I’ve flown on enough planes to know the safety procedures by heart. Please identify your nearest exits, your seat doubles as a life vest, get your own mask on before helping others. But this flight was different. It started with the pilot, Steve Turner, making sure that I physically could open and close the doors in case of emergency. Those jet doors are heavy, and even though they have millions of dollars of engineering behind them, I found myself struggling to lift it shut. “Watch if it falls,” Steve warned. “Because it can take you with it.”
I mustered up my strength and clunked the door into place. Then, it was my cameraman Mark’s turn. Of course, for him, it was a piece of cake. Lugging a 50 lb camera for a living will do wonders for your biceps. We made our way to the seats and buckled in for the ride.
This was our first spin in the world’s fastest civilian airplane, Cessna’s Citation X. On one hand, this $24 million jet is a luxurious beast with massive engines and a butter smooth ride, but today isn’t about luxury, it’s about testing. Wires hung left and right, the interior panels were out, and all around us was sensitive testing equipment, designed to track every movement of the plane to make sure it is up to snuff for today’s hurried millionaire. As a klutzy person, I had to take each step very carefully to avoid a gigantic disaster.
As we lifted off, up into the sky, past the clouds, past the contrails, to 13,000 metres up, I wasn’t thinking about going almost the speed of sound, I was thinking about the story. The second the pilots hollered that it was safe to move around (no seatbelt lights here), I was up at the cockpit asking questions, pointing out technology that I wanted Mark to get on tape, mentally laying out the story in my head. Even when the screen was flashing “MACH 0.938” in red, I was thinking, “Good, we got it.”
It wasn’t until we started the stall tests, where I had to sit down and be buckled in tight, in the back so that I wasn’t visible on camera, where the only thing I could do was look out the window, that was when it hit me — I’m flying. I caught myself smiling as I stared out the window at the winglets ripping through the air. Because, as someone who has very little chance of ever becoming a millionaire, this is something I’m likely never going to experience in its polished form. But that’s ok. Because getting to go for a ride in the experimental aircraft, before anyone else, that’s how you appreciate the insane amount of tech that goes into something like this. 2 years of just flight tests, 4000 flight hours.
All to get to New York for lunch and be back in LA by dinnertime.