It had been billed as the longest commercial flight in the world. London to Sydney.
Previous times it had been flown, it was devoid of passengers and cargo, except for a few reporters and airline staff; not more than about 20.
The plane, state of the art, was capable of flying twenty-one hours straight. We would only need Nineteen and a half. It was the first flight of its kind, and we were the first to participate in what was being touted as history-making.
I was on board only because I’d won a competition. To be honest, I couldn’t believe my luck.
I guess it was the same for the other 287 of us on board. With baggage and cargo included, oh, and not forgetting fuel, I guess our biggest concern was getting off the ground.
It wasn’t long before that fear had been dispelled, though for a moment more than one of us thought we might not get into the air. There were collective sighs of relief when we finally lurched into the air.
Once the seat belt sign went off, the First Officer spoke to the passengers, more or less telling us we were going to make history and to sit back and enjoy the in-flight service.
I guess it was ironic that as someone who didn’t like flying I was in this plane. The thing is, I didn’t expect to win the competition. But, I was on board for the experience and was going to make the most of it. I’d brought half a dozen crossword books.
I woke from an uneasy sleep about two hours before I e plane was due to land. The cabin lights had come on, and breakfast was about to be served.
Everyone else was in varying states of awareness. Some hadn’t slept at all, which was what usually happened to me, and they looked like I felt. Bleary-eyed and half awake.
I looked at the flight path in the headrest in front of me, and it said we had about an hour and fifty minutes, and from the outset, precisely on time. We’d had headwinds and tailwinds but neither had any lasting effect on our arrival time.
Something else did. After breakfast had been cleared away, and we were all getting ready for the last hour of the flight, word came through from the flight deck that we had to go into a holding pattern due to a problem on the ground.
The first question on everyone’s mind, did we have enough fuel. The Captain, this time, allayed that fear.
But, I was sitting over the wing where I could see the engine. I was not an expert but I thought I’d heard a murmur, the sort an engine made where the fuel supply was running out.
Perhaps not. Perhaps it was my overwrought imagination after not enough proper sleep.
Another half-hour passed, and I could feel a change in the plane’s flight. I was now listening and waiting and interpreting. The Captain said the problem was resolved and we were cleared to land.
That’s when the engine outside my window stuttered, if only for a fraction of a second.
Fortunately, we were well into our descent, and I could see the ground below. Now, going through some low cloud, the ride became bumpy, and I was sure it was covering the more frequent stuttering of the engine, and once, I was not the only one to hear it.
As the wheels went down and clunked into place, I think the engine stopped, though I couldn’t be sure, because there was little or no change in the plane’s flight other than a slight change in the plane’s speed but not its rate of descent, and none of us would have been any wiser had the pilot, in his usual calm manner, not told us there was a small problem with one of the engines but there was no problem with landing, and we would be on the ground in ten minutes.
In fact, the landing was, as any other I’d been on, flawless, even though I was sure I heard a slight stutter in the other ending, but by that time we were on the ground.
The only difference between this and any other landing was the accompaniment of several emergency services trucks, and the fact we were not going to a gate. Instead, we were taken to a bay not far from the runways, and then calmly taken off the plane.
From the ground, just before being loaded onto a bus, I could see the plane, and it looked the same as it had any other time.
What did bother me was several words spoken by what looked to be an engineer. He said, “That plane was literally flying on vapor. What you’re seeing is 228 of the luckiest people in the world.”
If ever there was an excuse to buy a lottery ticket…
© Charles Heath 2020-2021