Human Condition: No two clouds are the same _lowres

 

Of my three careers in life, my decade as a business airplane salesman was the most satisfying personally. Soaring 10,000 feet above Mother Earth on a day with scattered cumulus clouds, visibility at 20-plus miles, a tailwind, piloting a 230-mile-per-hour business airplane, was my idea of being close to heaven.

Probably no other business then or today is more affected by clouds — general weather conditions — than aircraft sales. Getting a commercial pilot license requires a great deal of time studying weather conditions.

Clouds come in several varieties — mostly the “cumulus” category. The cotton-ball type floating around most days are the common cumulus. If they are fuzzy around the edges, they are dormant — not growing. If they are crisp, sharply defined, they are growing.

In summer afternoons, when it is really hot, they will grow bigger and taller very quickly, shooting up like geysers. As these individual clouds grow, they become known as cumulus nimbus. The bottoms grow darker as moisture begins to develop in the cloud. As the clouds become more saturated, the rain gets so heavy it starts falling to the ground. Rain falls from them like a giant tail, being dragged along the surface of the earth.

Many times, clouds will gather in a defined line across the sky. Tops can grow faster than an airplane can climb. Lightning builds inside of them, occasionally sending bolts into the ground. Pilots are wary of these situations. It may look like there’s a path around — certainly not through these monsters.

No two clouds are alike. In the summer over the Great Plains, mammoth individual cumulus clouds are like giant sailing ships gliding through the air.

In Oklahoma, in the 1960s and ’70s, we owned a fixed-base facility at one of Tulsa’s municipal airports. Selling both new and used executive aircraft, you never knew what each new day would bring.

One day the phone rang and a business man in Arkansas named Sam Walton wanted to see one of the airplanes we advertised for sale.

“Can you be here at 11 a.m. tomorrow?” he asked.

When you get a call like that, you do everything you can to qualify the caller as a real prospect capable of paying for (or qualified for financing) before you agree to make the trip of several hundred miles.

I asked Mr. Walton a few questions, including his particular need. I remember distinctly him saying, “Well, we have eight stores now in two states and we need executive transportation.”

The sale was made and Mr. Walton’s stores grew in number.

— Cannon lives

in Baton Rouge

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