Ode to a Gulfstream IIB,

An Airplane with a soul

by:

Capt. W. Patrick Gordon, M.Sc.

1988
Aviation International News

I hadn’t planned to go to New Orleans, but when I heard she would be there, I changed my mind. Just the thought of seeing her again brought a warm smile to my face.
 
Before our separation, The lady and I had been together for several years. Both of us had changed considerably. I had learned a lot and she had gotten prettier. A lot prettier. She had originally had nice lines overall marred only by a rather stubby, round, peasant-like nose. Thanks to love, care and money she now has a slim, refined nose. The wing-mod has been her crowning glory. The GIII wing improved not only her performance but her looks as well.
 
Her Saudi Arabian registry was quite a mouthful until you got used to it: Hotel Zulu, Mike Papa Mike. Our crew joked about what MPM really means money, plenty money. My private name for her was Puissance, meaning strong, brawny, lusty. She was indeed my lusty lady. Puissance and I traveled a lot, visiting cities around the world in every kind of weather.
 
On the airline, in route to New Orleans, I thought back on some of our episodes. Like the time, prior to her wing-mod, when we were on the way from Jeddah to Vienna for an OPEC meeting. We couldn’t make it nonstop, so we landed for fuel and a weather check on the island of Crete. Winter weather in Europe is the pits and the airport at Vienna is in a river valley. All that, combined with our arrival just after dark on a Sunday, caused me to think about extra fuel. Something inside me said, “The heck with it, top it off.” That something had foreknowledge. We made a missed approach at Vienna and proceeded to Munich where we made another missed approach. The weather all over Europe continued to worsen before we finally managed to get it on the ground in Frankfurt. Still fat with fuel, I think Puissance looked rather smug as we left her on the dark ramp that night at Frankfurt; as if all that extra fuel had been her idea!
 
Then there was the fuel stop at Gander one night in a never-before-experienced condition of blowing surface snow. The runway was in sight until short final. We kept the approach lights in sight, then saw the runway again and touched down at about 120 kts. As we landed, the visibility dropped to a matter of feet as the wind gusted and blew surface snow into our faces, creating the impression of continuing to rocket down the runway. The copilot warned, “Better get this thing stopped, Pat.” I replied, "Damn, I think we are stopped!” With airspeed still  being indicated, the only way that I could tell we were stopped was the one stationary runway light outside my window. Puissance waited patiently with reversers roaring in the night while we mortals slowly realized what she already knew. We were safe, again.
 
Cultural bridge
Perhaps even more valuable to me than her operational companionship was the role Puissance played as a cultural bridge. A common ground between my curious, but definitely Midwest mentality, and the different and exciting Arab culture. My association with her brought me into contact with people who could, for the first time, explain the problems of the Middle East in terms that I could understand, helping me realize that there are other sides to Middle East issues that we may not fully consider here in America.
 
Could it be that man-made, complex machines actually possess a soul? They have to have at least as much soul, or personality, as a dog; for darn sure more than a cat! Could this soul I imagine be nothing more than the expression of my own suppressed superstition? If so, there are a lot of superstitious pilots around.
 
To experience this soul-like phenomenon all you have to do is watch a night departure get underway from a darkened ramp. First, the flashlights, like fireflies probing her secret, private parts as the crew completes the preflight inspection. Battery power switches on and the dim cockpit and interior lights glow softly. Like a deep yawn, the APU comes on line and all the lights brighten with the surge of electrics. Engines awaken and motion begins slowly as she stumbles clumsily down the taxiway. At lineup, the pace quickens till the launch. Runway edge lights flash by and the end lights loom closer. Finally she springs from the earth as the element she was designed for is achieved; flight.
 
She was my flying carpet and I, gray hair and all, am still enchanted. Weather, ATC, technical limitations, and complacency are the villains we deal with in this high-tech world undreamed of by Scheherazade in her Tales of a Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Would a new crew understand the emotional high at FL 410 or will it be just a job to them.
 
On the ramp at Lakefront Airport in New Orleans I ask the salesman if I can hop in the cockpit one more time. Puissance knows it’s me stroking her control wheel. I can sense she knows I’m there to say a final goodbye. Her paint flashes proudly in the sunlight. She is cleaner than I was ever able to keep her in the desert dust. A wise buyer will realize, in spite of her lowly serial number of 004,  that newly overhauled engines, gross weight increased landing gear, and other upgrades have made her the equal of anything on the market today. A wise buyer will also use her slightly worn and tired interior as a negotiating point, knowing full well he would want an interior more reflecting his taste.
 
As so often happens in life, our separation began before we even knew it.  Outside influences were under way, the ramifications of which, we little understood. God knows I did my best to keep us together and, in her own way, she did too. Hopefully, the gods of flight will grant her another soulmate for the many years of giving she has left. I pray they do the same for me.
 
*   *   *
Here in the office, it’s late. Everyone else has gone for the day. I leave for school and a type at SimuFlite in the morning. The slim, three-engined, French-built, executive jet sits in the darkened corner of the spotless hangar. Her characteristics are still a mystery to me, her performance parameters a secret of the hangar shadows. Her paint gleams softly, reflecting hours of loving care. I am told that she does with grace, what Puissance used to do with power, As I gaze at her lovely French lines I wonder if that soul-like quality will be there again. Goodbye Puissance. Hello Mystere.