Sunday, October 26, 2008

i believe i can fly

A few months ago, there was an airshow and aircraft display at the Yokota Air Base. It was part of the Friendship Festival and Geoff had invited all of us to join in the fun.

I was really looking forward to it as it was a superstressful period for me at work. I just wanted to get out of Tokyo, out of the madness of the metropolitan. It was also then that my holiday plan to Australia became more of a necessity than a mere breakaway.

Just a few days before the Friendship Festival, he had found out that I was not allowed in unless I had extra paperwork with me. Because of my nationality, I had to be subjected to more stringent background inspection which would take a minimum of 2 weeks.

Apparently Malaysia is on the list of Restricted Access Nations. -_-"

I was fairly disappointed that I would not be getting out of Tokyo that weekend after all. Most of my friends would be there except for me. (Just a day before, Raya had called me up to meet, so it was a blessing in disguise in the end. Furthermore, I found out later a downpour almost dampened the event at the Base!)

Knowing how desparately I wanted to destress, Geoff felt bad and promised to make up for it. But he wouldn't tell me how he was going to do it. He had a plan in mind, and had conspired with Yuri to keep it a secret from me. For a full 2 months!

However, just a few days ago, Yuri almost let the cat out of the bag when she accidentally mentioned how anxious she was about the surprise treat. Since then, I have been wondering what they had in store for me. Geoff's only note to me was to bring my camera and a jacket in case it got cold. And to pray for good weather.

Where were they bringing me...
Amusement park? Rollercoaster??
Hot air balloon? Paragliding, parasailing, parachuting?!

Finally after 2 months, and after getting the necessary approval, I managed to get myself through the checkpoint of the Yokota Air Base. With much curiousity and anticipation, I was brought to the...


Well, not exactly. But quite there.

I didn't get to do any flight training or even close to flying itself. But we had a pilot flying us over Tokyo! Imagine that! I've never been chauffeured in a limousine before, but surely this is so so cool that it's gotta top my list of memorables.

No wonder Geoff was so confident the surprise would be fun. I had been envying his pictures taken of the Izu Peninsula and even Mt Fuji on a clear day.

After signing a "don't-sue-us-if-for-some-reason-you-fall-out-of-the-plane" form and some briefing about the tour, Mr Pilot proceeded to bring us to the hangar where he showed us the different parts of the plane. We He made some final checks of the plane before passing us our headphones in which we would communicate without being drowned by the roar of the plane's engine.

After getting ourselves strapped in and getting the clearance from the Air Traffic Controller, we got ready to fly. I was getting so excited I couldn't believe I would be flying! Nevermind that I was not the pilot here, but this is not something you get to do everyday.

It was a clear day from the base. Weather was forecasted to be cloudy in Tokyo though. 5 minutes to 1600 hours, Mr Pilot revved up the engine and got ready to take off from the runway.

As we finally took off, I turned to my right and looked at Yuri and gestured to her "Oh.My.Goodness. We're actually flying!"

It felt like being on a plane except that it's more real. You get to see the flaps, port, rudder, starboard, tailplane and the various indicators on the cockpit. We couldn't care less about all those as long as Mr Pilot knew what he was doing and all we needed to do was just to enjoy the view around us.

Our route took us from the base to Tokyo city towards the east and along the coast from Tokyo Bay to Yokohama. From there we would pass by the Yokosuka Naval Base, Kamakura and scenic Enoshima island and back to the base.

Race horse tracks just minutes after leaving the base. Average height was 2000 feet above ground. I learnt that altitude was height of aircraft above sea level - not the same as height above ground!

Getting nearer to the city. Think it was more hazy than cloudy. Shinjuku, Harajuku and Yoyogi Park. Notice how dense Tokyo is!

Jingu stadium. Looked like a soft pillow that you could parachute down to. Maybe I should give parachuting a try...

Imperial Palace near Tokyo station. Not many patches of green in central Tokyo as almost every available inch of flat land is taken up by buildings, houses, apartments and office blocks.

Notice how there are not many tall buildings or skyscrapers. According to Mr Pilot, the population of Tokyo is half of that of the whole of America, but squeezed into the size of Iowa state. (I hope I heard correctly, our conversations were sometimes interjected with information from various controls and pilots!)

Getting a view of Tokyo Bay. Visibility was quite bad, even Mr Pilot said it was sucky! Maybe it would be better to do this in the morning next time. IF I get a chance to do this again :D

Yokohama below on our right. The Yokohama Landmark Tower used to be the tallest building Japan, standing at 296m. It's the one on the left of the trio of buildings facing the ferris wheel in the middle.

On a clear day, you could even see the Great Buddha of Kamakura.

Enoshima connected to the mainland by a bridge and accessible by foot from the station. I was here 2 summers ago, courtesy of Prof Komiya and his wife. It's packed with tanned Japanese sunbathing and enjoying an afternoon of bbq and beer every summer.

The sun was setting pretty quick just slightly less than 1 hour since we left the base. Some parts of the city were lighting up, I wondered how it would look have looked like flying at night.

After a uneventful flight in which we saw a few helicopters and planes whizzing by us, we made a smooth landing and reached the base at about 1700hours. We saw this mean-looking machine resting at the hangar after getting off our plane. Now, I would have liked to be flown in this!

No comments: