Night Flight: Turning the Darkness Upside Down.

There’s a breathless moment of lightness exactly when the ground falls away, a heartbeat between earth and the sky when you belong to neither yet both at once till that held breath resolves itself into flight.

Free, climbing, darkness: night flight is always magic. Fledgling days, the “Night Tube,” a fifty mile circle around the red dirt pancake that is West Texas at ten thousand feet, solo in a sleek jet. Afloat, footless, nimble–forbidden to fly inverted solo at night, strictly PROHIBITED; a slow roll nonetheless, upside down, no earth, no sky, no gravity, but a kaleidoscope of pinpoint colors above and below. Laugh. Do it again, linger inverted, own the Sin of Intent: if you’ve already done it you’re going to hell anyway, so what’s a couple more slow aileron pirouettes in the face of eternity? Besides, whatever mischief gravity attempts, afterburner will fix.

Blackness deep as all time above and below. Constellated stars corralled ahead like a nose print on glass and you’re reading your own EKG: airspeed, angle of attack, altitude, vertical velocity, heading, flight path vector, energy on the wing; an alphabet soup swimming in ghostly green, the hieroglyphics of gravity banished by entree to the night sky. Lazy me, so lazy it takes an effort to glance at the engine instruments–can’t they be incorporated into the ghostly Heads Up Display, the oracle of flight projected before me?

The glance confirms what I already know from the feel of the throttles and the sound of the engines, through my feet on the rudders and my hands on the yoke: no sour notes in that symphony, although it never hurts to confirm with the symbology stacked neatly on the CRTs. Nothing needs to be said, what matters more is what’s done–a constant angle climb, course intercept, play that magenta line off into the blackness below the blackness.

That’s the ocean below the night sky, invisible black but cold and deep nonetheless. We arc above the sea floor, riding the air piled atop the silent cold depth of black water. Savor the island effect, because that what we are, in the sky, above the earth regardless of water or land. We generate our own heat and light so the 165 peeps in back don’t notice the difference between sky and water and land and night–but I do.

And here’s the beauty of overwater flight: not so many lights below–the occasional lonely ship or spindly oil rig–but a scattering of jewels above. Roll again, a Night Tube of time and light and dark and space, ocean and ground and sky–not supposed to, not allowed to invert the “now” with “then,” but what the hell. Embrace the Sin of Intent–once you start, why not see it through? You’re going to pay for it eventually anyway, so make it worthwhile. And there are constellations in everyone’s own night sky, aren’t there?

Because the night sky is a shaggy black dog, shaking off and flinging droplets of lights across the dome as far as you can see. Who’s to say where they land and like tea leaves, what they show? Mark Orion, constant friend, akimbo over your shoulder, partner in a thousand air miles and those at sea too. Who decided that a thousand years ago, a chant repeated over a millenium to never forget, to make sense of the dark like that? What lines your night sky with light, and you know it does, if you look?

I don’t care if it’s been a thousand years–somebody sees Cassiopeia in the sky vault of jewels, remembered for all time.  What did she do that we should mark her now? And who else?

In the cold black below, in the inverted time and place, there’s Stormin’ Norman: bold, boxy guy, a fighter, a drinker, flying buddy, drinking buddy with a laugh big as the sky; flew into the Philippine Sea that night and broke into a thousand little pieces that fluttered to the sea floor, never to be seen again.

Except in this night, in the thinnest air suspended between then and now, above and below, the deep and aloft. Roll again, what the hell.

Yes, Fone-Tone, brother in  The Years of Fire and Tribulation, stony-tall as Gibralter, deep as the Mariannas, fighter jock to the bone; four-ship low-level, NORDO, rejoin, ground scar in the Arizona desert, forever a ground scar; some scars you don’t want to heal or forget because once the map’s lost, where’s the treasure?

And Lloyd? How could you? How could it be you, a hundred cat-shots, and this? There’s a place, a reason, find it or not but it’s etched in the sky like the fire of a galaxy a light year ago, but still glimmering.

More. There are more, will be more. So much to see, but you don’t want to see too much–the galaxy finds a spot for every spark eventually. Canvas unframed, you can see without looking, and the end is always the same. You know, in your own life, your own sky, damn well what I’m talking about.

Like the Dipper to your back, the ghostly characters before you reveal that. South, lower, slower. Right side up and back inside, to the “now” demanding the reconciliation of your 600 miles per hour across the ground and your miles high above it.

Like an endless sigh, to the earth again, to the light. Huge wheels, concrete, everything slows–for now. Which really isn’t so long, is it?

Heading west at 40,000 feet, looking south: cold air to the right, warm to the left; a line of boomers in between.


NW A-320, a thousand feet above.

Boomer sunset.


11 Responses to “Night Flight: Turning the Darkness Upside Down.”

  1. The post brilliant as always… but the first this weeks flight picture? As always stunning and breath taking!!!!I still do not know if it is the pictures or the words I continue to return for!!!

  2. eldon johnson Says:

    Eloquent and sad. Great writing Chris.

  3. Captain,

    What a beautiful and touching tribute to your friends! They, like the heroes in Greek myths, are forever honoured with a place in the heavens. I hope you always have your “night flights” and commune with them.

    Recently, I- too -have thrown some jewels into the night sky. I hope one day, I can (tearfully) seek out my personal constellation and reflect on the fond memories. I’m not ready yet.

    Like the previous posters said, brilliant and eloquent writing. Love the photos too.

    • I’m glad you and the others “got it;” I knew you would. Everyone has things they encode in that place where dark is really light, up is down. It’s almost a down payment on the eternity of both we all find our way to some day. Nice to know there are friends there, then, now and ever, don’t you think?

      And let me go one step further: you own this blog. Sure, it’s “for” everyone and anyone. But it belongs to you, and “Blackwatertown” and “Woman” and me and every person who reads and invests themselves and lives the metaphor in what ever way it fits them individually.

      This blog is like my band: everyone’s welcome to sit in, bring and play what you want, how you want. But as soon as someone says, “No, wait–that’s not how it should go, it’s like this . . .” they’re tossed out, never to return (we’ve had to do that a few times) because everyone has a part in the melody, but no one has the right to tell them what it is.

      We ain’t nobody’s backup band–there or here. There are plenty of straight-laced techno pilot blogs–I subscribe to some–they’re the “cover bands” of aviation writing. Fine, as far as that goes.

      That’s not what this is–JetHead’s a jam of ideas and images and ownership by the living out what you read in the way it makes sense for you. Who can tell you that–besides yourself? Who has a right to say, “No, wait–it should be like this . . .”

      Because it SHOULD go whatever way it means the most to YOU, and me, and those who aren’t afraid to think without a frame on the canvas.

      Anything that disrupts that really isn’t welcome here and I’ll weed it out when I find it.

  4. The Bard of AA has come through again. Well done my boy.

  5. blackwatertown Says:

    I love the concept of the stars as the field of memories and dreams and markers, rather than some grounded field of stones. It’s comforting.
    Also – thanks for your kind comment.
    It’s always good to visit here – and sometimes awesome (in the original sense of the word).

  6. Captain C

    It’s a given your writing is where the Concorde flew – above the rest!

    You’ll see my blog contrail at a much lower flight level.
    Yes, it’s a “straight-laced” straight and level pilot blog.

    But as any professional pilot knows, “never mock another pilot’s plane.” I guess that goes for fellow aviation blogs. And as you previously mentioned, “there’s no shortage of stick and rudder narratives…I pulled back and we went up.”

    But you and I both know….we all have to start somewhere and that’s… “from the ground up.”

    Good luck in weeding out the “cover bands” of aviation writing and happy blogging up at that altitude. ☺

    Captain D

    • My apologies, Doug–no offense intended; yours is one of several flying blogs I read regularly because it’s very good and I enjoy the hell out of it.

      And I actually play drums in a cover band–it’s what people want to hear, rather than what I play on lead guitar in my own band. There’s a place for both–that was my point. And there’s no place for the critics who say “stop that, and start playing covers.” Or worse, tell others what they should or shouldn’t listen to.

      Thought I’d bring that point out because of some inappropriate comments directed not only at this type of subject focus on an aviation blog, but also at those who appreciate this type of writing.

      I am a regular reader of yours and recommend it as a link on my first page. There’s room for all writers–and readers in the aviation blogosphere.

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  7. Hey,

    You’re absolutely right about ‘your band’. Couldn’t add anything more!
    I love your blog!


  8. Chris

    Phraseology. As you know…if you get it wrong in aviation there can be dire circumstances. I guess in a way it implies to blogs or anything in life for that matter. From your personal email (thanks for going out of your way) and from others I now understand what you meant. It wasn’t “aviation blogs” you had an issue with, but the “commenters/readers” they attract.

    Sorry for inducing turbulence. The seat belt sign is off.

    Captain Doug

  9. Thought I’d bring that point out because of some inappropriate comments directed not only at this type of subject focus on an aviation blog, but also at those who appreciate this type of writing.

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