Stockholm

Stockholm

Saint Augustine once declared that the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page. While I’m fairly familiar with the tome, one glaring omission in my scholarship had been the the chapter on Scandinavia. Thankfully, the wonderful world of on-demand jet charter provided a northerly flight opportunity last month, so I packed my bag and headed for LAX. The assignment? Airline to Stockholm, hang out for a couple of days, and then fly a Gulfstream to New York.

It’s a bit ironic for a pilot to admit that one of the things they like least about their job is flying, but when it comes to the aluminum torture chamber we generously call an airliner it’s most definitely true. There’s little joy in spending twelve interminable hours crammed into an economy class middle seat. It’s made worse by the fact that I got spoiled by my previous company, which would book business or first class seats for deadheading crew members when traveling abroad. I know, I know — cry me a river, right? Of course, the pay scale is much better at my current gig, so that’s a fair trade in my book. If I had to choose between putting big bucks into my own pocket versus that of some soul-crushing mega-airline, I’d opt for the former every time.

The crew pairing for this trip had me flying with a Swedish native, so I had a built-in travel guide who spoke the language, knew the town, and was excited to show off the best that Stockholm had to offer. While I only spent a couple of days there, my impressions were of a remarkably clean city, albeit an expensive one. Even with stringent rent controls, the cost of living remains about 20% higher than here in south Orange County, California.

A view of the "old city" from across the river.

A view of the “old city” from across the river.

If you’re looking to buy, it’s three to six times as expensive in Stockholm. Apartments there sell for $1-2,000 per square foot. Why so high? The capital holds about 1/5 the total population of Sweden, yet it’s 2.5 million inhabitants are spread out over a series of fourteen islands of varying sizes, so there’s not much land to go around.

The people I encountered were quite friendly and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to speak English. Or perhaps they simply wanted to preempt any butchering of the Swedish language by a ghastly American. Maybe both. Speaking of Swedish things, this may sound stereotypical, but many of the furnishings I came across in restaurants, hotels, and public buildings had the look-and-feel of an Ikea catalog. I mentioned this to a few locals and they didn’t disagree, though they were amused that I found it entertaining.

"Gamla Stan", aka The Old City, dates back to the 13th century, and consists of medieval alleyways, cobbled streets, and archaic North German-style architecture.

“Gamla Stan”, aka The Old City, dates back to the 13th century, and consists of medieval alleyways, cobbled streets, and archaic North German-style architecture.

We probably walked ten miles over two days, exploring Gamla Stan (“The Old City”) and the surrounding area. Between the long hours spend motionless in that airline seat and the anticipation of another nine hours of sitting in the cockpit on the way back, it was good just to be up and moving around.

It was rare to find anyone who wasn’t fit and trim in Stockholm. This isn’t uncommon when you’re from Southern California, but there are parts of the U.S. where it would be very hard to find anyone who was in shape. I met a fellow Gulfstream pilot there and he said that when not flying, he’s primarily occupied with doing things that keep him physically fit.

The weather was relatively warm for February, with the temperature hovering around 30 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Stockholm’s close proximity to the water keeps the average high and low within 10 degrees (F) of one another. I was bundled up against the wind, but it was clear the residents considered this good weather. A surprising number of them were out exercising or enjoying the lovely day despite the presence of a stiff breeze and plenty of ice in the water.

One of the countless hot dog stands that dot the streets of Stockholm.

One of the countless hot dog stands that dot the streets of Stockholm.

Food is an integral part of any cultural experience, all the moreso if you’re a foodie. My Swedish crew mate was obsessed with the wide variety of korvkiosks (hot dog stands) which populate the city. He must have grabbed a ‘dog at three or four of them within a few hours! He also introduced me to a Swedish pastry called semla, a spiced bun filled with milk, almond paste, and topped with whipped cream. Traditionally it was served between Lent and Easter, but now they’re available for much of the year at local bakeries around town.

We had lunch one afternoon at Sturekatten, a quaint cafe which was more about the ambiance than the food. That’s not to say the vittles were unsatisfactory. Quite the opposite; the salmon soup was a perfect balm for the cold, windy day outside and was more than hearty enough for a meal (take that, Bania!). But the place feels like walking into your grandmother’s apartment, from the age-old furniture to the kitschy, mismatched decor. The average age of the patrons didn’t belie the feeling in the slightest. It even had that vaguely mothball-esque scent which is often found in the geriatric home.

I was introduced to semlor, a Swedish pastry which is popular around Fat Tuesday.

I was introduced to semlor, a Swedish pastry which is popular around Fat Tuesday.

The tour continued the next day with the pièce de résistance, the Vasa Museum. It was the first thing my wife mentioned when she heard I was headed to Sweden: “be sure to visit the Vasa!” The institution is built around a single object: an early 17th century Swedish warship which sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. The wreck remained underwater for 333 years before being was raised in 1961. The vessel was almost completely intact, and today it majestically rests in a massive climate-controlled building in Stockholm.

When the phrase “they don’t build ‘em like they used to” was first uttered, it may have been the Vasa they were talking about. More than 95% of what is on display is original. The secret to her survival was the condition of the water. Massive pollution killed off the wood-eating microorganisms which would normally have consumed the ship. In fact, the melange was so perfect that after three centuries, all but the most delicate objects were at least partially preserved. Sails, masts, rigging, clothing, even brain matter the skulls of those who went down with the vessel. More than just a ship, Vasa provided countless insights into how people lived during that period.

Even the Vasa's sails have partially survived their 333 years under the surface.  Amazing...

Even the Vasa’s sails have partially survived their 333 years under the surface. Amazing…

Just as interesting as the Vasa itself is the story of her preservation. Once pulled from the water, the wood began to dry out and if left untouched, it would have quickly disintegrated as the planks contracted and split. The solution was to spray the wreck with a polyethylene glycol in order to displace the water and stabilize the vessel. This spraying continued for more than seventeen years. Even today, preserving the Vasa is an ongoing challenge, one that the curators themselves will tell you is a losing battle. One display admitted that it will not be possible to keep the ship intact forever.

Our final day in Stockholm was more about resting up than anything else. As with many ocean-crossing flights, we were scheduled to depart at 11:00 p.m. and arrive in New York just after sunrise. At nine-and-a-half block hours, this flight was about as long as any you’d want to make in a G-IV unless your goal was to see how it performed as a glider. We landed with plenty of fuel, but a blown wind forecast (no pun intended) and the use of an alternate can eat up the reserve in a hurry. Of course, that’s why we carry it! The flight ended up being smooth and uneventful. I like the northern route because you spend less time hassling with the prehistoric HF radios since VHF coverage exists for most of the trip.

We handed off the aircraft to another crew, who were continuing the flight to the southern states, and retired to our hotel for a much-needed nap. I enjoyed Sweden immensely. With any luck I’ll be back soon to continue exploring the treasures of Northern Europe.

Passengers: Keeping Things Interesting

Gulfstream V

When it comes to cataloging the intriguing travelers one has encountered over the years, few people can rival the improbably tall tales spun by pilots. I’ve never been one to kiss-and-tell about the goings on inside the airplanes I fly. That’s a good thing, because discretion is an vitally important aspect of working in the Part 91 and 135 worlds. It’s a significant part of what the customer is paying for, in fact.

Of course, the most engaging stories are worth telling not because of who was involved, but rather what happened. So by avoiding or altering all references to individuals, employers, brokers, locations, aircraft, dates, and so on, an anecdote from years in the past can be related in general terms and still entertain.

Here are a few that have happened to me or others with whom I’ve flown:

The Wake Up Call

I was just sitting down to dinner with the rest of the crew one summer evening when a company dispatcher called to ask how quickly we could get to Washington, D.C. for a “pop up” (short-notice) trip. After abandoning our meals, we returned to the hotel, packed up, checked out, and ferried the airplane to the nation’s capital, not knowing who our passengers would be. It turns out they were a half-dozen very clean-cut folks who were schedule to escort an important individual back to the United States.

So off we went, arriving at our destination around 1:00 a.m. Our guests milled around at the FBO, making phone calls and waiting for their subject to appear. Eventually we were advised that he wasn’t going to arrive for another twelve hours, which created a regulatory problem for us. We’re limited to 10 hours of flying and 14 hours of duty per day, so we wouldn’t be able to legally complete the return leg without getting some rest.

Hotels were arranged for the flight crew, while the passengers said they’d need to stay with the plane overnight because of the weapons on board the aircraft. They couldn’t take them off the jet without breaking the host country’s laws about importation of firearms. Nor were they willing to leave the firearms on the plane and go to a hotel. There was no GPU cart available, and our company policy prohibited leaving the jet’s APU running unless a crew member was present.

I explained that without the APU, they’d have no electricity or light and be unable to flush the lavatory, run water, move the window shades, or heat the cabin. The lead passenger laughed and said, “We’d be comfortable living in a rough hole dug into the ground. I’m pretty sure we’ll be okay. Go get some rest.” Nobody at the airport or our company could think of a better solution, so we provided a tutorial about how to operate the Gulfstream’s main entry door, made the cabin as comfortable as possible for them, and shut everything down.

I felt terrible about leaving them in a cold, dark airplane for the night. That’s not the kind of service we typically provide for customers. On the other hand, these weren’t typical customers, and they really didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.

When we returned the following day, the airstair door was open and our passengers seemed a little amped up. I asked how things went and one of them said, “It was fine… but I wish someone would have told us about the shotgun!” Mystified, we asked, “Ummm, what shotgun?” Apparently this airport keeps birds away from the field by having an employee fire off a couple of 12-gauge blanks every hour. I’d never heard of such a thing! At the crack of dawn, some hapless airport worker had unknowingly elected to do the deed while standing near a bizjet full of sleeping, yet well-armed, personnel.

I knew bird strikes are a serious hazard for aircraft.  What I didn't know was the large-gauge method some airports use to keep them away.

I knew bird strikes are a serious hazard for aircraft. What I didn’t know was the large-gauge method some airports use to keep them away.

Before leaving the previous night, we had closed the electrically-powered window shades, so they were in a dark cabin and unable to get a look at what was happening outside. All they knew was that someone was firing a weapon nearby and could only assume it might be meant for them. So they opened the airstair door and came our ready for World War III. Thankfully, they were not the shoot-first, ask-questions-later types. After a few moments of confusion, they all had a good laugh about it.

They were far less sanguine upon learning a few hours later that the principal they were waiting to escort back to the States wasn’t coming after all. As far as they were concerned, the whole trip was for naught. It certainly was memorable for me, though.

It’s Inhuman

Sometimes our passengers aren’t even people. One pilot related the story of flying to Africa to transport gold bullion. Another told me about a Boeing Business Jet (an executive version of the 737) which had a dozen passengers with so much cargo that the customer’s luggage wouldn’t fit. So they chartered a Gulfstream IV to fly chase with nothing but the baggage on board.

These trips might sounds awfully expensive — and they are — but I’ve run the numbers and they can make financial sense. If you travel with a large contingent and like to fly first class, last-minute fares of that ilk — assuming scheduled airlines even go where you’re headed — can run the bill up so high that chartering can even save money.

It's a dog's life... but somebody's gotta lead it!

It’s a dog’s life… but somebody’s gotta lead it!

Sometimes it just isn’t about dollars, though. One of my favorite flights was for a gentleman in Europe who missed his dog so much that he chartered a Gulfstream to fly this tiny teacup canine 5,500 miles across the United States and the Atlantic Ocean. The trip even had a flight attendant on board. Just imagine the catering order for a passenger like that…

I should add a word about pooches: I’ve flown quite a few of them over the years, and every one has been a pleasure to have on board. No barking, scratching, urinating, or otherwise soiling the expensive furnishings inside. I don’t know how they can lay there for eight or nine hours without needing to relieve themselves, but somehow they just splay out on the floor and snooze. If there was a way to let them stick their heads out the window, flying might rival that all-time favorite: a trip in the family car.

The Ultimate Fresh Air Vent

Speaking of windows, one apocryphal story concerns an individual who was being deported. Due to security concerns, sometimes these people can’t be transported on commercial airliners, so a chartered aircraft will be utilized instead. Some of these detainees don’t want to be deported because they know conditions in their home country are far more severe than those in the United States.

These trips typically operate with a one-to-one ratio of law enforcement agents to detainees. On this flight, despite having hands and feet shackled, one of the detainees managing to pull open the over-wing emergency exit window he was seated next to just as the aircraft touched down.

I’m not sure if he knew anything about the airplane or not, but his timing was fortuitous because this was the first possible opportunity to open that window. It has to be removed by pulling inwards, and under normal flight conditions, the cabin pressurization holds the window firmly in place. But as the aircraft descends, the pressure differential decreases, and by the time the airplane lands it’s less than 0.3 pounds per square inch.

Anyway, he was immediately tackled by the guards, who flew across the cabin and over the large dining table to restrain him before an escape could be accomplished. It’s just as well; I’m not convinced that this detainee had really thought things through, because the over-wing emergency exits are awfully close to the front end of a screaming Rolls-Royce turbojet engine.

Note the proximity between the emergency exit and the dining table.  Probably not the place to seat an escape artist!

Note the proximity between the emergency exit and the dining table. Probably not the place to seat an escape artist!

Big Things Come in Small Packages

After a revenue flight, one or both of the pilots will often stand near the exit to wish the passenger(s) farewell and thank them for flying on the aircraft. One day, a friend of mine transported a well-heeled gambler home from Las Vegas. As he exited, this passenger handed a casino chip to my friend. Tips are not expected or even common, but they’re not unheard of either. So the pilot simply said thank you and placed the chip in his pocket. It was only later that he remembered it and fished the small disc out. Inscribed on the chip: “$10,000″.

Fish Out of Water

I’ll conclude with a story from my days flying for a public-benefit organization. Today, this non-profit only accepts humans in need of medical transportation. But back in the day, they’d occasional accede to requests that were, shall we say, slightly out of the ordinary.

This particular request was to move a juvenile sea lion from a rescue facility to a place where it could be released into the wild. One of their volunteer pilots offered his Baron 58TC for the flight. With the rear seats removed, there was sufficient space for a cage large enough to hold the 400 pound mammal. A veterinarian sedated the animal, it was loaded aboard the Baron, and the flight commenced.

I don’t know if it was an error on the part of the vet, an effect of the high altitude, or what, but a couple of hours into the flight, the anesthetic wore off. Instead of a sedate sea creature, the airplane suddenly had a confused, muscle-bound fighter who was none too happy about being two miles above sea level in a loud, vibrating contraption. Thankfully, he was securely locked inside the cage, so aside from some banging around and a whole lot of noise, there was no risk to the flight.

All was well until the pilots noticed that the sea lion’s barking seemed to be growing in volume. Kind of weird, they thought. One of them turned around to see what was going on and got the shock of a lifetime: the pinniped had somehow escaped the cage and was wallowing forward toward the cockpit. The pilot flying had his hands full re-trimming the aircraft as the animal moved, while the other fended off the sea lion with bound manuals, a clipboard, charts, and anything else he could find until they were able to land.

I’m not sure if this scene was scary, comical, or both. But as W.C. Fields famously said, “never work with animals or children”. Especially when you’re 12,000 feet above terra firma.


This entry is part of an ongoing collaborative writing project entitled “Blogging in Formation”.

Crappy Sunglasses

sunglasses

Sunglasses are to a pilot as tanning beds are to the cast of Jersey Shore. Many — perhaps most — aviators buy expensive shades, and I understand why. It’s not just about the look (although that’s certainly important), it’s about comfort. Comfort with a headset, comfort on a 10-hour flight. It’s about preventing headaches and protecting one’s eyes when you’re above much of atmosphere and therefore exposed to more of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation.

Me, I do it differently: I buy the cheapest pair I can find. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the optical clarity, build quality, and style of expensive shades. I do. But over the years I’ve developed a theorem called Ron’s Law of Sunglasses Longevity. It simply declares that the length of time a pair of glasses will last is inversely proportional to how much you paid for them. I bought a $10 pair of sunglasses at a gas station and they lasted for 6 or 7 years. On the other hand, I’ve paid $200 for a set of non-polarized Maui Jim sunglasses (polarization doesn’t mix with computerized cockpit displays) and had them disappear or break within weeks.

Not only do I lose sunglasses, but I often manage to do it in the most creative way possible. It’s almost an art form. One time I put my sunglasses and a book on the ground for a moment while I checked something on an airplane. Naturally, they were forgotten about until the main landing gear ran ‘em over, shattering the polycarbonate lenses into a million pieces. Thankfully the tire was not harmed — that would have really been expensive!

Another time a famous celebrity stole my shades. I don’t want to mention any names, of course. They were one of the cheap pair from that same gas station. I had duplicates in storage for just such a scenario (at $10 a pop, even the most poorly compensated among us can afford backups), but these were record-holding in terms of how long I’d had them. It must have been eight or ten years by this point. I almost couldn’t get rid of them even if I tried. Like a bad penny, they’d somehow find their way home.

Anyway, the aircraft had a galley in the aft section and I had set my sunglasses down on the counter there while offloading some baggage from the cargo area. When I returned, they were gone. I think the flight attendant figured they belonged to one of the passengers and they had walked off with the celebrity. She tried to get them back on a subsequent leg, but in the melee of a multi-day trip it just never happened. I sometimes wonder if that celebrity isn’t wearing those sunglasses today, unaware that they were an ancient $10 Chevron special with Twilight Zone-ish longevity.

The last example — the one which prompted this post — was a wholly new and innovative way to dispose of a decent pair of specs. I’m fond of saying that every situation in life can be directly related to a Seinfeld episode, and this is no exception. If you’re a fan of the show you’ll know exactly which one I’m referring to.

We were returning from New York without any passengers, so everything was casual on board the jet. No uniforms, just a pair of jeans and a V-neck t-shirt. A couple of hours into the flight, I excused myself from the cockpit to visit the aft lavatory. As is my custom when I’m not wearing them, the sunglasses were clipped to my shirt when I entered the restroom. (You can probably guess where this is going, right?) So there I was, standing over the toilet “taking care of business” when I reached up to close a vent which was blasting cold air and somehow managed to knock the them off my shirt. The next couple of seconds passed in slow motion. The sunglasses twirled through the air, bounced off the granite counter, and completed the swan dive with a perfect hole-in-one into the bowels of the toilet.

The lav is pretty simple on a Gulfstream; it’s basically just a tank full of “blue juice”, so there wasn’t much risk of the glasses jamming up any drain lines or whatnot. The only thing down there is a valve which is manually actuated from a panel outside the aircraft. It allows the old gunk to be drained and fresh liquid pumped in by the ground service personnel.

Nevertheless, I was going to have to fess up to what I’d done. The look on my face must have said it all, because when I exited the restroom, the flight attendant asked what was wrong. I gave her the “short” version, and she proceeded to shock the hell out of me by asking in a very matter-of-fact way if I wanted her to retrieve them. I thought she was kidding, but it turns out there were long rubber gloves on hand for just such an occasion. I offered to do the dirty deed myself, but she said “no problem, it’s not the first time something’s fallen down there” and before I could even think of a clever retort she had fished them out!

I’ve given a fair number of gifts, tips, and thank-yous over the years, but I’m wondering: how much does one owe another person when they stick their hand into a dirty airplane lavatory in order to retrieve your pair of $10 sunglasses?

In case you’re wondering, the glasses were double-bagged and sealed until I got home. The next day, I thoroughly cleaned them with multiple rounds of hot water, soap, sanitizer, and anything else I could get my hands on. I half expected the metal frame to be partially dissolved or corroded by whatever was in that toilet tank, but they came out as good as new. Ron’s Law of Sunglasses Longevity at work again!

There was a definite moment of pause before putting them back on my face for the first time, but today those Chevron Special’s are back at work. I wish I knew who manufactured them, because they build a hell of a product. While they might not repel bullets the way some sunglasses do, there’s no doubting they’ve been through the proverbial wringer.

A Starship in the Wild

starship

The Starship. It’s been one of my favorite aircraft ever since I first saw it on the pages of Flying as a kid. The very name conjures up a sense of possibility and exploration, as though the very atmosphere would be unable to contain it.

I happened upon one the other day as we taxied out to depart from Vail, Colorado in the Gulfstream. As is typical on a weekend day, the Eagle County Airport was abuzz with traffic, so we sat at the end of the runway cooling our heels while inbound aircraft made their approach. Nothing to do but admire the rare animal idling in front of us, those five-bladed McCauley props turning as the heat plumes flowed from the PT-6A-67 exhaust stacks.

Delays are normally unwelcome.  But when you're sitting behind a Starship, it's not so bad.

Delays are normally unwelcome. But when you’re sitting behind a Starship, it’s not so bad.

It’s always a bit of a shock actually seeing one in the wild because Raytheon ceased supporting the airplane more than a decade ago, even going so far as to buy back and retire as many of the remaining airframes as they possibly could in exchange deals for new Premier jets.

I wrote about the Starship a decade ago and compared it with the Concorde as the latter was being retired. I suppose it’s apropos to ponder the futuristic-yet-retired Beech creation now that Beechcraft itself is being absorbed by Textron.

The Starship was every bit as futuristic as the Concorde. Developed in the early 1980′s, it was designed to replace the most successful business turboprop in history, the King Air.

Starship was revolutionary because it the airframe was made of composites like carbon fiber. Composites are lighter and stronger than aluminum, but they are more complex to manufacture and they haven’t been around that long. Consequently, the FAA was very conservative and required a lot of extra testing and data for certification. It was also difficult and very labor intensive to manufacture, and many of Raytheon’s subcontractors missed critical deadlines. Raytheon itself experienced many delays as it learned to work with resins, adhesives, sealants, and other composite materials.

Eventually the bugs were worked out, but the damage had been done. Only 53 Starships were built. And of those, only a small handful were ever sold. Most have remained in Raytheon’s inventory for more than a decade and have been used to supply replacement parts for the existing fleet.

Starship was also one of the very first airplanes to be designed and built using a computer system. Called CATIA, this same system was used to create the Boeing 777.

The storied Beech name reaches back more than eighty years. The company developed and built some of the longest-lived products in the history of aviation. Although they’re only built sparingly these days, Bonanzas have been manufactured since 1947, and the relatively young King Air line began in 1964 — a paltry half-century ago.

Despite the firm’s financial difficulties, Beech at least makes something tangible. Beyond the cache and history of the Beechcraft name, it has facilities, production lines, patents, type certificates, intellectual property, and a comparatively skilled work force. To me, it simple generates far more excitement than, say, the high-flying Twitter, which has a market cap of $35 billion but has never turned a profit or built anything that makes the pulse race the way an aircraft can.

Happier times for Beech: the rollout of the first Starship.  If only they'd know how short the "future" would be...

Happier times for Beech: the rollout of the first Starship. If only they’d know how short the “future” would be…

When I was growing up, Beech/Raytheon represented some of the most exciting and cutting-edge stuff in the world of flying. I suppose that’s what I was truly reminded of when we found ourselves holding behind this beauty.

It also occurred to me that the jet I was flying — a Gulfstream IV — celebrated its maiden flight only a few months before the Starship. How different their fates have been! The G-IV was wildly successful and is still in production while the promising composite turboprop never really got off the ground. It’s worth noting that a similar business aircraft, the Piaggio Avanti, also made its first flight in the mid-1980s and is still being built. And why not? It achieves nearly 400 knots at a 40% fuel savings over comparable jets.

It must be painful for those who worked on the Starship project to know that airplanes like the Waco YMF-5 and Great Lakes biplanes — 1920’s tube-and-fabric technology — are still being built and sold while the sleek, modern ship they labored over is more or less relegated to photographs and museums. Aviation: it’s a strange business.

Motoart Under the Tree

motoart

You know the old saying “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”? This sentiment rings true throughout the world of aviation. The certification requirements and miniscule production runs of airplane components ensures everything from crumpled, rusted out airframe scraps in a bone yard to a run-out cylinder or decapitated taxiway light retains value.

Oh, sometimes the lucky detritus is refurbished and lives on as part of an airworthy airplane, but just as often the bits end up elsewhere. And I’m not referring to the traditional recycling process, although I’ve no doubt that many stout airframes have suffered the indignity of rebirth as a beer can. Instead, the aforementioned red-tagged cylinder becomes a kitschy planter. That busted taxiway light is transformed into an accent light for the office. Cockpit instruments become classroom visual aids. It’s not just for parts, either — complete aircraft have found new life as lawn ornaments, restaurants, water slides, museum pieces, and even family homes.

In 2004, the Discovery Channel aired “Wing Nuts”, a short-lived series about a firm that turns airplane junk into artistic treasure. I don’t remember much about the show — it only lasted one season — but the company, MotoArt, is still in business. They transform aircraft parts into imaginative yet functional furniture. Beds, desks, tables, chairs, bars, and so on.

Even the briefest of glances at their web site will demonstrate the love and passion Motoart puts into their deliciously elegant products, but before you fall in love, be warned: they don’t come cheap! The first clue is the total lack of pricing information on their site. “Call for price” has never really been synonymous with “inexpensive”, has it?

The item which always catches my eye there is a Gulfstream II desk. It consists of the outerboard-most eight to fifteen feet of a Gulfstream II wing in bare metal, polished to a high shine and covered with a matching top layer of glass. Why the G-II? I assume it’s because the winglet on later models would render the conversion a bit more challenging. The wingtip is the beautiful part of the airfoil, not to mention the only place where the wing is narrow enough to be useable as a desk. The inboard portions are too wide and thick to be serviceable as a piece of furniture; that’s a hurdle I doubt even Motoart can overcome.

This might be the world's most well-traveled desk.  And for $18,900, it should be!

This might be the world’s most well-traveled desk. And for $18,900, it should be!

Since I fly Gulfstreams, it feels mildly gruesome coveting such an item, especially after my recent paean to the first G-II jet and the majestic post-flying treatment it’s received. But the truth is that most retired airplanes — even Gulfstreams — will be parted out or end up in a bone yard somewhere. One could argue that the desk represents a more dignified fate than simply leaving the carcass of a once proud airplane outside to fade and rot under the harsh UV as it’s covered with excrement by nesting birds. It’s a moot point anyway; I inquired about the cost of the desk and was quoted $18,900… for the small one. Can you imagine how much the fourteen foot long DC-4 conference table would command?

Still, a guy can wish, can’t he? Since Christmas is just around the corner, I dropped a hint to my wife about the radial piston lamp, a relative bargain at $165.00. But I’m not too hung up on it. Motoart’s products are delightful, but no desk could ever beat the experience of actually flying these birds. That’s the greatest gift of all.


This entry is part of an ongoing collaborative writing project entitled “Blogging in Formation”.