Top Gun (or It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s…oh. Yeah, it’s a plane)


I was sitting at my desk, plunking away at my keyboard like a good little worker bee when my boss appeared in my cube.

“Whatcha doing tonight?”

Bracing myself for the worst, but thinking if I had to work late I’d at least get to eat warm food that hadn’t been pawed by tiny peeps (because I was totally going to demand to be fed – corporate America and toddlers, not so different really), I asked why.

(Background info: My boss is a pilot in his spare time. He owns his own small plane. He travels a lot for work, and obviously decided he could no longer deal with the masses bumbling around airports.)

“You want to go flying tonight? We’ve got a Bay Tour planned.”

Now what was going through head was:

Iceman: You’re everyone’s problem. That’s because every time you go up in the air, you’re unsafe. I don’t like you because you’re dangerous.
Maverick: That’s right! Ice…man. I AM dangerous.

But what I said was, “Sure!” (Because he’s my boss. Which means if we go down in a fiery ball and survive, I SO have job security forever.)

“Don’t worry,” the bossman reassured our little group of flyers. My plane’s like new. It’s only 10 years old – it’s a newborn in plane years. It’s a preemie!”

I pointedly shared that I did not want to fly in a preemie. They are not finished.

We arrived at the hangar, and as launch prep pre-flight checks commenced, our aeronautical tour guide ran down the rules:

  • No talking or thinking about work.
    Right. I’m in a small plane (Piper 6XT) piloted by the grand poobah of my work team.
  • We’ll be wearing headsets because it’s really loud. They’re half-duplex. So if you hear radio traffic, Shut Up. Air Traffic Control may be about to share important info.
    Good plan. Don’t get smashed into a billion and three smithereens by the jumbo jet because you weren’t paying attention.
  • In the event of a forced landing, pop the doors so we don’t get trapped inside the contorted twisted metal of crash wreckage.
    Oh my god – we’re all going to die.

Control Tower – this is Bossman, requesting permission for take-off… Mission Control – you are cleared for launch!

We began speeding down the runway, lifting off to just slightly above the runway, before shooting up into the evening sky.

It wasn’t the fighter jet ride I’ve always wanted – but it was pretty damn cool.

We flew north, following the 101 freeway toward San Francisco; the headlights and taillights of commute traffic below providing the colorfully lit path. As we passed San Francisco International Airport, the steady stream of air traffic mutterings chattered away in our ears. The winter sun silently sinking into the Pacific Ocean on our left provided a stark calming contrast.

“Can you request a flyby?!” I asked excitedly. Sadly, Bossman noted that he’s never actually heard any tower reply that the pattern was full. (Opportunity pilot peoples!)

Night fell around us, as the lights of the city below began flickering to life. We dropped in altitude to tour the city by the bay – circling tightly around the TransAmerica Building, coasting over the Palace of Fine Arts and around City Hall.

City PlaneGolden Gate Plane

Alcatraz sat alone in the still sea, emanating its foreboding isolation to those of us looking down upon it. We turned tightly, until the plane was pointed toward the Golden Gate Bridge – framed by the warm colors blending and fading into the forever escape of ocean blue that stretched out toward the horizon. A cargo ship plowed forward under the bridge, while a cruise ship sat comfortably berthed in a Marina dock.

The plane’s traffic radar system began beeping – indicating that another aircraft was within 2 miles (this would be very bad). How very philosophical to realize that due to satellite pings, the warning system was merely finding us where we once were. (Zen moment.)

That circular notification LED screen sure looked a lot like a missile lock system to me…The calming revelry in our little plane was disrupted by the voices in my head screaming, “Too close for missiles, I’m switching to guns!” (Don’t tell my therapist about this.)

We headed east before turning back south. I looked down at the lights blinking against the grid. You know – from the perspective of this airborne Silicon Valley girl, the Bay Area actually looks a lot like a collection of microchips.

Meanwhile, the pattern of planes arriving and departing from SFO and SJC shone like seriously ADHD stars around us. And that’s when Tower crackled clearly in my ear, “Bossman – watch out for the United 737 on approach. Maintain visual contact and avoid.”

Translation: They’re big. You’re little. Try not to get smooshed on my watch.

We galumphed through the airstream wake back to the landing strip, where reality came screaming back to me. Ladies and gentlemen, you know you’re a toddler parent when all of life’s adventures automatically call forth Disney quotes.

I clamored (not even remotely) gracefully out onto the wing in my skirt and boots (I was so not dressed for flying) and jumped down in the dark, careful to avoid the wing flap. Looking back up at the plane, all I could think was “He can fly! He can fly! He flewed.”

“I can’t believe you guys actually got in a plane with me. At night!” Bossman burst out with glee as we headed back to the office.

Guess who’s getting reminded of my stellar sense of adventure and calculated risk-taking come bonus time? Because this is a WHOLE new take on the 30,000-foot company view. (Ok fine. 3,000 feet.)


Filed under Work

3 Responses to Top Gun (or It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s…oh. Yeah, it’s a plane)

  1. Gramma J

    I am impressed that you described the directions so brilliantly. Sounds like it was a lot of fun

  2. Joanne Hamann

    Wow, cool pics

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