About The Book:
The stories in “Wheels Up” are not made up. They are the real deal, true antics of a jet age pilot in the high-octane environment of the cockpit. Some will give you pause and make you think, some will knock the wind out of you, and some will make you throw your head back and laugh. No one is spared his (or her) just deserts, least of all the self-deprecating author in this tale of high jinks in the air, on land and at sea, complete with high tension and low humor, near collisions and happy landings.
From Citadel cadet to Delta captain, Taylor takes readers into a world few have seen. It’s both humorous and heartfelt – fast, fun and true.
1994: ATLANTA (ATL), GEORGIA — A co-pilot may run to a flight to save time when switching airplanes. An engineer may get dirty and sweaty while investigating a maintenance problem. But the captain must never look stressed or in a hurry. The image of calm authority presented by an airline captain is an important part of the job. The captain is in sole command of his ship; neither the passengers nor the crew want to think he cannot handle any situation with cool dispatch. He must always appear in control. He does not run and he does not sweat.
Movie directors show pilots flying in stressful conditions in a state of accelerated agitation. This is probably an unrealistic depiction even though it emphasizes the drama. Once while flying in Vietnam, I listened to the full radio communication with a pilot flying a plane whose fuel tanks had been punctured by ground fire. He was talking to a Saigon controller who was trying to vector him home. He set his course for the airport but told them ahead of time that he didn’t think he would make it. He never raised his voice and talked in a dull monotone as if he were discussing what he had eaten for breakfast. His last words were, “I appreciate all your help. I’m not going to make it. See you guys around.”
Captain Blankenship of Delta Air Lines exhibited this pilot I-have-it-under-control demeanor. I did not witness his story but it was told to me by a flight attendant who saw the episode first hand while working the business class section on his trip. The fact that some people viewed the good captain as a little prudish caused the story to circulate widely. Blankenship is not the captain’s real name.
The first story tells what happened to me. After you read it you will understand why I believe the next story about Captain Blankenship to be true. As captain on a Delta L-1011 TriStar, I had departed Atlanta for Frankfurt, Germany. About two hours into the flight, during the cabin meal service, I left my seat for one of the two lavatories that served the business class passengers. The lavatories were located at the bulkhead between the front galley and the business class section, up front and in clear view of the passengers. I put on my hat as I left the cockpit. The hat, having the necessary gold-braided scrambled eggs on the bill, is part of the image in case the captain needs to display his authority while out of the cockpit.
I greeted several passengers on my way to the lavatory. Noting that the occupied sign was not lit up, I reached for the doorknob, and opened the door toward me. There was a lady seated inside who had forgotten to lock the door. As soon as the doorknob turned she realized her mistake and lunged to catch it, but the door was now moving away as fast as her hand was grasping for it. She came halfway out of the lavatory and was stopped when she ran into my chest. It all happened so fast thatI could not avert my eyes before I noticed all of her lower garments were around her ankles. While profusely apologizing, I pushed her and the door back in until it latched.
Red-faced, I turned to see if anyone had witnessed the episode.Everyone in business class was looking at me. By the looks on their faces, I imagined they thought it was my fault – after all, I was the captain; I did have the hat with the scrambled eggs on the bill. How could I not know that she was in there?
Not long after my incident, Captain Blankenship had a similar, but more embarrassing, encounter at the same lavatory on his L-1011 trip to Europe. Tall, silver-haired and deep-voiced, he had a commanding, though humorless, presence. He was formal in the way he managed his airplane and crew – everything by the book.
In addition to wearing his hat, he also sometimes wore his captain’s coat when leaving the cockpit. While in cruise, as I had done, Captain Blankenship released his seatbelt and told his co-pilot he was going to the lavatory. He donned his hat with the scrambled eggs on the bill and this time chose to wear his coat, the four stripes and wings giving further evidence of his command authority. Business class was full, and he gave a dignified nod to several seated passengers as he reached for the lavatory door. With his eyes on the passengers and his hand on the doorknob, he opened the door.
The lady in the lavatory was not as lucky as my lady. Because of his momentary distraction, Captain Blankenship did not see her reaching for the doorknob as the door was pulled away from her. She lost her balance, falling forward into the aisle, naked from the waist down. In a futile attempt, he tried to save the situation but lost his balance. To keep from falling, he stepped forward, planting his foot squarely in the tangle of undergarments around the woman’s ankles. He did this at the same moment she was trying to get up, which caused him to lose his balance entirely and fall on top of her, knocking his hat off his head.
It was now impossible for either of them to stand and the commotion had drawn the attention of the entire business class section. For those that had looked on late, it might have appeared the good captain was ravaging the woman. In order to separate himself from the panicked lady, Captain Blankenship had to roll off and reach over her nakedness to untangle his foot. At the same time he reached for his foot the lady was struggling to pull up her garments. It appeared as if they were fighting over the clothes bunched around her ankles.
When at last they separated, the lady disappeared into the lavatory. Captain Blankenship stood; his hat with the scrambled eggs had rolled under a nearby seat, and his normally neatly combed white hair was going in every direction. He gave a wild look and disappeared into the cockpit, leaving for later whatever business he had in the lavatory, and his hat under the business class seat.
Read more funny stories in “Wheels Up: Sky Jinks in the Jet Age”