Airplane journeys

[words Narina Exelby / photograph © Michael Poliza, The WideAngle]

Do you remember the first time you flew? I remember mine, with absolute clarity. I was a wide-eyed drama student en route from Durban to Johannesburg – about to perform at a corporate event – and my body was an uncomfortable jitter of anticipation. I’ll never forget how I studied that emergency exit manual until I’d memorised the position of every door on the plane. I was baffled by how many passengers ignored the air stewards as they explained emergency procedures; the absolute power I felt against my chest as we hurtled down the runway; and the overwhelming joy of seeing the world from the air. Suddenly, all the geography lectures I’d sat in made complete sense – the formation of clouds, the course of rivers, the settlement patterns of communities and the layout of cities. It was beautiful.

In the years since then, I’ve flown more times than I can recall – between continents, between countries, between islands and between cities. And while I no longer look at the emergency procedures manual, my mind is still boggled, every time I fly, by the power, by the science, by the views. And every time I drop a friend off at international departures, my mind is blown knowing that when I wake up in the morning, they’ll be settling back into their lives on the other side of the world.

In two weeks’ time, it will be exactly 14 years since my first international flight – as a freshly graduated drama student, on my way to perform in Detroit. I took photographs from my window seat of the sun setting on 1997, and was sitting in the cockpit when I watched it rise on 1998. For me, flight has always been the beginning of something new – a new life chapter; the start of a new conversation; new discoveries; the first page of a new book. Even if you’re going home, it’s still the  beginning of a journey.

And so to celebrate, here are five flying links that are really, really worth clicking on. Tilt your seat back, open the blinds; we’ve already taken off.

1/ The picture above was taken by Michael Poliza, a successful  German businessman-turned-photographer who made a name for himself by shooting Africa from the skies. His images are beautiful – the patterns, the shadows, the colours. His first book, Africa, was published in 2006 and since then his images have been bound into many other books, all available on Amazon.

2/ If you’ve ever sat on a plan and wondered just how such an enormously heavy machine can lift so gracefully into flight, take a look here. It’s a simple explanation by British science writer Chris Woolford on how planes fly.

3/ Imagine flying a Cessna over the “empty” lands of Australia – now, imagine learning to fly that Cessna over the “empty” lands of Australia. That’s just what writer Tom Clynes did: Flying a plane is the ultimate multitasking scenario. While controlling roll, pitch, and yaw, you must watch out for other aircraft and maintain contact with the tower. You are dealing simultaneously with wind and relative airspeed, with angle of attack, with the forces of power and load, weight and lift, thrust and drag. For most people, it is a new, and vastly accelerated, way of thinking. And unlike with ground transportation, you can’t just pull over to figure things out. Read his story on the National Geographic Adventure website, here.

4/ I’m guessing that if you haven’t ever taken a photograph of the view from your window seat, you wish you had. Right? Well, here’s a collection of 100 images taken around the world from airplane windows. Next time you fly, be sure to have your camera ready.

5/ Remember the Air France 447 flight that disappeared over the Atlantic two years ago? (Probably not something you want to recall if you’re about to climb on a plane.) What happened onboard that flight, which was carrying 228 passengers, and how it could simply disappear, was, to quote Popular Mechanics, one of aviation’s great mysteries. But then – in April this year the plane’s black boxes were recovered, and the final minutes of what went on in the cockpit unfolded. The transcript and story, published in Popular Mechanics, reveals a surprising picture of chaos in the cockpit, and confusion between the pilots that led to the crash. It’s a fascinating, spine-chilling read.

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