2012: An Airline Pilot’s View
Just thinking last night, flying back to DFW: where has this year gone?
It’s been another year and thousands of miles below the nose of the Boeing, one flight hour at a time, about 800 hours in 2012. The view has been everything from stunning to mundane, inspirational to humbling, but all of it good. Where to begin? How about this week?
Winter time in West Palm Beach: the winds come out of the north, meaning you land to the west–which means a long final approach over the Atlantic, facing westbound into the blazing sunset. That small cloud schooner happened by at just the right time to offer the perfect sun shade on approach.
Rewind just to last week. Punched out of a cirrus deck at 38,000 feet and looking down . . . what the heck is that?
A West Texas dirt sky: dust and grit from the Panhandle swirling up over 15,000 feet, engulfing Lubbock, Texas. A late year dust storm, powerful and thick. Returning from the coast five hours later, in the darkness, all you could see below was a dull glow of city lights through the red cloud still swirling there.
Of course no look back at 2012 would be complete without a shot of the Utah badlands, a view you just can never tire of:
And I never, ever tire of watching Bryce Canyon, Utah, repaint itself according to the sunlight and the season.
Spring of 2012 brought beautiful weather to the Pacific Northwest, of course, making for some stunning mountain views:
I never tire of the views of Mt. Ranier, always covered in some type of cirrus veil. Colder temps? Northern winds and climate? Not sure why, but the sky is usually calm, with decks of stately cirrus laid across the sky from horizon to horizon.
Spring also brought wildfire season, and 2012 had plenty in Colorado:
Seems like the fires went on longer than ever this year, but maybe not. And storm season made spring and summer the usual challenge, although the Boeing radar and the ability to cruise at higher altitude makes the season easier to manage:
Sometimes you just have to go off the magenta line and plot your own course, you know? And despite all the technology plotting course lines for you, there’s nothing wrong with a sailor’s eye finding the best path through the towering canyons:
That’s kind of what being a pilot is all about, isn’t it? Freedom you just don’t have on the earth or the sea, for that matter. Still, that’s nothing new, is it? But here’s what is:
Technology at the cutting edge: American Airlines is the first and only airline certified by the FAA to use all digital flight charts and publications in all phases of flight. So there’s my iPad with the most up-to-date approach depictions and at a touch of the correct tab, any chart I need–rather than the 2,000 (literally–not kidding) pages of flimsy paper in several volumes we used to carry. “Welcome to the curse,” a First Officer said to me when I became one myself. He meant the tedious posting of chart revisions twice a month–and at last that curse has been lifted.
Not “new” on board this year but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them: the hard-working professionals on the far side of the cockpit door. Another year of friends, laughing, commiserating, being a crew together coast-to-coast. Once you do it, you’ll know what I mean.
Which of course brings up–at least for me–pie in the sky. A lot this year; how can that be bad?
Fall brought those sunset departures from the California shore, explaining where the term “Gold Coast” came from if you bother to look:
And of course I always do–and if you follow this blog, you know I share the view with you. And here’s that magic moment, the million dollar view, cruising east at dusk: the sky burns red and fiery orange, halfway from day to night, the moon caught rising in between:
Not all of the stunning views are as noble or uplifting. The sad stuff gets your attention in a different way.
After super-storm Sandy, here’s the approach to JFK, crossing the shore: no lights, no power, beach sand driven blocks inland.
Heartbreaking to see, but there’s no avoiding it is there?
That’s where sunset comes as a relief. From the darkness comes time to reflect, to savor the perfect world humming around you in the cockpit. Regardless of where you’ve been, it’s always coming home that’s the best. It’s been a great year, great flying–looking for more of the same in 2013. And if you stick around this blog next year, you’ll have the inside view, too.
See you then.