Night Takeoff

. . . and All Seemed Right With the World — Christmas Eve Flying

Well. . . here we are back in the chilly time of year.  All of the General Aviation advocacy groups are squawking about the treachery of icing and how to decipher the different weather gremlins who seek to put their subzero finger prints upon our machines of flight.  Being in a part of Texas where the gremlins of winter are usually smaller than the neighbors annoying lap dog, I prefer this season to the thundering mega-giants of the convective summer.  Generally our freezing level is pretty high so getting some good actual instrument experience is easy to do.

pts book

It wasn’t necessarily planned, but received both my private and instrument instruction through the big middle of winter.  That made for some really challenging landing practice with the funky, post cold front north wind.  On the other hand, it offered up some really good actual IFR time both during the day and at night.

Given the timing of my training stints, when the seasons change, I can’t help but remember the early days of flight training.  I will probably never forget the feelings that coursed through my body as I arrived at the nearly vacant FBO at 6:30am, walking across the ramp to the venerable C172, unnaturally tethered to the earth.  The unavoidable poking and prodding of the aircraft in an attempt to find the one thing that might spoil the fun of the ensuing flight.  The memories are so vivid with the early morning sunlight this time of year; as it makes it’s first low pass over the new day.

The reward for overcoming a vast array of ignorance is cross country flights over beautiful changes of color and being soloed to practice on your own.  If the construction crew working on the extension of runway 4 had only known what was happening each time I wobbled down final trying to get a handle on “the landing thing.” I am ever grateful for the flags atop the dozers and dump trucks providing a visual affirmation of the whimsy of the wind.

I remember a handful of lessons into my private training when the wind was all in a huff with pounding fists of gusty-ness.  My instructor and I got all strapped into the, yet to be cranked, plane as it shook from the relentless heaves.

don with carl in plane

I looked over at my un-flustered instructor who offered, “we don’t have to go if you don’t want to.” I replied, “Is it ok?” His reply, “it’s okay with me.” We went and it was a great big invisible aerial butt kicking.  At one point, I may even have flow with both yokes.  It was safe but it sure wasn’t comfortable.  I made the decision to go because I wanted to get a good first-hand reference for what those particular weather ingredients meant for the airborne pilot.  I knew my instructor would be putting the plane back on the ground which he did in a brilliant display of experience and skill.

Along with even colder temperatures come the memories of my first night flight in IMC.  As I left my home airport and climbed into the night blanket of cloud cover, I began to feel that feeling only IFR flight can bring.  After a little while the controller chimed in with a new altitude and heading in her usually friendly tone.  The consistency and lightness of her demeanor eased my nerves as I pointed the small single engine aircraft through the cold cloudy darkness of the VOR-DME approach.  The landing light view of clouds zooming over the windshield at 100 miles and hour is something to behold.  All went well and I did several more approaches that night.

taxi at night

My favorite memory of all is of a Christmas Eve flight for a friend a couple of years ago.  His family had traveled by car to Houston for Christmas festivities and he was to follow later.  He asked if I would fly down with him in the available rental plane and fly it back to it’s home base; I did.  There seemed to be a different ambience over the air with the Merry Christmas greetings and signoffs as Houston ARTCC conducted the air traffic with a renewed calm and sense of peace.

As I pushed northward through the darkness of the cold Christmas Eve night, the cockpit was warm and cozy and all seemed right with the world.

airplane christmas ornament

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