Category Archives: Air travel

Tenzing–Hillary Airport.

 

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An (alleged) airport a snail-crawling 25 miles from Mount Everest, with no radar system and entirely comprising a single 500-metre runway built into a cliff, I read that Sir Edmund Hillary himself oversaw its construction and that locals were ploughed with liquor (no one will reveal what kind) and asked to perform a ‘foot-stomping dance’ to flatten the soil and make it suitable for landing. I can picture the whole endeavour as a garish episode lifted from a peak Werner Herzog movie, with a Klaus Kinski Svengali lording over the ‘indigenous’, the martinet a grizzly Bavarian launching battered shoes and Jägermeister at them. This shockingly isn’t an apocryphal story, and the airport, a.k.a. ‘It’s a Trap’, was only paved in 2001.

It’s an appropriate precursor to an attempted scaling of Everest. The danger aspect would overwhelm this fat bastard and inject hubris into proceedings – “If I survive this landing the worst is over and I can surely surmount the beastly mountain.”

The list of accidents on the Wikipedia entry is a most disconcerting read, and I wouldn’t recommend watching one of the many bumpy landings should an upcoming flight be on the cards. Fuck knows how a plastered Denzel would have coped. As a passenger, I’d be stammering out of my mind on crystal meth birthed from Walter White’s RV just to endure the experience.

Further reading/viewing:

https://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-advice/health-safety/inside-the-worlds-most-dangerous-airport/news-story/21519b748e67fe5b14dca1c00d14372c

https://www.tibettravel.org/everest-base-camp-trek-in-nepal/airport-for-ebc-trek-in-nepal.html

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Siberian airspace during the USSR.

I thought an 11-hour, 6,000-mile flight from London to Tokyo was hell on earth, a suspended furnace of ghastly smells and even worse movies. On such claustrophobic ventures I do enjoy unearthing the laptop for a disaster-themed bonanza – Flight (2012) with the inimitable Denzel, Air Force One (1997), and an Air Crash Investigation bumper pack. If you’re going to reek worse than durian in a hobo’s socks, you’re going to be subjected to terrifying plane crash fun.

A wee peek into the Cold War glory days of grim and we find an 11-hour trip today the relative Shangri-La of a plane journey. For obvious reasons, the communist paradise of the Gulag restricted its airspace, with only Soviet planes allowed to fly above the Soviet Union. The solution was for Western airlines to traverse the Arctic, stop at Anchorage, and then proceed to Tokyo. This sub-zero town in Alaska was for a semi-epoch the transport hub for travel to Asia. With the fall of the Soviet Union it is now once again a backwater, the perfect milieu for the very bleak Christopher Nolan movie Insomnia (2002).

Today, Russia wields enormous power through its control over the Siberian flight corridor, and the country chooses which airlines have access (with great cost to the airline). Post World Cup this summer, one of the greatest fears of commercial airlines is that escalating tensions (some might say warfare, this proxy or cyber) between Russia and the West will usher in another airspace ban, with passengers once more forced to city-hop en route to their desired destination. The nineties and noughties – 9/11 aside – just might turn out to be the Golden Age of flying.

We don’t want shit like this happening again:

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The Ultra Long Range A350 XWB.

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The cutting-edge Beast is here, and will soon smash records and traverse the 9,521 miles between Singapore and New York with Singapore Airlines. To think that commercial air travel isn’t even one hundred years old yet; this is only the beginning.

Further reading:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/airbus-a350-ulr-xwb-first-flight/

http://www.traveller.com.au/worlds-longest-flight-airbus-ultra-long-range-a350-xwb-takes-to-the-sky-for-the-first-time-h0z5ls

 

 

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Flight from East Berlin.

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Berlin went apostate after the Wall’s crumble – it is now a free-for-all, one of those clichéd multicultural hubs, the EU’s sociological vanguard. Not so back in the Honecker days, a Stasi-sprinkled 1984.

The audacity of this escape is bonkers, so too the entirely legit video recording of the getaway. Old Skool VHS-C home video footage isn’t half gnarly when the camera roams free in the exterior à la Paul Greengrass. No one wants to see a wee sprog from the States wail like Chewbacca on an ecstacy overdose upon opening a Nintendo 64; mind-blowing vistas is what it’s all about.

Escape artists:

Ingo Bethke, a border guard, fled East Berlin on an air mattress in 1975, crossing the River Elbe into West Germany. In 1983, his brother Holger did one better, using a zip line from an attic to Ingo’s car on the other side of the wall. It was six years later that the two brothers, having learned to fly, dressed in military garb, painted Soviet red stars on two planes, flew over the wall, landed in a park (with one place circling overhead), picked up the third brother, Egbert, and then flew back into West Berlin, arriving at the steps of the Reichstag. They then went off and got pished on a smorgasbord of alcoholic delicacies. Incredible.

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Icarus (x3) they were not. Totalitarianism breeds creativity, just ask Jean-Paul Sartre. And nothing spotlights the stupidity of that lunatic Soviet ideology than getting a free pass to fly around with abandon merely because there are red stars on your plane.

Good Bye, Lenin! (2003) so comically captured those last dying days of the GDR. Imagine that mixed with The Great Escape of the Bethke brothers. Why isn’t this a movie yet?

Further reading:

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-05-29/news/mn-692_1_berlin-wall-west-berlin-allied-sources

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/07/berlin-wall-escape-stories_n_6090602.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/focus/2009/10/200910793416112389.html

 

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On the sauce in Salzburg and Munich.

Back to Salzburg and Munich again for a double-headed session. To think the birthplace of Mozart and Doppler was now the temporary milieu of beer-compromised attempts to retrieve a Snickers bar from a dilapidated vending machine at 4:16 a.m.

 

Salzburg is a place with many bars, sadly few ATMs (seeking a Geldautomat is depressing), and with a most varied supply of charming newsagents, which appears to my primary interest these days. Somewhere down the line vistas ceased to be of fascination. I couldn’t find a Lidl, though. Gutted.

 

The salient memory of Munich was feigning a limp in order to use a disabled toilet, and attempting to escape the city for the airport. There was “something wrong with the tracks,” they kept barking at me in the station. I don’t think I’ve ever been on so many trains to get to one destination, and so drained of vitamins throughout. I thought I was going to die on that plane home from an overdose of fatigue and amaretto. But I didn’t.  Good times.

 

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The Boeing 314 Clipper.

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Look at this madness. A bygone age, passengers on Boeing’s 314 Clipper were graced with sleeping compartments, lounges, changing rooms, and a bridal suite (De Lux Compartment) for trans-Atlantic travel. Some of the images of the time (1930s and ’40s) appear ‘pre-history’, as if this is how all air travel should be; we were denied it by economics and the rather vexing religious cuckoo.

The Emirates A380 business class experience is the closest parallel to that luxury flying boat; think Patrick Bateman from Dubai to Sydney with all the mod cons. What’s missing, however, is … well, look at that photo of the Clipper interior – it’s pure shameless decadence at 13,000 feet, but without the sandals and hoodies. Every Master of the Universe is suited and booted.

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When I make my millions from pulling off the most daring robbery (don’t tell anyone) since the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft, I’ll be flying from airport to airport on one of these Emirates bad boys, a bottle of £20,000 champagne and the Mighty Ducks movies to accompany my victory laps. I won’t be visiting places; the airports will suffice.

Further reading/viewing:

https://www.flyingboatmuseum.com/boeing-314-clipper-flying-boat/

http://www.businessinsider.com/photos-the-luxurious-boeing-314-clipper-2013-8?IR=T

http://www.boeing.com/history/products/model-314-clipper.page

https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/hawaii-by-air/online/pan-am-clippers/what-was-it-like-to-fly.cfm

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Air New Zealand Flight 901.

Statistically, so I keep hearing, the odds of dying in a commercial plane crash are one in 29.4 million, and the odds of being in a plane crash are one in 11 million. The ‘safest mode of transport’ it may be, but it’s human fuck-ups at 30,000 feet that terrify me more than the failure of cutting-edge machinery, and with pilot error at 53% I shudder at the thought of one off his game. Moreover, when the company men on the ground are fucking up, too, your odds have shortened.

Air New Zealand Flight 901 in 1979 is your tragic archetypal case of total miscommunication. This was the last of Air New Zealand’s Antarctic sightseeing tours which departed from and returned to Auckland on the same day, a 5,000-mile return trip.

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The night before the disaster, a correction was made to the flight path co-ordinates, the flight crew not informed of this change. Subsequently, the plane was directed not down McMurdo Sound but straight into Mount Erebus. The effects of sector whiteout phenomenon – the blending of clouds with the volcano – meant the crew were completely unaware of the outside topography. The fatal flight would claim 257 lives.

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Peter Mahon QC’s Commission of Inquiry is an absolute must for anyone captivated by the tragedy.

Erebus

Further reading/viewing:

http://www.erebus.co.nz/background/thestory.aspx

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/aviation/11322102/Mt-Erebus-disaster-where-air-crash-recovery-learnt-its-grisly-trade.html

https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/erebus-disaster

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Edinburgh from the skies.

The sheer technical brilliance of this snap, and the conditions of its making, shouts out pure romance. What a time to be alive. Today we get crappy iPhone images from the window of a Ryanair flight to Lanzarote.

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Alfred G Buckham’s Aerial View of Edinburgh (1920) keeps cropping up in material I’m reading about aerial reconnaissance in the First World War, not as a documentation of that period, but as an example of what some pilots did following the conflict. In this new age of flight, they simply took to the skies and put to good use the skills they honed on the Western Front. It’s what I’d like to imagine Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) would have done had he survived the making of his legend – art superseding war.

Buckham, the first head of aerial reconnaissance for the Royal Navy, captured most of his shots standing up in his plane. He left us with this enduring quote on aerial photographic technique: ‘If one’s right leg is tied to the seat with a scarf or a piece of rope, it is possible to work in perfect security.’

The guy had balls.

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Architectural determinism and airports.

“There is no doubt whatever about the influence of architecture and structure upon human character and action. We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.” – Winston Churchill addressing the English Architectural Association in 1924.

Such leaders did at one point uniformally think that society could be shaped by its physical constructs – that us peasants would be awed into a mode of thinking and behaving. How else could one explain Albert Speer’s infamous Cathedral of Light at Nuremberg from 1933 onwards, this perhaps *the* apotheosis of architecture as both symbolism and distraction, imbued with the ‘ideals’ of that regime and as, to speak plainly, something nice to look at.

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The sometimes hideous effects of what Maurice Broady termed ‘architectural determinism’ in his 1966 paper Social theory in Architectural Design can be evidenced in the case of the Wendell O. Pruitt Homes and William Igoe Apartments, or Pruitt–Igoe, surely the most striking example of authoritarian utopia ending in a right fucking mess.

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Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect behind the World Trade Center towers and the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport main terminal, the Pruitt–Igoe was demolished a mere two decades after its completion in 1956, such were the levels of crime and racial discord within the complex. It’s now the archetypal failure of social engineering through architectural design.

It’s our airports today – our temporary living quarters – that perhaps more than any other constructs are so obviously designed to regulate human behaviour, and with good reason.

It’s only when I’m in an airport that I consider how much has consciously informed the design of the building to as calmly as possible guide the passenger from security to plane, that the best of them are an intricately sculpted conveyor belt. I’ve had the feeling many times: “I’m being controlled here.” A Panopticon-like transportation hub, I am not sure whether I am being watched in my every movement, but I behave as if I am and follow the orthodoxy, my surface deindividuation process complete. In airports we are powerless and deferential to authority, a uniform more powerful than words. In some cases, though, you will be in a horror show – Bratislava and Faro’s airports come to mind. This is when you witness the collective lose their proverbial shit.

You can ease someone into serenity, relieve the stress, but there have been times in some stinker airports where I must confess I have sweated spinal fluid. It’s being around confused people that does it. A microcosm of society, the airport is where the traumatised go to annoy the rest of us. You can see them actively struggling to comprehend what is going on, like headless hens on hallucinogens (accidental alliteration). I don’t want to know what it would be like were the busiest airports not the realisation of total design. We are even given the illusion of choice, with the range of shops on offer mostly all selling the exact same water or snack product, the selection of overpriced bars, to the option of speedy or priority boarding (as if the flight will be departing more quickly when choosing this option).

Some of the very best:

Munich Airport.

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Apparently (according to the *internets*), the Munich Airport Centre has the only supermarket in Bavaria; a passenger can shop from 5.30 a.m. to midnight every day. Enter every cliche about Germany and its efficiency and cleanliness.

Haneda Airport (Tokyo Haneda Airport).

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I was here in 2015. Fuck me, it was almost like I had ventured into another world. I could have been anywhere but an airport. Then I sat next to a fat bastard from Missouri who smelled like blue cheese.

Singapore Changi Airport.

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135,000 passengers a day but one doesn’t even feel like they have even approached the building. Omniscient greenery, a rooftop pool, movie theatres. Scenes.

Further reading:

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/design/how-architecture-uses-space-light-and-material-to-affect-your-mood-american-institute-architects-a6985986.html

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/apr/22/pruitt-igoe-high-rise-urban-america-history-cities

http://theconversation.com/building-a-better-world-can-architecture-shape-behaviour-21541

https://sites.psu.edu/siowfa16/2016/09/05/can-architecture-affect-human-behavior/

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Air travel #throwbackSundays.

A Braniff airliner in the 1960s.

It’s something out of Mad Men.00-00-braniff-airliner-in-the-1960s

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