Come and take a flight with me. We’ll fly from New York city to Hong Kong on a Boeing 777. Tad Hazelton with Cathay Pacific Airways will be our senior pilot.

“Tad, what is the first thing you do to prepare for a flight?”

“One of the first decisions we make is how much fuel to take on board. It all depends on how much weight we are carrying. A flight to Hong Kong from New York on a Boeing 777 will take, on average, about 40,000 gallons of fuel or more. That works out to be about five gallons for each mile we fly.”

“How much does a fully loaded plane like that weigh?”

“A little less than 800,000 pounds.”

“Wow. How do you get something that heavy off the ground?”

“It takes a runway of 15,000 feet, and a ground speed of 205 miles per hour. During takeoff, the engines are pushing out two million cubic feet of air per minute. That’s enough air to keep humans breathing for 44 days.”

“Do you fly the plane for the takeoff or is the plane on autopilot?”

“We do all the takeoffs and almost all of the landings. For most of the remaining 15 hours of flight time to Hong Kong, we use autopilot.”

“So you monitor the computer?”

“Yes. Actually there’s a lot to do. There are five flight directing computers for the two engines, the electrical system, and all the other equipment on the plane. There are also two flight management computers, which direct the flight along its route. It’s a very sophisticated GPS system. All the computers back each other up. There are also computers that look for mechanical problems like oil and tire pressure. If they signal a problem, the maintenance crew will fix it as soon as the plane lands.

“It takes two pilots to keep track of all this stuff; and on a long flight like the one to Hong Kong, there is a backup crew. We alternate between flying the plane and resting.”

“Your enthusiasm tells me you really like what you do.”

“It’s so beautiful out there. Thunder and lightning storms are often spectacular. Obviously, we fly around them, but from a distance they are beautiful and fascinating. We see amazing sunrises and sunsets. On the Hong Kong flight, we fly over or close to the North Pole. The Northern lights are spectacular too. The only sad thing is that I’ve been flying over the North Pole for 15 years, and it’s really obvious the polar icecaps are shrinking.”

I have known Tad from crib days. He exudes a quiet self-confidence and yet is very humble about his considerable skills.

“Flying an airplane is a lot like what your son Ben the surgeon does. There’s a lot to know, and you have to believe in yourself. If a real problem occurs, you have to act decisively. You can’t second guess yourself or scratch your head. Three hundred and fifty lives may hang in the balance.” I will fly anywhere with Tad Hazelton. He’s also a lot of fun to share a beer with.

Finally, for those of you who have just arrived on the Island, the new edition of East Chop Families is here. As all of you know, Jane Meleney Coe was the prime mover in publishing this book. The book is a reflection of her deep commitment to building community in the places where she has lived. To obtain the book couldn’t be easier. Just call me.

Send East Chop news to