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.

Subscribe now for updates!

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24 Responses to “A Wing and a Prayer, and the Everlasting Moon.”

  1. Gotta love the Tailwind. Another fine job Christo and it’s hard to believe you went to VMI School of Heavy Equipment Operation.

  2. Geez, Chris, you should be a poet. I’ve never had the pleasure of flying a jet, but to a meteorology nerd like me, the concept of “surfing” the jet stream is something pretty magical. Thank you for that image, I won’t forget it.

    • Thanks, Peggy. My blog posts lately have been predominantly stick-and-rudder stuff, so it was about time for something a little more esoteric.

      I know that risks losing the purely technically-minded readers. But in flying, art and science meet. Aesthetics are a part of both.

      Thanks for hanging in!

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

      • Thank you, Chris–that was beautiful…and about the moon too…

        The technical stuff feeds the mind and l love learning new things. But I like when you go “esoteric” on us…feeds the imagination, the soul.

        I look forward to the next podcast. :)

      • Jules–

        Actually, my roots are in the poetic; I strayed into aviation and have been here ever since, but I never forget where home is.

        The next podcast will be posted Wednesday–it’s all set to go: Captain Martin Leeuwis of The Netherlands discussing his years flying the Northrup F-5 (he’ll correct me: their version was even more powerful, called the “NF-5″) in support of NATO defenses, plus his years as a KLM captain flying all over Europe.

        I’m psyched up for Thursday, when I’ll be interviewing 3-time shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane. That podcast will be posted on the 18th, and already done and waiting for later in the month is an interview with Boeing instructor pilot (and 777, 767, 757, 737 and 707 pilot) Mark Rubin discussing all of those jets and more!

        Sounds like a commercial; guess it is.

      • Oh no, I love the technical stuff! If I could do anything in the world I wanted to (other than being a storm chaser, which is pretty darn cool) I would be either a fighter pilot or a Formula 1 driver. So please keep the tech stuff coming. I keep promising myself I will take flying lessons one of these days!

      • You know I will. I try to keep a balance that keeps the poets and the scientists happy.

    • blackwatertown Says:

      “should be a poet” – to my mind he is a poet – as well as a pilot.

  3. Hey there! Thanks for another wonderful post! And many thanks for illustrating the river visual into DCA… Looks easy when you’re in front of a large-screen tv, but i guess it’s another thing while sitting in the pointy end of the aircraft.

    Best wishes!

  4. SarahAlice Says:

    As a person with a complete inability to fly and remain a sensible and coherent being, I find your blog fascinating, and so I hope you’ll accept my nomination; I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award, which I hope you’ll accept and enjoy! The rules can be found on my page. Congratulations! (:

    Have a lovely day!
    (:

    • I’m a sucker for a good literary discussion; really like the Woolf years (and her pal TSE) and so I thoroughly enjoyed your blog and the meta-cognition going on there.

      Thanks!

  5. Whow Captain Chris! That’s some awesome stuff to look forward to! Can’t wait for Wednesday, great interview with a captain for our flag carrier!

    You have a great way with words, and I’m looking foward to an e-mail saying you’ve posted everyday, thanks!

    Bas

    • Yes, Captain Leeuwis has had some great flying experiences not only with KLM but also as a fighter pilot for the Royal Dutch Air Force. He shares some of them on Wednesday’s podcast. You should also check out the collection of aviation cartoon books he has produced.

      I think you’ll enjoy the podcast on the 25th too: Boeing Captain Mark Rubin discusses his flight experience flying the 777, 767, 757, 737, 727, and 707, plus the Boeing flight training he does now after 31 years as an American Airlines pilot, instructor, evaluator and Chief Pilot.

      The Boeing program takes pilots with minimal flight hours and gets them rated as airline-ready 737 copilots.

      Stay tuned!

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  6. Great post. Well done. You are doing what i was hoping to, in another life maybe. I’ ve been doing this for 7 years through Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, in a PC. Nothing compairs to reality of course. Keep up the good blogging.

    Greetings from Greece.

  7. Chris…………..as you say , perhaps , “Only poets and saints have ever flown like this”, riding on a wing and a prayer….., Darkness like sadness, spread to the end of the world,….I say without exception …… WHAT A LOVELY WAY TO START.!!!!!!!!!!

    And so please lets continue shall we…..the dreams , fantasies…of a child… that child is now grown into manhood…………….these lessons…follow him………………and he learns to fly….these machines…of his childhood fantasies…here mostly though, wings and prayers……and the knowledge, of course of the machine…with their rudders…….and 160 pax in the back…with out a worry…………….let them dream….and make love to the moon……….while safley aboard…………….on and on to their lovely destination…and why not have the moon follow…………….Mmmmm.

  8. Thank you, Chris, for another great post. You’ve seen my comments often enough to know that I enjoy reading your blog; I’ve set things up such that I recieve a notice whenever you post something new. If I may, a word on podcasts. I don’t object to the form, but I also don’t use it. It is generally too cumbersome for the time allowed (mine). I’d also note that most folks can read about three times as fast as the spoken word can be delivered; many of us at even greater rates. Couple that with enough hearing loss that the spoken word requires intense focus and you’ll understand why I’m not listening. A trascript would be wonderful, but of course someone has to trype the damn thing – and that ain’t gonna happen. Short of a full transcript, posting an appropriate summary would be a much appreciated enhancement to your blog. Podcasts are a nice adjunct, I guess, but a poor substitute for your usual written posts. Happy landings, -Craig

    • No worries–the podcasts are an adjunct to the blog.

      Some folks have said they like to download them and listen to them as they commute. I do the same with a couple podcasts I like (primary: the Nick and Artie Show, Nick Dipaulo and Artie Lange) which makes my airport drives tolerable–no commercials.

      Podcasts are easy to download and store to listen to whenever you want.

      Who knows, someday might do video too.

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  9. OK, Chris………..TIME TO GET A LITTLE SERIOUS……………THE MASCOT VIDEO…………..HILARIOUS………..!!!..’TRIPLE A’
    HILARIOUS………..

    YA THINK SOMEONE WOULD HAND HIM SOME “VISINE EYE DROPS…..” BLINK FOR CHRIST SAKES….
    I THOUGHT HIS ‘SPIKE’….WAS PRETTY GOOD…………

    ooooook…………
    later Chris…………ya know…….this is almost a little embarassing…………I hope you don’t mind ……my smacking fun……..here…………
    little late…now………….;/

    misstwa/getjets

  10. CHRIS………………I THINK I’VE LOST IT……………YES, MY MIND………..AND THE VIDEO………….
    WHAT THE HELL………………
    NOTHING LIKE MAKING A GREAT IMPRESSION………BUT IF I FIND IT…………YOU SHOULD WATCH IT………..YOU’LL THANK ME…………..LET ME GO SEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
    EMBARASSING…………

    • Aw Jules, don’t worry… :)
      Welcome to JetHead. I’m glad you’re checking out this blog. You will really like it!

  11. Thank you so much ~g~!!!!….for the Welcome!!!!….I’ll try and not get kicked out too soon……….Kidding…….

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