Archive for March, 2010

Niner Delta Whiskey

Monday, March 29, 2010

My fascination with flying was inherited from my father. Somehow the things that cause your father to slip into the “awe” mode make an impression. I can still hear my dad describe the acceleration of that big airliner with four engines under full power launching a heavily loaded aircraft into the blue. “Wow!” and you could hear the enthusiasm rattle in his masculine voice.

I was a senior in high school when I landed a job at the local airport (no pun intended). That year I spent my afternoons fueling private aircraft, driving a tanker truck around the field and talking to the control tower every time I moved from one spot on the tarmac to the other. It was heady stuff. I bummed more than a few rides from my new friends. Point to any airplane on the field, and I could rattle off the make, year and model. Let me peak through the side window and I’d explain all the instruments and avionics.

Pilots like to tell stories if the audience shows any interest at all. I was a wide-eyed kid who wanted to know everything.

Fifty-six year old Doug White’s successful leasing company owns a Turbo King Air. That’s a serious, high performance airplane. When his brother died one year ago Easter, he called on his good friend, Joe Cabuk, a graduate of the Air Force Academy and retired fighter pilot, to pilot the twin-engine business turbo to south Florida for the sad funeral. Doug, his wife and two teen-age daughters, Maggie and Bailey, along with the veteran flier, would attend the memorial. Afterwards, they boarded the aircraft for the trip home to Atlanta. Shortly after take off, at about five thousand feet and climbing, Joe leaned back in his seat releasing the controls, ridged, and made a strange gurgling sound, then went limp, unconscious. Doug called out, “Joe! Joe!” But there was no response.

Joe Cabuk, the family’s pilot and captain of the aircraft, died that moment in the left seat of the King Air while making its ascent to altitude.

Doug feared that Joe would fall forward onto the controls and send the airplane into a dive. He clumsily reached over from the right seat and with help from his wife, secured Joe’s body with the shoulder harness and seat belt. She sobbed, terrified, and fell back into her seat. Then Doug turned to the control panel.

“There are more dials on that thing than the space shuttle,” he said later in his Georgia drawl.

He grabbed the mike. “This is King Air Niner Delta Whiskey. My pilot’s unconscious. We need help up here,” he said in a shaky voice.

Then he turned back to his passengers. “I need you all to pray… and pray hard,” he said firmly. His wife nodded, tears spilling over down her cheeks. Bailey wept, too. Maggie threw up.

“OK. All aircraft, stand by,” came the reply from the tower. Joe sighed, knowing the radio worked.

The next thirty minutes would be terrifying. Eighteen years ago, Doug had a private pilot’s license. He flew a small single engine Cessna, but let it go until just a few months before his brother’s funeral. He accumulated a few hours in another little single engine two-seater. Now, he found himself in control of a King Air. A turbo King Air.

“It would be like taking a teenager with a brand new learner’s permit and putting him into the driver’s seat of a stick shift high performance NASCAR racing machine at full speed and expect him to get it into the pit through heavy traffic,” said Lisa Grimm, the air traffic controller from Miami, the first to begin radio communication with Doug. She was an experienced pilot herself, and a certified instructor.

“Stay with me, Miami!” Doug cried. “You’ve gotta get me the biggest, widest, longest runway you can find, m’am.”

“We’re gunna guide you in, Niner Delta Whiskey,” she said with a calm in her voice that was in sharp contrast to Doug’s.

“I’m in the good Lord’s hands,” Doug radioed back.

Thanks to YouTube, the entire communication is preserved and available to anyone who cares to relive those harrowing thirty minutes. The professionalism and high tech communication utilized to guide the sweaty palmed, white knuckled novice in the right seat is nothing short of extraordinary. He got quality direction each step of the way.

Fire trucks lined the taxiway on either side as Doug approached, gear down, full flaps, throttle back, nose up and over one hundred miles per hour. Doug’s three ladies prayed. Hard. The corpse of his friend sat upright and motionless in the captain’s seat. The wheels squealed as they hit the pavement. As instructed, Doug shut down the throttle and hit the brakes. The airplane came to a stop. Runway to spare.

Whew. I can only imagine the relief as the family of four step off the step and on to terra firma.

NBC News reports that the controllers who assisted Doug White to the ground are being honored in Washington DC at Ronald Reagan International for their incredible work. When asked about Lisa Grimm, Doug simply said, “She’s my angel.”

Doug picked up his flying lessons with a new determination. In that one year, he completed his multi-engine, commercial and instructor ratings. He now flies his company’s King Air on this own, from the left seat. He finished those courses in record time.

Shortly after he earned the ratings, earthquake hit Port au Prince. Within days, Doug White put himself in that left seat, flying that same King Air on mercy missions to Haiti.

My dad would say, “Wow.”

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2010


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Monday, March 22, 2010

I love to read.  Give me a great chair, with lots of padding, with some device that allows me to put my feet up, a good lamp and a quiet space.  The phones off.  Soft music helps, with no commercial interruptions (pandora.com isn’t what it once was in that respect – I guess they want me to buy a membership); but no lyrics, just relaxing instrumentals.

There is something of substance in the Mozart effect.  Research, I’m told, indicates improved intellectual performance when Mozart plays quietly in the background.  I use it often – both when I read and when I write.

A good book must hold my attention.  Sad to say, too many so-called “Christian” books fall short on that score.  Come to think of it, “how to” books are usually boring.  Give me a fascinating biography or good fiction or history.  I usually have pen in hand and make my comments in the margin.  If the book gives me new perspective or fills in some of the gaps, I’m all over the linear process of a sustained literary journey.  It is nourishing.  Spiritually satisfying.  Good writers are entertaining.  They connect emotionally, from an outburst of laughter to a swelling of the throat.

Reading does that.

So I’ve been wondering – can I read a digital book?  Will it be the same as holding the volume in my hand?

Several friends now carry a Kindle, Amazon’s popular digital reader.  Surprisingly, all of the owners tell me the new fangled thing has actually enhanced their love of reading.  It’s unanimous.  Like everyone else, I read on my computer; but it’s not the same as reading a book.  I read articles and blog entries and email and do my research.  I compile data and prepare for writing on my laptop.  But not books.

Until a couple of weeks ago.

Before I shell out the cash for a digital book reader, I wanted to know if I’d read it at all.  So I went to Barnes and Noble where they have an eReader software for my MacBook.  Then I bought a book.

The eReader emulates a digital device on your regular computer.  I bought Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.  Within seconds, I downloaded the entire text.  Ten bucks.  No shipping.

Then, as a complete newbie, I spent a little time setting up the monitor just as I would like.  These aging eyes do better with larger print.  I chose a black background to give me a break from the glaring backlight.  I tutored myself on highlighting the text and making notes.  And off I went.

Game Change is a fast paced, back room, behind the scenes look at the 2008 race for the Presidency.  A real page-turner.  I read the whole thing on my notebook computer.  It didn’t take long.  All the joys of sustained reading kicked in.  The pages flew by.  When I stumbled across an unfamiliar word (e.g., fealty – a feudal tenant’s or vassal’s sworn loyalty to a lord), I clicked it and voilá – the dictionary popped up.  If I wanted to go back and review a passage, a word search got me there.  If I wanted to share a quote, cut and paste.  If I’m sitting there in the waiting room, I can pick up where I left off on my iPhone.  (There’s an app for that.)

I’m part of an early morning men’s group.  We decided to read a Tim Keller book – The Prodigal God.  I checked B and N, and there it was.  Click and download.  I’ve got it.  No waiting for UPS.

So what will it be?  The Kindle?  The Nook?  Or… the coveted iPad?

I gotta get me one of those.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010

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Monday, March 15, 2010

The original story appeared in 1883 in Italian.  Written by Carlo Collodi, the adventures of a little wooden puppet have charmed children and their parents ever since.  Adapted many times over, perhaps the best known in my world is the Disney Classic, made the same year as Fantasia: 1940.

These were heady years for Hollywood filmmakers.  The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind were color extravaganzas that mesmerized audiences in unparalleled ways, well, that is, until Avatar hit the Imax screen in 3-D just this year.

These had to be extraordinary times for Walt Disney.  There were rumblings of war.  But the nation seemed to be emerging from a decade of economic strife.  The New Deal appeared to be working.  New whiz-bang technologies opened creative doors.  Fantasia brought otherwise dull classical music to a broad appreciative audience.  Pinocchio would be a morality play – teaching young children strong values with thinly veiled biblical imagery.

The dazzling color and full symphonic sound track filling the darkened theater with thunderous roars and crashes and waves rolling over the screen; a sound track to set the mood from fear to courage; from sorrow and loss to joy and celebration.  The animators, too, with action sequences and rich facial expression.  An industry was born.

I want my grandchildren to know this story.  Sure, the DVD will be great.  Probably best in Blu Ray.   But I want them to hear me read the original – translated, of course, in English.

So, thanks to both public domain and Google, I found the complete original text.  I’m compiling it in a file of my own, from which I intend to read in its entirety to my grandkids (assuming they will sit still that long).  I’m not quite sure what I’ll discover in the original story – I’ll learn how much liberty Walt Disney took in the adaptation.

Geppetto wanted a real boy.

So he fashions a puppet from some wood he acquired.  He had been told the wood had magical properties.  The puppet comes to life – but still on strings, still made of wood.  Geppetto sends him off to school, where he is exposed to influences beyond home and hearth.  Before long, innocent and naïve, Pinocchio falls under the spell of a pack of ruffians.  They pull his strings.

Disney inserted an unforgettable character who played the role of conscience for the young wooden boy – Jiminy Cricket (J.C. – get it?).  I’ll check the original to see if this is a Disney invention.  Soon his pals convince him to run away to a place called Pleasure Island – where boys can have whatever they want whenever they want.  It is the ultimate indulgence.  Candy.  Ice cream.  Cigars.  Roller coasters.  Ferris wheels.  Sideshows.  No admission.  No limits.  All you want.  No one to say no.

Pinocchio believes he has arrived.  But it doesn’t take long.  The stomachache signals that gluttony has a downside.  Dizziness blurs the vision of paradise.  And when Pinocchio looks in the mirror, he sees long fuzzy ears sprouting and then checks his backside.  A tail.

Pleasure Island is turning him into a jackass.

He looks around.  They are all becoming donkeys.

It is one of those striking moments of self-realization.  Pinocchio determines to make his escape.  Along the way home, he is swallowed by a whale (get it?).

And finally, back in the loving, joyful arms of his creator-father, Geppetto, he (the Prodigal) becomes a real boy.

I want my grandchildren to become real, too.  They will encounter ruffians who will tell them all about Pleasure Island.  They may even give it a visit.

But I want them to know in advance – there is more.  Way more.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010

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Thank you, Vancouver

Monday, March 01, 2010

Like the rest of the world, I sat in a living room with a bunch of guys, our eyes locked on a high definition big screen following the puck in sudden death overtime. And as a loyal American, I grunted and whooped, then cheered when momentum moved in the direction of team USA. It was as good as hockey gets.

When Sidney Crosby slapped a shot under goalie Ryan Miller’s stick and through the narrow space between his legs, an entire country exploded in celebration, English and French speakers alike, with reckless abandon. Canada leaped for joy all as one. Us guys in the living room groaned. Hey, we’re Americans.

But we had our celebration a week before, when our underdog guys took on the fierce and favored Canadian team earlier in the competition. This time, it was for Gold. And the Canadians took it. They earned it.

As sentimental favorites go, it was hard to deny that our neighbors to the North deserved that Sunday exaltation on the competition’s final day.

My friends in Canada tell me they have never seen such unity and national spirit. Patriotism, they call it, with a smile in their voice. And with the 2010 Winter Olympic Games now in the history books, Canadians have many good reasons to be proud.

Thank you, Vancouver.

Vancouver’s beauty is unmatched. The flybys over the skyline, banking over Stanley Park and the landing zone for water-equipped commuter planes, and mammoth cruise ships docked in a row; off on the horizon, snow-capped peaks poking skyward through tall pines in deep green forests, snow-white slopes opening spaces through the trees mark the ski runs. Closer to the coast, Canadian workers and heavy equipment hauled snow from here to there, just to be sure the snowboarders and soaring jumpers would have enough in the unseasonably warm opening to the games. But it didn’t take long for natural snow to fall again, and up in Whistler, there was never a doubt. The conditions were spectacular from beginning to end.

The untimely death of a young luger sobered up the opening ceremonies. These are, after all, performances that push against the limitations of human achievement and are by definition, risky. Participants know those risks better than the rest of us. They overcome the involuntary urge to retreat, and descend the steep slopes and launch off the ramp and turn sharply in a crowded field with razor sharp blades attached to their boots. We watch, jaws agape, knowing full well that potential disaster is only a millisecond away. And when it’s over, hands held high crossing the finish, we cheer. That awful crash on the bobsled run simply reminded us that it is a dangerous thing to choose high performance. We all suspected there might be more. But there were not.

I am hopelessly sentimental when the Olympic Games come around. I’m a soft touch for the back-stories. My throat swells up. You’ll see a tear streak down my cheek; like when Joannie Rochette skated in memory of her mother. As she completed her personal best performance ever as the whole world watched, the emotion and loss and grief welled up after an impossible spin perfectly executed as she took he final pose and looked heavenward and the camera caught the moment and I could barely move. As she wept, so did I. And when Jeret Peterson launched “The Hurricane” jump fifty feet in the air and stuck the landing, knowing the tragedy and heartache and despair that got hold of him since he missed it back in Torino, same thing. Then who will forget the figure skating pair, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moi, as they stood at the center of the platform with gold medals hanging around their necks singing the Canadian national anthem with such delight? Or skater Kim Yu-Na, bearing the weight of all that South Korean expectation, delivering the performance many are calling the greatest ever?

Add to all that Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller. And the list goes on.

It is a stunning contradiction, really, to sit there on an overstuffed couch munching and sipping with the temperature hovering somewhere around seventy-two degrees while taking all this winter sport in on the wide screen with surround sound. But inspiration works.

I got back on the bike and knocked out thirty-one miles with a guy who inspires me just as those young Olympic athletes.

He’s eighty three.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010

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