Monday, November 23, 2009

Extra! Extra! Gull Loses Battle With Tiger! Tiger Wounded!

One of my oldest friends came to visit us the weekend before Thanksgiving. I'd spoken to Mara over the last several years about flying, but we had never been able to go up. This time we had time in the weekend and the weather was good. We decided to go to Tangier Island, a little speck of an island out in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.

I had heard that it was quaint and a fun place to visit. There had been an article in a recent publication highlighting the little island, and pilots from my flying club annually participated in the "Holly Run" to deliver evergreens to the island's inhabitants for the Christmas season.

It was a beautiful day, although a little windy and hazier than I would have liked for Mara. Still, our ride was smooth as we headed across the Chesapeake Bay. About an hour after leaving Gaithersburg, we approached the island from the eastern shore of the bay.

The island did look cute, and it was neat to see old hulls of ships and boats submerged around the island. It made me wonder how the original inhabitants happened to set up their village; were they shipwreck survivors?

There was a flock of seagulls in the grass to the left of the runway as we approached to land. I trusted them to fly away from us, i.e., further to our left, so I wasn't worried. I saw them scatter as we approached, then heard a loud bang. I knew what had happened, and I was mad. We were perhaps 10-20 above the runway and slowing through 70 knots, so I just continued our landing. Fly the airplane....

Our touchdown was uneventful, but there was definite damage to the left wing.
I needed time to sort out what to do. There is no FBO, no mechanic, not even a fuel pump on Tangier Island. It's just a runway. And I had no cell phone signal.

We set off to explore the island a bit and look for a land-line. That was when we realized that it was really the off-season and there was nothing open....

I finally found a spot where the cell phone signal made it across the bay to give me one "bar" on my iphone, so I called a couple people I knew. I'd like to highlight how happy I am that aviators are a community, and there were people I could call. The first couple of people didn't answer, but then I reached my flight instructor. I described the damage to him and he told me it would be fine to fly home. Then I called an airplane mechanic we know, who also said it would be safe for me to fly home.

They both agreed, however, with the sentiments of another pilot who had landed and provided his opinion as to what we should do. He told me that I should leave Mara on the ground, take off, fly around a little, and if everything was okay I should come back to land and pick her up. The corollary, which went unsaid, was that if everything was not okay, I would not come back to land and pick her up. This might seem a little dramatic: it's just a dent, after all. But airplanes fly because of the shape of their wings, and when you change the shape of one wing, funny things can happen.

Mara wanted to go with me. But here's the kicker -- she was four months pregnant. Even with the opinions of my flight instructor and mechanic that the airplane would fly safely, there was no way I was going to take off for a "test" flight with Mara on board.

I taxied down the runway, past my deceased assailant, turned around, and took off.

It was an anticlimax. The airplane flew perfectly, so I landed, picked up Mara, and we headed home.
Mara flew us most of the way home.

While she flew, I enjoyed the scenery. There was a beautiful sunset off our left wing, which kept drawing my eyes to the damage....

We landed uneventfully at Gaithersburg, tied the plane down, and went to meet Jodie for dinner. It was the beginning of a two-month, tedious saga to get the wing fixed, but a good end to an adventurous day. We were home safe and sound, and that's more than I can say for the gull....


Blogger Amy said...

Poor Tiger. Even poorer bird. I can't believe you posted a picture of your victim!!

7:12 PM  

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