"I've got a mouth," I said. "What's wrong with, 'Hi, there. Where am I?' "
Hughes did not reply. Instead, he handed me the plotter. "Let's say you have just left Kobelt Airbase. Wind direction is 220�, your air speed is eight miles per hour, and you have been flying for 90 minutes. Now, determine your direction, your distance and your true air speed."
"Come now. Which direction is the wind coming from?"
I consulted the compass on the back of my hand computer.
"Right," said Hughes, "but I don't know how you got it. You're holding the compass upside down. Keep it up and you'll never pass that test." He had the gift of prophecy.
The examination room, up a flight of depressing stairs in the ramshackle FAA building at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport, was designed for patients suffering from acute agoraphobia. There were no windows, only long tables, undentable steel-top tables and straight-back chairs. Two ladies of indeterminate age presided over an outer office. When I announced myself, the plumper of the two ladies called to her colleague, " Virginia, a hot-air balloon just walked in." Virginia left her filing and came to peer. "It used to be that we had to dust off the balloon tests," she observed.
The rest of the afternoon is hazy. The test was composed of 40 questions, including three pages of clouds. For the next three hours, examinees filed in and out, all waving plotters, and my concentration was distracted by a potential pilot next to me who produced an enormous salami and onion sandwich in the middle of the proceedings. Fumes filled the air.
"There goes the hot-air balloon," said Virginia when I left.