03 June 2013

Lt. Bibo and How Airplanes Hang in the Air

I used to have a high school player who is now a pilot in the Air Force. We will hide his identity behind the pseudonym Lt. Totoy Bibo. Wink. Albeit, as far as my more recent players are concerned, the alias will be just about as effective as hiding behind clear glass.

At any rate, over the weekend, Bibo joined us for Sunday football. As rather tends to be the case whenever he is around, after lunch chit-chat with the boys had a lot to do with not only life in the Air Force but flying planes in particular.

“There is this point just after a plane takes-off,” I told our cosy little group of football jocks, “that scares me the most.” And I proceeded for the benefit of the younger ones who have not flown before to explain this moment after take-off when the engines seem to go dead.

If you are wondering why that should even be a cause of concern, think of things this way. A car’s engine conking out should not be problematical. It has, after all, solid ground underneath it. With aircraft, the luxury of solid ground just does not apply after take-off. So now you get my drift.


Coming from an Air Force family as I do, I have always loved flying. This does not mean, however, that I don’t get scared anymore. In fact, hearing the nuts and bolts creak during turbulence has always been unnerving to me.
Segue back to Lt. Bibo, our willing and able technical expert. I asked him why.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “The engines die down in a way. It’s something similar to a car changing gears. The pilot cuts down on the throttles.”

Throttles. The use of technical jargon immediately drew loud guffaws and good-natured ribbing from the younger guys in the group.

It was no different from talking to a call centre agent who starts spouting call centre acronyms and expects you, the guy who cannot care less, to understand what they mean. Coming from Bibo, though, the use of jargon sounded funny.

So we all laughed.

Then I changed gears and recounted for Bibo’s and everyone’s benefit this landing in Tagbilaran which I experienced a few years back when the pilot literally slammed the aircraft down on the runway. The force damn near crushed my testicles.

“Did the landing,” I asked Bibo, “have something to do with Tagbilaran Airport’s short runway?”

Yes, Bibo confirmed. Then began the impromptu lecture on landings complete with visual aid. The latter would be his palm, with which Bibo started to demonstrate a plane landing.

I think the term he used was ‘power landing’ ̶   but don’t quote me because I am not a hundred per cent sure. Bibo explained dropping down on the runway at a certain angle and then cutting down on the power only when the plane actually hits the surface.

This allows the aircraft to come to a stop with less runway to roll onto.

Imagine that. I mean, I was actually learning a thing or two from Bibo. To think that I used to get so cross with him whenever he sent in his crosses from the right wing because these damn near tore your head off if you tried to head them.

“Now what about this time,” I related one more flying experience, “when the plane I was in was already low and had already lined up for landing. It was still being blown sideways by the wind and off its landing path.”

“Ah, crosswind,” Bibo interjected, referring to the type of wind hitting the aircraft from the side.

“Akala ko sasakyan ‘yun,” someone shot back. Laughter.

My worry was the plane missing the runway altogether; and asked Bibo, because the plane was already so low, why the pilot did not turn the power back on so we could line up for landing all over again.

“Madalî lang ‘yun, Sir!” Laughter from everyone. Everything was easy to Lt. Bibo.

He made a gesture with his hand as if grabbing a stick and yanking it sideways. “You just bank the plane in the opposite direction,” he said as an explanation.

Bank. More laughter.

Of course to us ordinary citizens of the republic, bank is where you go to if you need to withdraw or deposit money.

But we went along with Bibo’s explanation and pretended we all understood. If Bibo says it’s easy, then it has got to be easy!

Coming from an Air Force family as I do, I have always loved flying. This does not mean, however, that I don’t get scared anymore. In fact, hearing the nuts and bolts creak during turbulence has always been unnerving to me.

Understanding a bit more about flying from Lt. Bibo has certainly been reassuring; and will make me appreciate more the skills of the pilot to whom I will entrust my life the next time I fly.

Lt. Bibo didn’t have it all his own way, though. When talk swung over to the occasional interference one gets on cable television, it was time for the engineers to take over the discussion. And Bibo listened fascinated just like everyone else.

The tables have been turned. Now it’s time for me to listen to my players to learn a thing or two. And I am loving it...

Unless the discussion, of course, is about football.

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