INTO THE RINGS
A most stunning view.
A prop job – Dash 8-300 – and me sitting in the seat I secretly dread above all others. Row 4, seat A – right by the window which overlooks the planes left propeller. Great! A quarter of a ton’s worth of honed dark steel, blades as sharp as knives and each as long as I am tall. All about to spin at a thousand revolutions per minute, barely three feet away from where I am sitting. Some small comfort perhaps that my end would mercifully be quick if one the blades came loose.
I watched in fascination as the plane accelerated down the runway and rose into the ‘slightly lumpy’ air as the pilot had previously described it. There was a definite twitching movement at the edge of the circle, formed by the blade as it turned rapidly in front of one of the planes headlights. As the speed increased the blade tips were moving under the strain – flexing, just as they are designed to do. I leaned back in my seat, imagining the screams of the other passengers as they watched the top of my head being sliced off as the blade ripped through the fuselage alongside my seat.
Me, panic? Don’t be so ridiculous!
It was then that we rose into the cloud. The headlight blazed a path into the night air, the clouds thickening as the seconds passed, and it was then that an incredible sight appeared before me. The cloud was suddenly filled with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bright white trails, all moving quickly backwards as we raced on upwards into the night sky. It seemed to be rain, perhaps large droplets of water – maybe even globules of snow – frozen against the darkness of the night by the stroboscopic light which illuminated them. For the headlight was shining through the propeller blades, and this simulated the effects of a concert strobe, lighting each droplet for an instant and apparently freezing it in time. But unlike the more usual vertical fall of water drops, we were travelling forwards with a speed of roughly two hundred miles an hour at this point, and so the drops formed brilliant trails which appeared to be perfectly horizontal. It was a sight spectacularly unique to a propeller driven plane, and would probably not have been seen if either the lamps had been positioned in front of the blades or indeed the engines had been replaced by modern jets.
Unexpectedly, this amazing sight reminded me of photographs I had seen the previous night on TV of the rings of Saturn, and I began to imagine what the dust particles and rocks formed within them might look like up close if I hurtled past them in my space ship.
Gradually the spectacular light show ended almost as quickly as it had begun as we reached the top of the cloud and moved out of it. It had been a sight to remember, especially after having to endure a tiring two-hour drive to the airport followed by a similar length of time waiting for the flight to be called.
Somehow, I don’t think i’ll be looking at the humble propeller in quite the same way again.