I had a great tailwind for the run into Stewart. This cut the flight time down by almost 25 minutes. For the majority of the flight my “passenger” said very little and kept to herself. She sat a few rows back, working on her laptop from the moment we departed Pemberton.
I was about 15 minutes from entering a left downwind to RWY 36 into Stewart, when I asked her to buckle up. To my surprise, she came forward and asked if she could sit up front for the landing. Given her original reserved countenance, and with the still active, yet unqualified conspiracy theories running through my mind, I was momentarily taken off guard. I must have mumbled something in the affirmative, because she proceeded to climb into the right seat. As she settled in, I showed her how to fasten the shoulder harness.
It was the first time I actually had a good look at her. She had a nice profile, with strawberry blonde hair that fell to about 6 inches past her shoulders. I detected a hint of lilac; probably from whatever shampoo she used. Suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, I felt what little hair I had remaining on my head begin to stand on end. Then it dawned on me; she had asked a question and I had been totally oblivious. Basically I had been staring at her and she wanted to know why.
I offered a rapid, inarticulate apology and concentrated on my flying. I disconnected the autopilot early, just to distract myself. It also gave me an excuse for my hands to do something. A growing sense of unease started to build, because while I had immediately averted my gaze after being found out, she had not. Out of the corner of my eye, the look I was receiving was not particularly warm. Thankfully, I was now entering downwind and pre-landing checks offered a momentary respite from worrying about the nurse from the twilight zone sitting 18 inches to my right.
In short order we landed and I exited onto the small hangar maintenance pad, where I was to store the aircraft for the Mission Aviation representative. The Dash 8 I would be flying her out on, was about 15 minutes out, and it contained the necessary ferry and customs documents I needed for both the passenger and myself for the trip to Ketchikan.
As I started my shutdown flow, I mentioned to my passenger that we would be on the ground for about 20 to 30 minutes and she could get out and stretch for a bit if she so wished.
What I said next, no Doctor of Psychology would ever be able to offer an explanation as to why the next group of words came out of my mouth. I had asked politely (I thought), if the way she wore her hair, was standard issue for the US Navy.
There are times when you just know you have crossed a line you shouldn’t have. Whether it is real, imaginary, makes no difference. Once you have crossed it, there is a good chance you will never be able to retrace your steps. The cold, piercing look I received, coupled with a tense, and surprisingly loud silence was enough for me to quickly mumble an apology and vacate the aircraft faster than if it was on fire.
While my (albeit innocent) behaviour may have increased tensions between Canada and our southern neighbour, my intuition was vindicated. I had just received the flight ferry and transit documents from the crew who brought in the Dash 8. I have never seen so many official looking seals, warnings, prohibitions and red letter NDA’s on a flight manifest. Compounding this fact, was that my passenger complement was now up by a factor of 2. There would be three individuals including myself flying into Ketchikan.