blew away, the sudden suction took my gloves away too. I flew the airplane with one hand alternately, trying to warm the other by sitting on it. The goggles, as before, fogged up and had to be removed. My frozen fingers could not zip up the overalls. I was so cold I could not even apply the brakes after landing.

This time it took me half an hour in a hot bath to thaw. The new toy was delivered not as a Christmas present but rather for New Year’s Eve instead.”

Marge paused while we thought about what a great pilot she must be to handle the plane in such terrible circumstances.

“Actually the incident was more in the category of unpleasantness and not in the category of dangerous” said Marge.

“What do you mean unpleasantness?” I said. “At twenty west, a similar incident and you would have had to ditch in the middle of the ocean - and with your broken H.F radio, no one would have ever found you.”

“You're right, of course,” said Marge “but we are not speculating on what could have happened. In my next story, you will hear about a really dangerous experience."

We quietly consumed our superb turtle soup enriched with chunks of bone marrow while waiting for Marge to talk. She took her time.

"I think it was my fourth or fifth delivery after I founded my company" She started, but was interrupted by a mobile platoon of waiters bringing the impressive main dish. After the plates, garnished on sight, were served and a fancy unique decanted wine was poured into our glasses Marge continued.

"It was a single engine two-seat Cessna. The route was from Annapolis Maryland to Shreveport Louisiana; about 700 miles and six hours away.

I took off at 14:00 hours so I could be there at 20:00. The machine I was delivering was a birthday present to an eighteen year old boy, the son of a wealthy “farmer,” who owned 20,000 acres of cotton and corn in addition to numerous oil rigs.

The man insisted I come to the party as a local girl dressed in a tight mini skirt, a blouse and the proper hat and boots.

He wanted me to taxi the Cessna into the meadow in front of the old plantation house, to make it look as if it was a forced landing, to pretend I was lost and after inquiring where I was, I would give the keys to the boy.

It was staged to be a dramatic scene. The Cessna was brand new; champagne in color, with a Magnolia Grandiflora flower painted on the door and a brown pelican on the fin.

I had to stop for refueling at a small airport in Mississippi. After takeoff, I was airborne for half an hour cruising at an altitude of 700 feet when my engine started coughing and sneezing. The fuel was contaminated.

I looked for a proper strip to land. The ground beneath me was dark although the horizon was in twilight. The engine stalled completely after two minutes. Attempts to restart were unsuccessful. I glided down, trying to maintain the best angle.

Beneath me was interstate 20, which was practically my route. I still could vaguely see the highway, and there were no cars on it. I got to the ground quickly without increasing my speed and landed safely. I touched down at Lincoln Parish, a place with almost no population.

After landing, I pushed the airplane off the road into the dividing area between the opposite side of the highway.

Before touchdown,” Marge continued, “I noticed an exit and some lights at the end of the exit ramp. It was an easy walk, about a mile and I was wearing my sneakers. I could not very well fly with the fancy boots I was supposed to wear for the party.

The place I had seen before landing was a kind of a rural bar with the “Bud” neon sign. I was quite happy to find civilization in a place like this. I went into the bar looking for a pay phone.

There were only two men in the bar; one of them was the bartender. The other was this ugly looking man, with two front teeth missing. He had tattoos covering most of his arms. He definitely had not seen a barber for many years. He was constantly scratching his head, armpits and crotch. It was obvious his body was the natural habitat for various vermin. He was consuming whisky directly from a bottle and seemed quite drunk.

I went toward the phone to make a call for the local sheriff. 'Howdy!' I said 'do you happen to know the sheriff’s phone number?'
I had probably said something very wrong for the man at the bar turned and yelled: 'Don't touch the phone.'

The volume of his voice shocked me. 'Do not touch the phone and get the fuck out of out of here.'

I was still holding the receiver, very surprised as the man got off the bar, came at me, snatched the receiver from my hand and broke the cable. With his other hand, he grabbed me by my leather tie and started to push me toward the door. The stench emanating from the man was unbelievable. He smelled sour and moldy. His clothes stank like rotten rags. He was strong and I felt as if I were flying when he almost lifted me off the ground. I was certain I’d be thrown out. I was mistaken. He bolted the door, turned off the ‘Bud’ sign and said,

'You want to play games, Missy, let me see what you have got here.'

He tore off my blouse, popping the buttons. I was petrified. I looked across to the bartender for help but he had conveniently disappeared.

The first action in a flight emergency, as we were taught,” Continued Marge, “is to keep flying the airplane. Power, speed, attitude, level wings, then think, identify the problem and try to solve it. In this situation, I took the same steps. I realized fighting the guy was useless. He was too big and violent. The only way out was to distract him and run. I knew for sure the drunk could not run as fast as I.”

“Hey, big boy,” I said. “I came here for fun and you come on to me with force? Let’s do it on the pool table.”

He was so surprised, he let go of me. I put down my pocket book and started to pull up my skirt very slowly. The guy looked confused. He did not expect it to be so simple.

“Go ahead, Poppy, take them down. Show him to me, Let me see what I am getting.” While speaking, I backed up slowly continuing to pull up my skirt. The guy got the message and started to drool.

Now he was fighting his sticky stinky tight jeans. He managed to take his pants all the way down. My skirt went up a little more while the guy started to walk with funny tiny steps towards me. My skirt was now fully up and he was getting closer to me.
As he moved on I realized that a skunk definitely smelled better. The man was now about three feet away from me; exposed and ready. With my skirt up I had greater maneuverability to my legs. My foot moved fast and hard into his testicles. My hands followed the foot and pushed him away from me, my back was against the pool table and I could push him hard despite the fact he was taller and heavier than I.

The man screamed like a slaughtered pig, and fell back folded like a baby in the womb. I had plenty of time now. A woman with her skirt up can run much faster than a man with cracked nuts and pants down. I picked up my pocket book, and ran to the door. I was out within two seconds. I did not know what to do next."

I looked at Many and he looked at me it was very unusual for a woman to talk about a rape experience. From what I read it takes year of therapy to get the victim to tell her story. On the other hand it is quite common amongst pilots to talk about near misses and incidents. In fact we were taught to tell our stories as many times as we can and to many people.

"Once outside" marge continued "I looked around and found there was only one pickup truck next to the house. Only one truck I said to myself the two guys are together and it may be dangerous.

I ran to the truck bursting with a great desire to drive the truck with its heavy bumper, right through the front wall and smash down the bar with its bottles. I took my gloves from my pocket book put them, so as not to leave fingerprints, and I got into the truck. The key was in the ignition switch as I expected, and there was also a shotgun. A loaded shotgun! Immediately my plans changed I felt more secure and I waited for them to come out. Nothing happened for a long time.

My skunk was probably indulging his balls with ice cubes. I could not wait the entire night. So I started the engine and backed the truck up to the door. The noise made them rush out and then the chase began. I drove the truck slowly so they would think they could catch it, then a little faster and then another stop. I was driving the truck on the highway in the opposite direction and took them about a mile away from their bar. When I had gained a nice distance from them I brought the truck to a stop, and used the gun butt to break the key inside the switch.

I left the truck with the lights on. I crossed the highway to the opposite side and started to run back to my Cessna. It was about two miles down the road.

Once at my plane, I took off my skirt and blouse and put on my flight overalls, the fancy boots and changed my hair. The changes made me look taller and different. The descent and landing with the lights on and no engine running had depleted my battery. The radio had not worked either after my landing. I hoped my radio would work after the battery’s “rest”. I tried the radio “transmit blind” hoping any commercial airplane would hear me.

I got lucky. After some time, a commercial flight heard me on the emergency frequency. They managed to get my message through.

The sheriff, who came to the site, was very surprised to see me. 'Never before, in my twenty five years on the force, has an airplane landed on my highway' he said to me. 'I will leave an officer next to your airplane and you will be my guest. My wife will be thrilled. Let’s go through the station so I can finish my paper work and then we’ll drive home.'

Down at the station I saw an officer bringing in my “friends” from the bar. They were thrown into the detention room handcuffed. They were charged with drunken driving, possession of an illegal firearm and driving in the wrong direction. They looked into my eyes but did not seem to recognize me.

On the way home the sheriff was talking to me and to himself at the same time. 'They think I was born yesterday, idiots, even a child can come up with a better story.
A whore they said came with a shotgun to the bar to rob them. They did not have any money so she hijacked their truck and dumped it on the highway next to her getaway car.

Whore my ass. You know Margaret' said to me the sheriff: 'there was a famous whore house five miles down the old road. The last whore of our parish died of old age fifteen years ago.' "

We sat quietly for some time after Marge finished her story. We were astounded and speechless.

“Well Marge” I said “I am now convinced, flying is dangerous, I am convinced that you are professional, industrious, brave and quite crazy. However, this succulent 'Pheasant Georgian Stile' created by chef Lemoin The Great is definitely one of the fringe benefits of the life on the edge."

The end

No comments: