Night Charter

I’m on the drive home going north along Interstate 95. The storms have just passed and they remind of a night long ago in the charter business. There is lightning cloud to cloud and cloud to ground off to the east over the beach near the Atlantic Ocean. The cumulonimbus tops out somewhere above 30 thousand. The sky is dark and the clouds mysteriously luminescent. There is a cold front making its way south, to Miami. I hope it does not stall and back up as a stationary front. It is too early in the season for the weather to pull those shenanigans, but the time is not far off.

The weather in the Southeast in the fall can be very interesting, particularly in Florida. Warm moist air from the tropics collects over the peninsula and then cold air from the continental regions slams into it. The result is, of course, thunderstorms – some which start very close to the surface and snarl upwards, sometimes going as high as 45 to 50, sometimes higher than 60,000 feet.

I am comfortable in the old Camry. I don’t have to dodge the cells or work my way between lightning strikes. I am thankful for being on the ground. Still, I miss those nights when I flew along at lofty altitudes high in the sky with the storms; I experienced the impression that I was on the edge of the universe. And the universe was immense. It gave me the feeling that the Cessna 210 and I were merely specks in the void.

There was nothing better than flying along in the dark, comfortable in the soft lights of the instrument panel. Everything was so peaceful – the place where I sat was very familiar. I knew where all the instruments were, where the switches and knobs were located, their functions, and I knew which controller I was talking to on the radio and I also knew what the next frequency was without being told by the controller. I flew those routes a lot and there was again, comfort, in knowing what to anticipate. Most flights were, in a word, routine. I liked routine. Even when the weather was less than perfect, the flight could still be routine.

The flights on a clear night were especially delightful in their “routine-ess.” It was on those nights that navigating by the stars was especially fun. While massive storms made one feel small against the bottom of storms that reached up to FL600, the feeling of being minutely small was extreme when flying on a clear night. Looking into the night, beyond the atmosphere of the earth and into space, one could truly feel insignificant.

Sitting somewhere near V-3 at 5500 feet, I look straight ahead. I am not really on the airway, but close enough for VFR work. I am receiving the MIA VORTAC and flying a straight line to the station. Above the place where the VOR should be, I see a really bright star. In my mind, I imagine it is sitting right over the beach on the south side of Miami. As I sit with the Continental engine droning on steadily underneath the cowling, I can easily see how the old pilots navigated by the stars. I center the needle on the CDI and fly for 30 minutes paying no attention to the nav instruments, only looking at the engine gauges to make sure of the engine’s health.

When I look at the CDI later, I am amazed by the precision of tracking to the star. The CDI stays exactly centered. The world spins around its axis a little faster than 1000 miles per hour at the surface near the equator, and yet, my star over Miami remains perfectly in place. This is fascinating, especially considering the world is also spinning around the sun at some alarming velocity.

How the heck do we all stay on the planet? What keeps us from spinning off, totally out of control and floating away into space? How are we continuously stuck on the ground? Sometimes, I wish it were easier to escape the bonds of earth. However, maybe not tonight. It is a little stormy in the sky this evening. I think driving up 95 might be a little safer than cruising at altitude tonight.

But I sure miss the solitude of solo night flight.


©2012 J. Clark

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2 Responses to Night Charter

  1. Harrison says:

    Hard to describe the solitude and inner peace of flying solo at night…but I think you’ve done it. Very nice!

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