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.


25 Responses to “2012: An Airline Pilot’s View”

  1. Thanks for the views, both aloft and within.

  2. Another good article with a , “Pie In The Sky”, bonus. Have a very Happy New Year and as always, Fly Safe.

  3. Thanks so much for your posts. Glad to have begun following in 2012 and certainly look forward to your 2013. LSP

  4. Beautiful post and beautiful photos as always. Happy New Year 2013!

  5. Tim Perkins Says:

    For those of us who dream of having your “office” but never will be there, thanks for letting us slip into the left seat occasionally.

  6. Luc Coulombe Says:

    Happy New Year Chris. Thank you for sharing your world with us wannabes pilots.

  7. Randy Sohn Says:

    Re the photo of the west Texas dust storm/clouds at LBB, made me remember the fall of 1956 at Reese, was up in the control tower at LBB and clearly remember reading a teletype pilot report, “BNF airliner reports blowing mud at 21,000′ west of AMA”.

  8. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. I really enjoy reading your posts and seeing the photos. All the best in 2013.

  9. What wonderful images! Your passion for flying, and the beauty you see every day you’re up there, reminds me a lot of my passion for storm chasing. So many beautiful scenes that most people never see (or notice). Thanks for this!

  10. Jerry Sterner Says:

    Another great post Captain Manno. I hope the next year is good to you. (and your airline) Keep up the posting, since Flight Level 390 went down yours is about the only one I follow

  11. Shikhar Joshi Says:

    Great Blog Chris,
    Following you since Autumn 2011..
    Happy Holidays 😀
    God Bless 🙂

  12. Lisa Storrar Says:

    Thanks for sharing!! Safe travels in 2013 🙂

  13. roberthenryfischat Says:

    Reblogged this on robert's space and commented:
    see wired by nasa.

  14. Lovely photos! I remember one October taking off from YUL through awful winds that tossed our little Baby Bus all over the place. I thought the end was near! After about 10 minutes of this shake ‘n bake we punched through and I was looking at the most beautiful sight I’d seen since my Concorde flight. The clouds below were black and puff shaped. The dusk sky was black above but the horizon was that gorgeous mixture of reds, golds and blues. Breathtaking. Thank you, Chris, for taking me back to that night!
    Oh, yes, I was an onboard librarian at Air Canada and Jazz and, yes, I remember the days of paper manuals! Lugging bags with 30lbs of books in them up the bridge stairs in all kinds of weather to ensure you guys had the most up-to-date references. Those were the days! I sure miss it. Retired now.

  15. Thank you, Chris, for keeping this great blog going…you give us such variety! Don’t go anywhere, okay? 🙂 This geek needs ya.

    My family wishes your family the very best in 2013!

    P.S. I agree with Brian (love the pie in the sky too)

    • To you and yours as well, Miss G!

      I have no plans to go anywhere, although the dissertation has slowed me down on all other writing. But that will be finished by spring and JetHead will be back on the front burner once again.

      Just got the annual stats from WordPress; 170,000+ plus visitors in 2012. I don’t plan to leave anybody behind in 2013!

  16. AA Retired Says:

    Beautiful, Chris. The stuff I miss. Thanks for keeping the rest of it low key.

  17. Lego Spaceman Says:

    The clouds on Mt Rainier form due to the moist air going over the mountain and the colder temps at the higher altitudes.

    This seems silly to me. Rainier sticks out so much that it seems that the air would go around the mountain instead of over it. Maybe that is why the lenticular clouds aren’t very large.

    Also, welcome back pie in the sky. It’s been a while.

    • The weather up there is pretty benign most of the time due to the Pacific air currents. I lived in Tacoma for two years and only heard the distant rumble of thunder one time. Beautiful, stately mountain ranges all around.

  18. Excellent photos. THANKS for sharing.

  19. Amazing photos and beautiful post. Thanks for sharing a different perspective of a flight – it’s fascinating! Happy new year!

  20. Beautiful photos. Keep the posts coming, I really enjoy read them. I’m in the pursuit of one day to have that view from my office. Happy new year 🙂

  21. Wow, amazing photos!

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