Assuming that the APs do not get stopped at the border and refused entry into Canada, Johnson and Ryan will fly out of Toronto’s Pearson Airport non-stop to London’s Heathrow Airport on a British Airways Boeing 744 in the mind-boggling time of seven hours and 15 minutes. Yes, our travel agent, the always delightful, if somewhat dawdling, Donna, finally plunked her magic twanger and we are booked—not in a “book ’em, Dano” sense but in a “book ’em, Donna” sense. We are scheduled to depart Toronto at 6:35pm on July 16, a Sunday, and arrive at Heathrow at 6:50am on Monday, July 17. The plane cruises at about 575 mph though it is capable of flying at 614 mph, just short of the speed of sound. In truth, it is the world’s fastest commercial jetliner. Ever wonder how fast your jetliner is going when it takes off and lands? Wonder no more. The 744 takes off at a speed of 180 mph, and lands at a speed of 160 mph.The world’s fleet of 744s has carried 3.5 billion passengers, roughly half of the world’s population. Oh Brave New World of flight.
But here’s the mysterious thing: when I Googled Boeing 744 jet, I did not initially discover any such entity. Not to be deterred, and given the fact that the APs are, after all, masters of research, further and exhaustive (not to mention exhausting) investigation revealed that a Boeing 744 is actually a Boeing 747-400. In a fashion entirely too cavalier for my taste, one site, offhandedly and with no further explanation, says that the Boeing 747-400 is sometimes called the Boeing 744. Mystery solved, the 744 discovered. But I, for one, would like to know why, and under what conditions, the 747-400 is sometimes called a 744. Maybe it’s a diminutive, a term of endearment. It seems that the 744’s most distinguishing feature versus preceding 747s (or 744s, as the case may be), are 6-foot winglets mounted on 6-foot wing tip extensions (sounds like something you’d use on your fancy shoes). Winglets: sounds awfully cute doesn’t it? Also sounds like an appetizer of the amuse bouche variety: “I’d like an order of winglets with Frank’s hot sauce, some bangers and mash, and a plum duff. And bring us a bottle of your finest grog.”
So, we have a plane with an unexplained, sometimes diminutive, and distinguishing (but not necessarily distinguished) cute features. And no flight engineer. Yes, you read that right: no flight engineer. That’s because the 747-400 (let’s call it by its full name, shall we?) is equipped with a two-crew glass cockpit which Wikipedia says dispenses with the need for a flight engineer. How a glass cockpit dispenses with a flight engineer is beyond me. Maybe the glass cockpit allows the pilot and co-pilot to see much farther than in earlier versions of the 747, or 744s as the case may be; but is that all the flight engineer did was to provide distant vision? Possibly. Navigation at sea was done by eyesight until about 1500. Flying through the air is akin to plying the ocean is it not? I just don’t know—aeronautics is not my field of expertise.
The plane can fly non-stop 7,670 nautical miles. The distance from Toronto’s Pearson Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport is 3,085 nautical miles, so we do have some leeway. I suppose it’s easier to see 3,085 nautical miles than 7,670 nautical miles. But if a flight attendant wanders through the cabin desperately searching for a dispensed-with flight engineer, in vain most likely, don’t think that I won’t be a trifle irritated.