Size Matters; Just Ask This Guy

Introducing Q.F. Conseco, a relative in some way of Storyteller in Chief John Agliata. This is the first entry in Q.F.’s blog, “The Crazy Life, With Queso Fresco.”


The Top 5 Things You Will Learn If You Read This Entire Blog

  1. Billy’s job was to fix airplanes.
  2. Billy was not very good at his job.
  3. I once gave my parents an ultimatum that worked.
  4. It’s possible to have your head repeatedly smashed against the side of an airplane going 300 mph at 17,000 feet and live.
  5. Billy isn’t necessarily the biggest idiot in this story.

Everyone, I’d like you to meet Billy.

Billy is an idiot.

Of course, this isn’t a photo of the real Billy. This is a stock photo representation of all the Billys in the world. You know the type. These are the guys who do stupid things all the time and somehow don’t die.

It’s safe to say that no one ever wants to find himself hanging out of an airplane going 300 mph at 17,000 feet. Yet that’s exactly how British Airways pilot Tim Lancaster found himself on June 10, 1990. Why? Because Billy is an idiot. And eventually, no matter how hard you try to hide it, being an idiot will catch up with you.

Reason 1 Why Billy is an Idiot

In the hours before British Airways flight 5390 took off from Birmingham Airport bound for Spain, Billy was tasked with doing his job, such a revolutionary concept for the Billys of the world. The plane needed a new section of window in the cockpit. Now, Billy should have known that the cockpit window is an important part of the plane. Maybe not as important as, say, the engine or the wing, but pretty important nonetheless.

Yet in the report that came after Pilot Lancaster was almost sucked into oblivion (snicker), Billy was found to have been an idiot. Among the most startling recommendations to come from investigators was this gem:

” … that the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority, the British version of the FAA) recognise the need for aircraft engineering personnel to wear corrective glasses if prescribed.”

First of all, kudos to the British for their hard-and-fast stance against the Z and never wavering in their refusal to change for those upstart revolutionaries with words such as “recognise.”

Second of all, what the what?!?!? Billy needed glasses and didn’t wear them when, oh, repairing an airplane?!?!? Let’s look at Billy’s picture again:

Do you see the size of those fictional lenses Fictional Billy needed to be able to see his work to fix the very-not-fictional airplane?

Story Time with Q.F. Conseco

I was in third grade when my eyes betrayed me and I was forced to start wearing glasses. I hated it. I went from being the cute kid that girls would actually pay to be their boyfriend (of this I am not proud, but Robin offered me 25 cents a day or something inappropriately called Indian Corn for the ability to play with my hair and who wouldn’t take that deal because Indian corn, however non-PC the name was, tasted great, and 25 cents could buy a lot back then) to a nerd. Things got so bad as a glasses-wearer that, one day after being teased on the bus ride home from school yet again, I told my mother I wasn’t going back unless we came to some form of an agreement ratified by the United Nations for me to get contact lenses. My parents, good at their child-rearing responsibilities ore perhaps sick of listening to me whine, recognized I would, indeed, chain myself to my bed rather than continue being teased. So soon I went from being a nerd with glasses to a nerd with contacts.

Back to Billy the Idiot — and workplace orientations

But here’s the thing: There was never a time when people’s lives depended on whether I wore my glasses or contacts.

Billy, evidently, missed out on that part of the workplace orientation.

Now, workplace orientations are inherently stupid. We have all been there… forced on our first day or two of a new job to watch a video in which actors who must have had such different dreams for their careers demonstrate inappropriate sexual activity toward their co-workers that fades to black just before it’s about to get good. And then, get this, we have to sign something that says we watched said video, as if we were counting the holes in the ceiling tiles while we were locked in the windowless training room all alone. We also sign things that say we won’t look at porn at work and won’t punch a colleague, (This part is left out of the NHL new-employee orientation).

All this makes it into employee orientations, but things such as “make sure you can see” somehow didn’t make the cut for the final version of the template from which all companies work. So when Billy went to replace the cockpit window, Billy had what can best be described, with great political correctness, as visual insufficiency.

But wait! There’s more!

Reason 2 Why Billy is an Idiot

Men of a certain age with certain other insufficiencies espouse the belief that size doesn’t matter. I am not here to debate the issue when it comes to that particular insufficiency. I am here to say that, in many other places in life, size most definitely matters.

Take, for example, the size of the bolts used to fasten cockpit windscreens to the rest of the airplane so it, ya know, stays around.

Now, I am about as far away from being a handy man as Billy is from his glasses, but I know that certain size holes need certain size bolts to keep things in place. It’s one thing if you are missing the correct size fastener to, say, hang a coat hook on the wall and you improvise with a random screw from the bottom of your toolbox instead of getting all bundled up against the cold, driving to Home Depot and battling the other morons on the road, traversing the vast desert wasteland that is a home improvement store searching for “The Screw Aisle” while telling yourself you are not going to ask for help, asking for help 30 minutes later when you find yourself in the toilet parts aisle for the fifteenth time, trying to appear manly when the much-more-manly orange-smocked septuagenarian who retired from The Man’s Man House of Building and Fixing Stuff after a successful 60 year career asks you questions about your project to really hone in on what you need, walking another 25 miles with said orange-smocked septuagenarian to the correct aisle (which you realise, err, realize you’ve already been in at least five times) while making awkward small talk before you are finally handed the correct size screw as if you are Moses being handed tablets from the Most High God.

That’s fine if it’s a coat hook. Your coat isn’t going to get hurt from falling the two feet to the floor.

It’s not fine if it’s a cockpit windscreen.

But Billy not only didn’t receive training during his orientation on the need to wear his much-needed glasses while doing his job. He also did not receive training on not being a complete idiot and using parts that don’t fit to do what really is his main function at work: doing stuff to keep the plane together.

So hours before the airplane that would become Flight 5390 took off, Billy used 84 bolts that were 0.026 inches too small in diameter. Furthermore, with the remaining six bolts, while being correct in diameter, Billy used ones that were 0.1 inches too short.

Size matters, as we will soon see.

The Results of Billy Being an Idiot

So apparently Pilot Lancaster just didn’t feel like getting Flight 5390 in the air that June day, because he gave that responsibility to co-pilot and Harry Potter Character Alistair Atchison. As the plane continued it’s climb, both pilots were like, “Hey, let’s chill,” and released their shoulder belts.

Sometimes it’s the little things that change a life. Like, for example, making a left instead of a right or having Stove Top instead of potatoes. In one of those moves that could be called a “little thing that changes a life,” Pilot Lancaster also loosened his lap belt.

The plane reached 17,300 feet and the cabin crew prepared for meal service (remember that?). Air Steward and Owner of the Most British Name Ever Nigel Ogden came into the cockpit, because you could do things like that back before our government staged 9/11, and heard a loud “bang.”

There are a few things I never want to hear on a flight. Here are my Top 5:

  1. A baby crying
  2. An adult crying
  3. Someone asking me to use my barf bag because there’s is full
  4. An Air Steward crying
  5. A loud bang

One can imagine British Guy Nigel Ogden’s reaction was the British equivalent of “Oh shit!” as the windscreen panel on Pilot Lancaster’s side of the flight deck (oh, let’s just call it a cockpit because that’s more fun) “separated from the forward fuselage,” or, as normal people would say, “Holy crap! The window just flew off the plane!”

What happened next is pure nightmare fuel. Pilot Lancaster, who, if you recall, had loosened his shoulder harness and his lap belt, was sucked out of his seat and forced head first out of the cockpit.

Ho-Ly-Crap.

There Goes My Hero

Let us leave Pilot Lancaster for a second as he begins his journey as a stunt diver, and return to Air Steward and British Guy Nigel Ogden.

A few seconds before, the biggest concern in Ogden’s life was weather the pilots were going to have beef or chicken. Now he was seeing Pilot Lancaster being propelled from his seat and flying out the window. He watched as the pilot’s knees caught on the flight controls.

“Phew,” British Guy Ogden must have thought. “At least he’s not free falling!”

That thought was replaced a moment later by a new thought. “Um, why are we heading straight down into what is sure to be some pretty unforgiving earth?”

Well, as British Guy Ogden would surely come to know later, as Pilot Lancaster was turning into a kite without a string, the autopilot disengaged, which was more than a minor inconvenience considering Pilot Lancaster’s knees were pushing the flight controls forward.

Oh, but wait! It gets worse!

As the cabin decompressed (which is not a kind of self-care for the cabin but rather something really bad), the door to the cockpit blew off and into the control panel, blocking the throttle. So now not only was the plane headed toward the earth, it was heading to the earth really fast.

It’s pretty safe to say British Guy Ogden was no longer thinking about beef or chicken.

What he was thinking about was that it would probably not be a good idea to lose the pilot out of the window. So here comes our hero, bursting into the cockpit and grabbing Pilot Lancaster by the belt.

And British Guy Ogden was able to pull Pilot Lancaster back into the plane and everyone had a good laugh about the entire incident afterward while downing a few pints of ale.

No.

Not even close.

Pilot Lancaster is now banging repeatedly off the fuselage of the plane. Bang. Bang. Bang. And it’s his head that is keeping the beat. His. Freaking. Head. The plane is going more than 300 mph, and, as you might imagine, it’s pretty cold at that speed and altitude. So if Pilot Lancaster was able to have a thought, it surely was something like, “I should have kept my lap belt tight,” followed by, “Am I slipping further out this window?” because, yes, he was slipping further out that window. By that point, only his Air Jordan clad feet were inside the plane.

Meanwhile, back in the actual airplane, it was getting really, really cold. British Guy and Our Hero Ogden was starting to develop frostbite and exhaustion, an entirely fair response, along with filling one’s underpants with doo-doo. So two other air stewards took over to hold onto Pilot Lancaster.

Enter Harry Potter Character and Co-Pilot Alistair Atchison. This dude, having just seen his co-worker sucked out of an airplane somehow kept it together (Accio Calm!) and pulled the plane out of its dive. He called the Powers That Be For Crazy Shit Like This and requested an emergency landing, because, if there ever is an emergency situation in air travel, the pilot hanging out of the cockpit is probably it.

Harry Potter Character Atchison prepared to land, but there was still one problem: Pilot Lancaster was bang-bang-banging off the side of the plane, and it was becoming really, really difficult to hold onto him. There was an actual discussion on whether to just let Pilot Lancaster go, believing him to be dead already.

But Harry Potter Character Atchison stepped up and said, “You are NOT letting my friend and co-worker go! We are going to bring him back alive and we are going to go on to be best of friends and live long lives filled with things other than getting sucked out of a plane!”

Or.

Or Harry Potter Character Atchison said not to let go of Pilot Lancaster because doing so might send the believed-to-be lifeless corpse of the captain into the engine or wing or horizontal stabilizer, damaging the plane further and killing them all.

I’m sure, to Pilot Lancaster, it really didn’t matter why they hung onto him, just as long as someone did hang onto him, because, though injured, Pilot Lancaster was still very much alive.

And get this: Harry Potter Character Atchison landed the freaking plane while Pilot Lancaster was still hanging out the window! Take that Captain Sully.

Imagine the surprise on Harry Potter Character Atchison’s face when they pulled Pilot Lancaster back in and he was all, “Oh, hey there Alistair. How’s it going?” Because Pilot Lancaster not only survived but did so with “only” frostbite, bruising, shock and fractures to his right arm, left thumb and right wrist.

Meanwhile, British Guy and Our Hero Ogden suffered a dislocated shoulder and had frostbite on his face, including in his eye!

Back to Billy the Idiot

And so we return to Billy. Poor Billy. The not-bespectacled Billy. The Billy who thought he could cut corners with the size of the bolts to fasten the windscreen — or perhaps the Billy who couldn’t see the very small differences in the size of the bolts because his glasses were still on his nightstand at home, left there after reading two chapters of A Tale of Two Cities before turning off the light and snuggling with his incredibly attractive and smart wife the night before.

One can only imagine what Billy felt when he heard about this little situation, when he realized that an actual human being had been sucked out of a windscreen he, himself, had replaced just hours before.

Well, we kinda know what Billy felt, because Billy shared what he felt with investigators. Billy’s first thought? “It wasn’t me.”

Reason 1 Why Billy isn’t the Biggest Idiot in This Story

And here’s the thing: Billy is right! (Kinda.)

You see, while there was, indeed, a manual that would have told Billy the correct bolts to use, Billy did something most of us would do. Billy, fresh from a night of fun and enjoyment with The Tale of Two Cities and his wife, came to work the next day and was told to replace a windscreen on a plane. So Billy did it. He unfastened the bolts, took the old windscreen out, put the new windscreen in, and then he looked at the bolts he had just unscrewed to figure out what the right size was for the new bolts with which he would fasten the windscreen.

Yes, folks. Billy did exactly what the guy before him had done: Fasten the windscreen with the same type of incorrectly sized bolts the previous idiot had used to fasten the previous windscreen. Or, as the report says, he replaced the windscreen…:

“… on a like-for-like bases without reference to maintenance documentation, as the plane was due to depart shortly.”

Billy did it like he did because, as he saw it, it had always been done that way and that plane needed to get in the air.

So yes, Billy is an idiot. And Billy took the fall:

“Investigators found that the shift maintenance manager (AKA Billy) was responsible for installing the incorrect bolts and had failed to follow British Airways policies.”

One presumes that Billy was a bit bitter about this and probably turned to a life of crime, a life of crime that was short-lived because he didn’t wear his glasses on his first bank heist and pointed his gun at the popcorn machine to ask for money instead of at a teller.

And what of the two victims… Pilot Lancaster and British Guy Ogden?

Pilot Lancaster returned to the cockpit Five. Months. Later. and resumed his career as if he had never been the mallet on the base drum that was the outside of his airplane.

British Guy Ogden returned to Air Stewarding too. Things were a little more difficult for him, though, as we imagine every time he went to ask the pilots about beef or chicken he thoughts the next thing he would see is the pilot flying out the window. He healed from his wounds, did his job for a while, and then took a (well-deserved) early retirement, leaving only one question: How bad does frostbite on your eye feel?

Q.F. Conseco is the relative of website owner and Storyteller in Chief John Agliata. He is, in fact, John’s great-grandparent’s son’s son’s son. He lives in Escandido, California, with his wife, Flaca, and their three children, Franz, Hans and Helga. All three are homeschooled and extremely unsocial. Q.F. is a singer, songwriter and poet when he is not working as a trimmer for a large medical marijuana growing operation in Humboldt County, California. He once ate 38 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

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