There was an extraordinary story yesterday evening of a man being arrested at Dublin airport for having crash-landed a helicopter at pub in Co Longford on Wednesday.
Listening to the story while driving the car, where talking back at radio news reports attracts no attention, I told the newsreader that if the pilot had had a copy of “En Route”, he might have fared better.
“En Route”, it was an out of date book brought by my father from the air station at which he worked. It was a handbook of airports and aerodromes and airfields and airstrips; a comprehensive directory of all the places where it might be possible to land an aircraft. It had details of the lengths and directions of runways, of the landing surfaces, of what lights there were, of what radio facilities there were. When you are an awkward teenager with limited social skills, the book was a treasure trove. It was possible to imagine being a pilot in some part of the country having to make an emergency landing and taking out his faithful copy of “En Route” to decide where best to attempt to put the plane down.
It was not as though I had ever been in an aeroplane; I would be 23 before I ever flew anywhere, and that was a British Midland flight from Belfast to Heathrow, hardly the stuff of adventures. The nearest I ever got to a cockpit was sitting in the front row of a KLM flight to Amsterdam in the days when the door could be left open and it was possible to see the crew at work. Yet, if there were a copy of “En Route” around, I would still leaf through its pages, searching for those old wartime stations where the wind still carries the sound of returning Lancasters and for those remote locations where Cold War V bombers waited silently for the orders to scramble.
The book is probably no longer published; most of the places are probably now under the tarmac of new roads or the gardens of new houses. I would have assumed it was all on computer now, that as you flew along you would be able to get details of where you could land nearby. It would be nice to think so – nice to think the captain doesn’t have to say, “does anyone know where I put the book?” But if it is on computer, one might wonder why a helicopter landed at a pub.