Volume 18, Issue 4: Flotsam
The 747-200B is a behemoth. It is made primarily out of metal. And it's heavy. I'm told that approximately
fifteen million fasteners are used in its construction. Its wingspan (it has wings) is nearly two hundred feet. Or so rumor
I'm not impressed by how heavy it is, loaded or unloaded. Sitting empty, it's only around three hundred
and eighty thousand pounds. Full of smashed suitcases, pre-screened shoes, and compartmentalized, breathing
and restrained people, it doesn't even reach one million pounds, peaking somewhere around eight hundred and
That's less than my neighborhood. Less than half of my neighborhood.
A big male albatross can weigh more than twenty-four pounds and have a wingspan of up to around eleven and
a half feet. And it hatched out of an egg and can swim under water to catch sardines.
I shift my weight from foot to foot and watch people crowd the gate. They want on. They want in. Into the big
metal tube where we will all be strapped in an upright position, ignoring each other, playing with the free portion of
our personal multi-media system, oversharing with row-mates about sports or politics or family, shelling out
for bowdlerized entertainment, or just listening to the babies cry.
The miracle of flight is quickly boring. Climbing a few miles into the sky and hopping a continent wearies
me. Bring me a nut won't you? And half a room temperature ginger ale over donut ice.
I don't want onto any airplane first. I watch the people-rush, and I watch the people watchers. I listen to the
blue teeth. Then, when the last call rattles out of the PA, I walk into the long bent square tunnel and into the long
round cylinder, and I ruin someone's day by filling the seat they had prayed would stay empty.
The one thing a 747 really has going for it, is that it can fly. But it doesn't even really do that. It just hurries
forward. Huge turbine furnaces control the release of maintained explosion and slide the plane pointy end first. But it's the
air that makes it fly. Air can be seduced by a good wing.
Some albatrosses dive as deep as forty feet underwater. Like any 747 the birds can have a fixed wing (locking
a tendon they were given for that purpose). Unlike a 747, they can flap. And they can maintain an unpropelled
glide ratio in the neighborhood of 1:22. For every vertical foot lost, they travel twenty-two. Which is just another way
of saying that if an albatross got tired of flapping above Philadelphia, it could still land in New York. And
that's without asphalt updrafts.
There are a few ways to cheat gravity. The mass of the earth, we're told, desires our presence. It desires the
presence of all things that exist within scentable range of its sensitive gravitational nose. But earth isn't infinite, and so it
must triage. It can't have everything. Throw the virgins in the volcano and the rest of us may survive. Air has mass.
Have less than it does per cubic foot and you'll fly away. More accurately, you'll float away. This is the dandelion
down principle of aerodynamics. The air around will be sacrificed. It will be pulled down below you and you will
rise through it. The air warms, expands, reduces density, and rises again.
If you can't find enough weather balloons for your lawn chair, become violent. Use blades and spin them
in circles above your head. Threaten and dominate the air. Beat it down below you and do not let it rise again. Then
use your new perspective to chat about traffic, or tranquilize an extremely confused elk.
As for me, I prefer attaching myself to long wings, tastefully curved across the top, and then looking around
for some means of propulsion. I don't have any, but give enough money to people in matching polyester clothing
and they'll let you ride theirs.
The trick is this: if you can get the air on the top of the wing to take longer crossing the surface than the air
on the bottom, then you'll fly. More like the air picks you up. It's confused. Your lower half moves more quickly
than your upper half. So you'll either tear in two, or you'll loft.
If I could, through some genetic quirk, create the same effect (and propulsion), causing my lower body to
travel more quickly through the air than my upper, a few things would happen. First, I would fall onto my back.
Second, my nostrils would rip open. Third, I would point my toes and pencil dive up into the sky.
Christ flew. People call it ascension, but He flew. He didn't flap. He didn't twist and spin. He didn't expand
with heat and reduce His density. He didn't trick the air with the curved surface of a wing. The air lifted Him up
because it wanted to. It doesn't obey us the same way. So we beat it.
I wish the airlines would make the walls transparent. The floor can be solid. So can the overhead bins. But give
me plexiglass walls and a skylight above the aisle. Seat me in glaring sun and miles of cold.
I won't need a nut. I'll think I'm an albatross.