Wednesday, 11 January 2012
Captain America and a Boeing 777
A strange thing happened earlier: The sun went down and very soon came up again. In fact, it barely dipped below the horizon before reappearing. We chased the sunset, caught it and overtook it. How wondrous! Its something I have never really noticed before in this particular situation. I must pay more attention next time.
To clarify: Once more I am twiddling my thumbs on an aeroplane. I am required to go and explain what are really some quite boring and tedious technical details to some customers near Denver. And still, I am mystified as to quite how I got here. But I have described that particular confusion at length during my trip last month so I won't dwell on it.
The little telly in the seat in front of me tells me we are 38000 feet (or about 11500m) above Baffin Island at 570 mph (about 900kph). Outside the temperature is minus 51C. I was attempting to watch "Captain America" but it is such an atrocious example of cimematic ineptitude that I am afraid I could stomach it no longer than the first fifteen minutes. I would like to believe it is meant to be interpreted as having a tongue-in-cheek self-parody message, but alas, I fear irony was far from the minds of those involved in producing this piece of jingoistic dross. Perhaps I have missed some subtlety.
But I digress, as always. Its very nice to have this time to myself. Forced to sit for ten hours or so in a reasonably comfortable seat (though some airlines are less accommodating), I can read or write, sleep or just watch dreadful films on the tiny screen. Its not a place I enjoy being but it beats working 40 hours a week on the production line as I once did.
It sets you thinking, being up here, faraway from the Workings of Man (except of course for the one I am travelling in). The complexity that contains me is unbelievably complicated. It keeps me safe and even comfortable in an environment that is fatally hostile to the human organism. Its outwardly sleek form contains so many different systems but seen from the outside, must necessarily be simple in form in order to present the least amount of resistance to the air which holds it aloft. The simplicity without hides the complexity within.
Ok, so I have covered all this before and I shall not dwell on the contrast between aerodynamics and that which it contains. No one person can know everything about this machine.
But when I think of the industry of collaboration between specialists of so many fields, the cooperation that had to take place in order for this machine to take shape, it is rather humbling. And indeed, in my days working at airbus, I was party to the intellectual rigour and brilliance of the engineers who conceived and designed the parts which comprise an aeroplane. As I sit here and look, we have electronics, textiles, mechanical design, fluid mechanics and the logistics to priovide me with a rather splendid dinner of herefordshire beef and a passable Australian Shiraz. So many disciplines converge and are managed to make this thing and to put it into service efficiently. People can do great stuff when they work together. Even make good films sometimes. Though sadly not in this case.
So, I recline in my seat, really no more than a piece of human cargo to be loaded and transported across the huge sky to the agreed destination. And I marvel at the tchnology and industry that puts us up here, safely and reliably, day after day. It is an activity that would have caused the Ancients to think it the work of gods to transport us in this way: FLYING for goodness sakes! As birds do and humans have mostly only dreamed of!
And, bored, I switch off Captain America and settle back for a nap,anticipating a safe landing in Denver.