“To catch the crane, you must think like the crane.” That’s what I used to jokingly tell people when they asked how one went about catching a crane. Kneeling down and touching crane tracks with my ring finger, pretending to touch this finger to my tongue, and then confidently proclaiming, “Yup, they’re fresh…” – also a favorite.
The latter is total nonsense. One cannot determine the age of a crane footprint by oafishly poking at it and ingesting soil. On the other hand, understanding how the animal(s) that you work with think is, to some extent, both feasible and essential to effectively accomplishing your objective(s). The ultralight pilots regularly demonstrate such insight into “the mind of the crane.” Those of you who regularly watch the CraneCam know exactly what I’m talking about. Got an uncooperative bird that won’t get back in the pen? The pilots get them in. Got a crane that doesn’t want to take its meds, regardless of how well you’ve concealed them in a treat? With the application of a little crane psychology, the pilots convince the birds that they in fact want those medicated treats, badly, and before you’ve figured out which bird is next in line they’ve got them each medicated and are signaling that it’s time to leave.
Basically, cranes make everything more difficult than it needs to be – if they were any other way they would cease to be cranes – and these guys get a bunch of ’em to follow an ultralight from Wisconsin to Florida. To call that impressive is an understatement. But while we’re on the topic of ultralights… there’s the pitot tube.
What is a pitot tube? Basically, a pitot tube is used to measure airspeed. You’ll notice these little tubes on the front of the ultralights (and sticking out of commercial airliners). I wasn’t entirely ignorant to the basics of aviation when I started this job. I had an inkling of what it was I was looking at when I first saw it. I wasn’t entirely without insight into the workings of the “crane-brain” either. And from that frame of mind I knew exactly what I was looking at: No mere tube (or protuberance, if you will), but a source of intrigue unparalleled in the annals of aviation.
A bit hyperbolic? Perhaps. But my suspicions were well founded in observations. Among them are the “rope incident of 2009”, the “joyful discovery and summary re-destruction of dead chipmunk incident of 2010”, the “eject kids from playground and teach colts how best to kill a swing incidents of 2009-2011”, and, of course, the “mass disruption of a thousand cranes by empty water bottle fiasco of 2013”, followed immediately by the, “thousand cranes compete for possession of empty water bottle debacle of 2013”.
All of these events were as insightful as they were entertaining. So when I saw the ultralight for the first time I knew… the pitot tube would have to be investigated regularly, investigated thoroughly, and reinvestigated in greater detail if another crane were observed selfishly exploring it on its own accord. And, it has been, just watch the footage and you’ll see. Fortunately for the pilots the aircraft are too well built for the cranes to tear it off – the coiled wire to the headset, seatbelt, and instrument panel would be the next parts to go.