Wheel’s Up: Wacky airport rides

I’ve always loved airports. I don’t even mind the waiting around for delayed flights.

Conjuring up a ‘zen’ attitude about things in air travel that are beyond my control makes life in an airport much more relaxed.

The big airports, the hubs, are especially entertaining: The people are colourful, exotic and from all walks of humanity.

A seat in an airport is a perfect people-watching perch.

Takeoff certainly provides a buzz. Even after so many years and countless flights, when the giant engines roar and I’m flattened back in my seat, I still feel a surge of adrenalin.

Exhilaration also comes in small packages, like a ride in the Beechcraft 1900D turboprop plane.
The nimble 19-passenger Beechcraft is relatively fuel efficient and can land safely on short airstrips, grass and rough runways. The flying experience is raw and authentic.

When the co-pilot leans out of the cockpit to give the briefing, I get butterflies. It’s usually the co-pilot who stands at the bottom of the stairs after landing. With a huge grin on my face, I always say: “Thanks for the ride!”

Besides the thrill of takeoff, the people-watching perks and those delicious meals at airport restaurants, at the top of my airport-love list is watching the activity outside the airplane window as the ground crew preps the flying machine for action.

Baggage, meals, fuel, water, everything must be delivered to or removed from an airplane on a wheeled conveyance of some kind. The sheer numbers and variety of vehicles on the tarmac at any given time are staggering.

Ground Support Equipment is a term I didn’t even know existed until I started thinking about this column.
GSE, as they say in the biz, encompasses all the exciting equipment that moves, zooms, skids or skedaddles across tarmacs around the world to support the operations of an airport.

What about an air starter? An aircraft engine needs a certain amount of air to start. When a compressor can’t deliver the necessary quantity of air, an air starter with a gas turbine engine is brought in to do the job.

The conveyor belt loaders are cute and functional. Lavatory service vehicles are not so sexy but function is really all they care about. Even passenger boarding stairs are fun to watch move around. Some of them are quite handsome.

After thinking about all of these unique and sometimes mysterious wheeled vehicles, refuellers and buses seem a bit boring.

I feel sorry for the pickup trucks that endure such a humdrum life at the airport. Little did that Ford F-150 know when it came off the assembly line that it would end up living its entire existence never leaving the airport, maybe not even licensed to go out into the ‘real world.’

When I try and pick my favourite piece of wheeled ground support equipment, I waffle between the lowly ‘mule’, the powerful pushback tug, basically an engine with wheels, that reverses a plane away from the gate ramp, and those magnificent creatures of winter, the de-icers.

I love watching the de-icer driver in action up there in the ‘cherry picker,’ like the conductor of a symphony orchestra, controlling the vehicle and the spray that will take the ice off the wings. So common in Canada and other northern locales, these pieces of GSE are rare in the Caribbean.

There are all sorts of tugs and tractors that move anything that can’t move itself, like baggage carts, mobile air conditioning units and lavatory carts. And then there’s the fire and safety crew. Thank goodness, I haven’t seen much of those guys.

I did have a bit of joyride in an Osh Kosh crash fire truck at an airport where a friend works in the fire department.

I remember it being a workout just to get in the 3,000-gallon rig. The first step was at the same height as my waist.

I had to grab the handle above my head and practically throw myself into the cab.

The driver’s seat and steering wheel were in the middle with a seat on either side. The ‘drive’ went from the station to the edge of the tarmac in the ‘safe zone.’

As I recall, ride and handling was not very good, making me think the Osh Kosh wouldn’t do too well on the banked turns of Talladega. But talk about power. It’s a 12-litre 8v92TA engine with 585 horsepower. That baby snaps from 0 to 100 km/h in just under 45 seconds!

That was not your everyday test drive. It was unforgettable. It would be just as memorable, I’m sure, to have a day at the airport, test-driving all things wheeled and wonderful.

Follow Lisa on Twitter: @FrontLady

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