A Wing and a Prayer, and the Everlasting Moon.
Only poets and saints have ever flown like this, riding a wing and a prayer. Darkness like sadness, spread to the end of the world, save the glow of cathode ray tubes painting the hearbeat of the seventy ton schooner, riding the howling eastbound jet stream.
That’s always a rush, surfing that gale, especially this time of year. But that’s what it takes, that’s what the 160 folks in back expect; never mind the details of turbulence and winds and fuel flow–those are yours to deal with alone. Just the way you like it.
You catch a glimpse back there now and again, but the view’s better ahead; quieter, a vortex of unseen electrical, pneumatic and hydraulic function, the lifeblood of the jet, blooming through the animated tapestry sprawled from bulkhead to bulkhead and overhead and nowadays you don’t know where the jet ends and you begin. Not that it matters: you’re comfortable in your second skin, aluminum and titanium, blood and bone–it’s one and the same for now.
And in the reassuring light of the cabin, what they don’t know won’t hurt them: through the night, an alabaster glow fires up the undercast ahead, swelling and spreading like a false dawn. The spectral blister swells to bursting and time reels backward for you–the western Pacific; the South China Sea, a world of time and distance ago.
Dark as deep space, a cloud deck below, the endless nothing above. Jets everywhere, formations in and out, stacked and you busy with courses and altitudes, your jet’s performance–then that ghostly glow below; angry rising–before you think you say it, as soon as you do you’d beg the words back on your life: “What the hell is that?“
Ivory-bone light melts up through a swirling veil of striated cirrus laid like a blanket on the Korean countryside frozen cold in the dead of winter.
“The moon,” comes the deadpan reply from another aviator. And you just let that smolder and die in the darkness; betrayed by the indifferent moon climbing it’s sky arc just like you did yours. What the hell–we’re pals–we’re going to be, through thousands of air miles over years and skies around the globe.
And it’s the aviation childhood still: less than a thousand hours of flight time; everything’s a wonder, an answered prayer or a silent wish playing out across a thousand miles at Mach speed. Like today: major league tailwind drives the groundspeed up to nearly 700mph.
Unseen from above, the miles past so fast sometimes. And that glow below, now a thousand years later and as many miles hence, you just know. Time to start down–just as your old friend climbs up. We’ll trade spots in the sky, share one more curtain call.
And surely we’ll cross paths again, however many more times we can. No surprise now–but just as stunningly bright as ever. It’s all too familiar, but in a good way: a wing and a prayer and the everlasting moon; the the essence of flight that never loses its brightness.
From flying fighter jets in the Netherlands to the captain’s seat on a KLM jetliner, Captain Martin Leeuwis has done a lifetime of amazing flying.
We go one-on-one with him on our audio podcast next week.
And later this month: 3-time space shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane joins us on JetHead Live.
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