Archive for the night Category

The Epistle oF light.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, jet flight, night with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by Chris Manno


The Orion Nebula contains a very young open cluster, known as the Trapezium due to the asterism of its primary four stars. Two of these can be resolved into their component binary systems on nights with good seeing, giving a total of six stars.

The basic framework for the moving target that is flight comprises an architecture of anchors and change: weights dictate speeds which prescribe duration and altitude. The wooden stake in the ground, sure as the tenuous GPS alignment reluctantly tolerating the gusty wind bucking the 40 foot tall rudder assembly, will be ancient history as soon as we move. But to know where we’re going, we have to know where we started from.

The stars of the Trapezium, along with many other stars, are still in their early years. The Trapezium may be a component of the much larger Orion Nebula Cluster, an association of about 2,000 stars within a diameter of 20 light years. Two million years ago this cluster may have been the home of the runaway stars AE Aurigae, 53 Arietis, and Mu Columbae, which are currently moving away from the nebula at velocities greater than 100 km/s.

737 night

And drawn as moths to the flame, pairs and singles, Noah’s children march aboard, halfway to somewhere, their presence now a light reflected forward, as meaningless in the here-and-now as the two-by-two was in the pouring rain, boarding the ark: it’s all about the retelling later.

A nebula is an interstellar cloud in outer space that is made up of dust, hydrogen and helium gas, and plasma. It is formed when portions of the interstellar medium collapse and clump together due to the gravitational attraction of the particles that comprise them. The gravitational forces between particles is directly proportional to the their masses, remember?

“Now” is a moving target, mortgaged by “then,” which in the preflight cockpit is more about “there:” the air nautical miles divided by pounds of fuel burned per each. The symphony of electrons conjures an opus of transformation: if everyone plays his part, there will be a smooth harmony of fire, speed and distance, underscored by dollars transferred and spent, buoying steel and fuel, blood and bone, suspended across the night sky like the fiery tail of a comet from here to there.

When a star burns through the last of its fuel, it may find itself collapsing. For smaller stars, up to about three times the sun’s mass, the new core will be a neutron star or a white dwarf. But when a larger star collapses, it continues to fall in on itself to create a stellar black hole.

It’s always the “after” from which meaning is made. For the ark, that’s arrival. For the pilots, that’s enroute, the record inscribed across the night sky, 500 degree exhaust gas boiling away at -55 C ice crystaline air, backlit by the moonlight as a spider web across the star-flung dome. Keep the fires burning.

Black holes formed by the collapse of individual stars are (relatively) small, but incredibly dense. Such an object packs three times or more the mass of the sun into a city-sized range. This leads to a crazy amount of gravitational force pulling on objects around it. Black holes consume the dust and gas from the galaxy around them, growing in size.

And for those left behind, like those yet ahead, the unseen passage is one of either anticipation or regret, of bidding welcome or goodbye, of time spent or lost. You can’t not feel the diminishing weight of both, lighter the farther and higher you go. No hands hold you, just wings and lift, time and tide, fire and ice in balance. Passage.

Orion’s light is either a promise given or a wish fulfilled, depending on where you see it and when. At light speed, the trapezoid assigned to the mythology, the murky nebulae burning within, left home in the time of Alexander the Great, overtaking you at 41,000 feet a couple millennium later. Either way it’s a lie–a now from then, seen light years away; then as if now.

al great

Just like your flight: you’ve crammed a million footsteps into the counting of minutes rather than lifetimes, footless, seven miles high, an ark sailing on a rolling tide of time and place, borne of fire, trust, hope, and light.

For those in the back, the metal ark is but conveyance. For you, more an arc inscribed across the night, more than passage but less than permanence. Like the silent, obedient constellation, the gas blue light won’t matter until it’s examined in retrospect. You live in the passage, grant the flight its own universal time and space, its million shards of where and when and ultimately, why. But it’s never about “there,” for you. Only leaving there, and flight across darkness: night, the shadow of life, then home, the nexus oF light.

cockpit night

After the storm: fly home–but not so fast.

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight crew, jet, jet flight, night, pilot, weather, wind shear with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2011 by Chris Manno

After the divert to Wichita Falls, time to gas and go: Flight Dispatch says DFW is accepting arrivals. That’s all we needed to hear–we’re refueled and refiled with Air Traffic Control. As soon as we’re released by tower, we’re in the black night and headed south to DFW at 280 knots.

Would be flying faster, but 280 is the best turbulence penetration speed and though the ride’s not overly bumpy, the latticework of cloud to cloud lightning straight ahead promises roughness. We’re making a beeline for one of the four arrival corner posts for DFW at 10,000 feet.

Things will happen fast on a 70 mile flight, and the First Officer is flying: he’s sharp, and that allows you as captain to oversee all of the preparation, the checklists, the navigation and most importantly, the radar. Approaching midnight, we’re now 12 hours into our pilot duty day, but regardless, there is still the same roster of tasks to be accomplished–and they don’t care how tired you are, they must be accomplished correctly.

Getting a good look at the current radar sweep and things look ugly. The cells have broken up and are scattered like mercury all over the place. The DFW airport arrival information is automated: weather, winds, runway–all printed out from the on-board data link printer. The DFW info says landing south–so you set up frequencies, courses and descent altitudes in both sides of the Flight Management System, as well as both pilot panels. While he flies, you brief the approach.

Have to swing wide around storms–request a descent to get below scud blow-off you can’t see on radar, but which you detect because it’s blocking the pattern of ground lights you know should be Denton. As soon as we begin descent, the master caution light glares in front of your face, along with a pressurization clue. A quick glance at the pressurization control panel above the F/Os head shows we’re holding cabin pressure fine, it’s just that we never reached the programmed cruise altitude and the computer is confused.

“Off schedule descent,” you say, punching off the warning light. Reset the cruise altitude to 5,000, which is lower than where you are, to let the computer recalculate and catch up.

“Radar vectors to 35 Center,” says the air traffic controller. Dammit–we set everything up for a south landing per the DFW info.

“ATIS says DFW landing south,” you say, making sure there’s absolutely none of the annoyance you feel in your voice.

Pause, wherein you can imagine the controller saying to someone the ATIS is wrong. “I’ll check on that, but plan north.

Redo the courses, rebrief for the F/O, reinsert the proper approach in the FMS and extend the centerline for intercept. Complete the checklist down to configuration, validate the Heads Up Display Data. Staring at the lights of The Ballpark in Arlington miles south, doing the math on descent rates versus final turn altitude based on a left turn thereabouts. Looking good.

A loud snap as the autothrottles kick off. “I’ve got them back on,” you say, reaching up to reinstate the system. F/O nods, concentrating on flying.

Now ask yourself why they tripped off. No failures annunciated–they wouldn’t have reinstated with an internal failure. And it’s not that choppy. Has to have been a power interruption. Glance up–sure enough, there it is.

The left generator bus source is gone. Is it the generator or the bus that’s failed? Regardless, we’re flying with only one electrical source–the right generator. Not good.

First instinct is to start the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), a small jet engine in the tail that can provide electrical power and pressurization air–but wait.

If the fault is in the left electrical bus, adding the APU generator could either cause a fire, or take down the APU generator. Be patient.

Although you know the right generator has assumed the power load–so the bus must be okay–why take chances?

“We’ve lost the left generator,” you say, reaching for the Quick Response Handbook. “I’ll take care of it. “F/O nods.

The procedure confirms what you deduced. Within a couple minutes, you have the APU running and power restored. Follow the QRH procedure exactly; better to have two electrical sources–if you’re down to one, if it fails, it’s going to get dark and ugly: flying with limited instruments and systems on 30 minutes of battery back up. In the weather, at night. We can do it–but would rather not.

Left base turn from an angling downwind. Mike’s doing a good job–he sees the bad angle and is slowing and calls for dirtying up with flaps and gear. The runway’s coming into view on my side. Good altitude and speed; the intercept of glideslope and course will be fine.

Tower calls the winds “130 at 18.”

Dammit. The limit is 15. With the 50 degree offset, we’re close. Legal, but you don’t like flirting with limits. Even on a long runway.

“Continue,” you say to Mike’s inquiring look–he’s done the math too. But you’re just about decided to abandon the approach. But no need to rush anything. Rushing is never good.

“I’ll rebug you to 40” you say, changing configuration as required by the tailwind, “and brakes 3.” He nods.

At a thousand feet, it’s clear that the tailwind is unstable and variable–you can tell from our ground speed versus the airspeed.

No good. “Let ‘s take it around,” you say. He nods, adds power–the descent stops.

“Here comes flaps 15,” you recite the litany for him,”positive rate, gear coming up. Missed approach altitude set.”

“American 245 is on the go,” you tell the tower.

“Fly runway heading, maintain two thousand,” says the tower.

Fine; nearly there–reset the throttles from N1 to speed, reset both FMC from climb to capture. Reset both course windows and MDA–because we’re going to land south. Reprogram the FMS for the 17s.

“I’m going to teardrop you out to the east, then bring you around for a final to the south,” says the controller. “Can you do that?”

Eyeballing the radar: nastiness to the northeast, but there’s some room.

“Give us five miles,” you answer. No need to rush–make this correct, hit every step. F/O nods. “Then turn us back in.”

Slowing, getting dirty. Left sweeping turn.

“Do you see the runway?” asks tower. You do–you give a thumbs up to Mike. He nods.

“Affirmative,” you answer.

“Cleared visual approach, cleared to land, 17 Right.”

Confirm the Right runway freqs, MDA and courses set. “I’ll bug you back up to 30,” you say, changing configuration again: don’t need a whole lot of drag without the tailwind and with a possible wind shear. Mike nods.

Glideslope is rough. You’re on a hair trigger to go around again–there’s plenty of fuel to hold or go north to Oklahoma City or south to Austin. Be alert, be patient.

Increasing wind; good sign–but it has to stay within controllable limits. Mike’s doing a fine job wrestling the jet onto glidepath. The Boeing is a steady machine–an MD80 would be a bucking bronco in this.

Below 500 feet–you’re call: it’s stable enough, we’re good. If Mike wants to go-around, we sure will, but we’re good.

Over the threshhold, Mike puts it down; speedbrakes deploy, he yanks in full reverse, the jet slows.

“Nice job,” you say, taking over as we slow to 80 knots.

After landing checklists, taxi in. Careful, do the job right all the way to the chocks. Engine shutdown.

Passengers deplaning, our shutdown checklists complete. You’re writing up the left generator in the maintenance logbook, a mechanic is already on the jetbridge waiting.

“You can take off, Mike,” you say, “I’ll finish up here.” Meaning you’ll do the final “after all passengers have deplaned” checklist items to power down the aircraft. That’s a courtesy you do–you’re the captain, you leave last. He did a great job tonight–respect that.

We fist bump, he leaves.

You finish up: packs off, recirc fans off, cockpit power off. Grab your bags. Slip out of the gate area past the 160 passengers who have no idea what transpired between Wichita Falls and their safe landing a few minutes ago. Nor should they–that’s what they pay you for.

Fresh air feels good, outside waiting for the employee bus to the parking lot. Nearly 1am, got to get home and get some rest–flying again tomorrow.

Mach Speed Tumbleweed

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight attendant, flight crew, hotels, jet, layover, life, night, passenger, pilot, travel, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2011 by Chris Manno

A battle rages in silence. You don’t want to get involved–but you are, you realize slowly.

Exactly where is it 5am?

You don’t want to know.

No, I do. The sinking feeling. It’s not home, is it?

Told you you didn’t want to know.

Damn. Reno?

No, that was last night.


The night before.

Palm Beach. Not home. Home got away–again.

How many miles from here to home? Not distance–I get that–flown, I mean? How many more? Flight hours like matchsticks: light ’em off one by one, watch them burn down, then out. Slowly, in the glow, you get it: midway through a four day. Just what you didn’t want to wake to. But do.

So, that was last night: late, always, bone tired too from hotel sleep somewhere else.

That’s here, middle of the night here, before you messed it up. Spartan. Antiseptic. Do not disturb. A trail of clothes from the door to the bed–worry about everything else tomorrow.

Sleep, and it’s that dream again: you can find the gate, find the plane, but there’s no door from the gate to the plane. Which is the way home, of course. No way home–just the waiting place, halls of marked time and any old place.

Gertrude Stein nailed it: “there’s no there there,” in that space between places, the waiting–the island between going and getting there. Or getting home. There’s the irony: for those who make their living going, and carrying others who are on the way too, the idyll would be staying, not going, being home. No door.

So wake up then. Going to need goggles and a snorkel to wade through this one. Not the stuff you’ll think about later–the weather, the jet, the fuel. Rather, another day not home.

Good dog–you’re ready to swim in the deep blue.  People will ask you questions, like “What’s it like to be a trained dog working in the blue every day?” Or maybe they’ll have something equally inane more for each other than for you, like “we’ll let him on” or “we need him” as you try to slip by them going to the office. Funny stuff, right? More likely, though, they have to go to the bathroom; they want to share that with you, assuming you have a constant awareness of toilets and locations, like you do with bailout airfields and low fuel contingencies in flight, right? Funny stuff.

Just put all the pieces back together; everything back into the suitcase like the crammed heap that sprang out twelve hours ago. Kind of like behind the scenes Disney: Mickey puts on his fiberglass head with the permanent smile–then out he goes. Down to the lobby, out to the curb: vantastic! Off to whatever aeropuerto in whatever city.

Just get me to the gig. Snake through the masses herding across the wide-open plains, grazing, mooing; hoofbeats at a shuffle.

The ants go marching out again, hurrah. Step around, mind the Mickey head. Wind your way through; heft the bags, schlep the bags, onward to the gate. Show your ID: yeah, it’s Mickey. Let him on board.

Nothing purtier than precious metal, all eighty tons of her:

She’s your big ol’ dance partner, every song, every leg, and just like you: all about the getting there–but not staying. Folks trundle off, more trundle on; makes no difference. We do our same dance steps, carefully and deliberately without art. Over and over–same old song. You know the words:

We say Mass for the Earth, the litany of escape–then we leave, but everyone still in their pews, seatbelts on and tray tables stowed. Then the aluminum conga line–every-buddy-CON-ga– to the runway. This:

In this:

Into the blue, the higher the better: the sky is denim, comfy as jeans. Good for hanging out, soft, simple, warm, comfortable. The good feel when you put them on.

Unpressed and rumpled–doesn’t matter; a little faded, all the better. That’s cruising, ain’t it? It’s like Saturday against your skin. That’s the jailbreak from the suitcase–off with the polyester, and Mickey’s head; jeans, amen.

Soft and comfy as the sky and nearly as distant: nobody knows you without the Mickey head on, and that’s the best. You’re a ghost, anywhere, everywhere–somewhere where no one knows you, and in the middle of the night you won’t remember where anyway.

You just know what it’s not–home; and where it’s not–HOME. And just close your eyes because soon enough, once again: another passage. Sleep.

“. . . life is a watch or a vision

Between a sleep and a sleep.”

–Algernon Swinburne

Songs In The Key of Flight

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, cartoon, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, night, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2010 by Chris Manno

It’s definitely the Giddy-Up Chorus howling out there on the wings as soon as you press that Takeoff Power button on the throttles. Last eastbound flight out of Las Vegas, so we’re pretty light–everyone’s either already beat it out of town or is still in a casino somewhere trying to break even. Although they don’t realize it, in Vegas that’s winning.

Funny thing to pop in and out of that world so briefly. For me, it’s all about getting in between the other air traffic and the mountains, then getting out as quickly as practical, around those mountains, then climb as high as possible to ride that jetstream tailwind home.

During preflight, the cockpit sounds like an orchestra pit before the show, with hydraulic pumps whining like a string section warming up, the kettle drum thud of cargo loading, then huge doors locking shut. The forward galley door whomps open with a blast of fresh air and the clatter of catering carts trundling on and off the plane. Two flight attendants try to squeeze into the cockpit and huddle against the swirl of cold night air, mixing their chatter with the drone of air traffic control on two radios on speakers overhead.

We’re all in matching polyester costumes, waiting for the curtain as the audience troops in: the edge of night travelers, worn out from whatever they did in Las Vegas, resigned to arrive on the east coast at dawn–I’ll take them halfway there, then hope to dodge the wrong way drunk drivers on Airport Freeway to get home myself after midnight. It’s an easy crowd leaving Las Vegas–out of money, out of vacation, often hung over. The exact opposite of the inbound crowd.

Had lunch myself hours ago and a thousand miles away. My fortune read “you will travel with the person of your dreams.” Is that what they’re doing in the back? It’s hard to remember when you’re work is travel that in back, it’s a passage to somewhere or from somewhere and some one. And the person of my dreams is two time zones away, getting ready for sleep, but never too far from my mind.

Huh? My First Officer? Guess I won't use the lotto numbers.

We’re going through our lines carefully, checking that everything’s in order, all systems performing as they’ll need to for the next thousand miles. He reads, I check, I answer, he confirms. It’s all too complex to just have at it. We’re careful now so as not to have to be “resourceful” later.

The agent announces curtain time: “Everyone’s on board–okay to close up, Captain?”

I thanks the agent for the good job boarding the flight–whether it’s good or not, I just know they’re hassled and need a pat on the back. Then it’s show time: places, everyone, places! Lap belts, shoulder harnesses, crank the rudder pedals forward to get full throw. Don the headset, adjust the boom mike and wait for the cue from the ground crew. “Chocks are pulled, everything’s buttoned up, we’re ready for brake release when you are, Captain.”

Glance to the right at the warning lights on the overhead panel–trust but verify–to ensure all the cargo doors are closed. “Brakes are released, stand by.”

Glance to the right again. “He says they’re ready downstairs.” That’s the First Officer’s cue to call ground control for pushback clearance.

And now it’s time to strike up the band. “Turning number Two,” I say, hacking a clock to time the start sequence.

Gonna take a big bite out of the night sky, aren't we?

Valves respond to the switch I just twisted, channeling high-pressure air into the huge turbine section. It begins to moan, vibrate, whirl; one of my favorite sounds in the whole world: a jet engine starting. Never ever tire of that sound.

The left engine joins the symphony. Numbers tell me they’re both in tune: 20% N1, 40% N2, 600 degrees Centigrade at idle, 800 pounds of fuel per hour. Oil pressure. Hydraulic pressure. Electrical power from the generators. Amen.

They’re a perfectly tuned duet, and they’ll spin at 30,000 rpm for as long as we have jet fuel and oil, the latter as much for cooling as for lubrication. From behind, a virtual blast furnace: I’ve seen it, taxiing behind another 737; a devilish smelter glow–you can actually see the ring of fire if you’re close enough.

We join the parade of floats with winking lights rolling toward the runway. More numbers along the way in a litany of challenge and response: planned weight, actual weight, power settings, speeds, distances, maximums, engine failure routes and safe altitudes, minimum climb gradients, hold downs, departure speeds, obstacle clearance altitudes, initial level off. Crosschecked, crammed into my head.

The cockpit’s dark save the instrument glow. I transition to ghost vision, as I call it: the Heads Up Display–or HUD. Everything on my primary flight display is projected on the glass in front of my face so I never have to look down in flight.

But instead of the multiple colors that help separate function, everything’s a ghostly glowing greenish aqua. And it swims: the airspeed tape runs upward like the dollar signs on the gas pump. Then when we lift off the right side begins to jump with altitude and vertical velocity.

Can’t get lost in it, mesmerized–there’s a jet to be flown. Take it in subconsciously, they tell you, just fly and hold that in your peripheral vision.

It’s all in your head as you roll down the runway chanting to yourself fire, failure, fear or shear. After 80 knots, that’s all you’re stopping for, so it’s all you’re looking for: engine fire, engine failure, a “fear” in my judgment that some structural failure has left the jet unflyable (good luck determining that at 150 mph) or windshear.

Luke, I'm your FATHER . . .

I’d rather handle everything else in the air. Since we’re lightweight tonight, when I shove the throttles up and hit the “TOGA” (Takeoff-Go-Around”) power button, we leap forward. The wing slices the air and rises. A half dozen computers sing to themselves and each other, figuring fuel flow, engine temperature and pressure, wind speed and direction, ground speed–the engines snarl and buck.

We lift off.

Ghost vision tells me the lift vector, the flight path, the course, the wind, our speed, our climb performance, compass heading, on-course tracking and deviation and a hundred bits of changing information. Hands and feet on ailerons and rudder, I trace a line in the sky invisible to everyone except for me, and anyone on the ground watching the arc we inscribe in the sky, strobes flashing, running lights and exterior spots like an arc weld in the sky.

I can see it; I live and breathe it, day after day after day. And if you listen, you can hear it too: riding the righteous fire, we sail off in a buzzing roar of high by-pass fanjets hurling us up to the forty-thousand foot level, the final act you can see from the ground: a tiny speck of light that arcs up and away, taking the show far and away at five hundred miles per hour.  A contrail in the moonlight, the song plays on, the chorus that carries us home.

Nightshift: Meditations From A Dark Sky.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, blind faith, cruising, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2010 by Chris Manno

There’s a soundtrack especially for this text.

Click here to download the music, adjust the volume, click play, then return here to read.

Ah, the sun: sneaky devil.

Puts on the same show twice–once at dawn, again at dusk. One’s the same as the other, only in reverse; one followed by darkness, the other brilliance. How are you supposed to know which is the real deal, which the rerun? What’s the day’s main event, darkness or light?

It’s a different world once the sun sinks into the far west leaving the sky empty cold and black.  Happens slowly in a showy way as if the dazzling exit can somehow justify the expectation of an equally brilliant return in a matter of hours.

It’s a major league show no matter where you view it from but especially from six or seven miles up. Because even if the sun sets behind you, the sky spreads the news, repainting the image in case you missed it.

Topside, a quick brush from the crimson lip burning away behind you slaps rouge on the towering boomer ahead. But the sun’s not quite done, still spreading the gold above and over the gathering darkness. That’s the cool thing about a perch seven miles high: you can see the night sneaking in between the sun’s angle over the curve of the earth and the actual horizon.

Twins abound: look at the ghosts below, clouds and their doubles. Like magic, darkness mimes light, twin schooners in flight.

Racing away from the sunset, trailed by the hulking shadows of thunderbumpers behind pointing ahead, monstrous cloud stacks thunder east.

But we’re way too fast in a jet to be caught. But do you think any of the ordinary mortals below see the sunset striated with bruising blue fingers and will put two and two together hours later when the thunder booms and lightning streaks away?

Closer look? Sometimes the sky is so thick with boomers there’s no choice but to pick your way through the darkness with our x-ray vision at least giving you a fighting chance.

Sure, you can slip between the big-shouldered thunderstorms, but they let you know who’s boss and why it’s important that you don’t get too close.

It’s not that I only appreciate the sunset at the expense of the sunrise–I don’t. It’s just that I find little reason to get up early enough (yeah, I used to have to) to see what I know is replaying later anyway.

This could be either, couldn’t it? Except that I’ll tell you that it’s heading west, as we all do. Maybe that’s the point of the light show at the end of the day: reminds you of old times, of the past, of mornings when this tired day was new and all things were possible, all things ahead. That’s all behind you at sunset.

And that’s where everyone’s headed, eventually. Follow the trail, enjoy the show. Not sure, but I think it’s nature’s version of the Faustian cataclysm in Renaissance drama: sound and fury, flash and fire.


Then darkness. Silence opposing the dwindling flash, swallowing the glaring echo of day’s brilliance. All that’s left is the veiny glow of feeble ground lights allowed only after sunset to inscribe a a place on earth.

Sometimes it’s the darkness itself that provides a backdrop for a place born and bred of night. Only dazzling when not competing with the sun, when the absence of light takes away the blemishes and without shadows, grounding everything as if there were no tomorrow, as if it weren’t hopelessly locked between nightfall and dawn like the underworld.

Sometimes, it’s just a nameless town, a place marked by the headlights like strung jewels inching through arteries that map the topography.

And then I always wonder, looking down, who are all these people, and where are they going? What are they doing under their artificial light, earthbound and not noticing the night?

Or maybe they are looking at the sky, seeing our twin strobes as a satellite whizzing soundlessly by miles overhead. Maybe they wonder where we’re headed, who we are way above and so soon, at our jet speed, far beyond the horizon and into the dark unknown.

Either way, we’re all headed traveling the same road. Sunrise, sunset; flash and fury; darkness, dawn, darkness, dawn, the parade goes on and on.

Same show every day: evening’s about darkness, morning–light. Despite the crushing certainty of night, everyone bets on the dawn and no one’s leaving before the last encore.

And so, life goes on; day to day and always. Crafty, that sun is.

The Sky’s On Fire

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, blind faith, elderly traveller, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2010 by Chris Manno

To add audio to your experience, click here, start “Waltz in Blue,” adjust to a comfortable volume, then return here to read. Enjoy.



You can see this, right? I mean if you look:

That’s plain as day–well, late day–when it’s stuck in your face and you open your eyes. In fact I’m half blind squinting  straight into the arc weld shrinking into itself on the fringe of night, folding up the day and running off to the west. But that’s not all that sunset is nor all that’s whisked to the west and away.

Comes up like that too, doesn’t it? It’s the early time, bright golden light warming wings for flight, leaving the dew but taking the chill.

Fresh painted colors so blazing vivid because they’re new, and not just to the day, but also the season: it’s early summer. What a down-to-earth thing, this whole waking up to simple flight in every furious color of the rainbow. The hive’s alive, isn’t it? Launch to the four winds.

And worker bees don’t care about duration. Rather, it’s all about the flight; the getting and carrying and going then putting down. To get and carry some more, crisscrossing the landscape with studious intent. The sky’s full, abuzz, worker bees everywhere.

That’s the engine driven by daylight, roused by the sunrise–alarm clock!–always moving once warm and awake the swarm spreads east to west in the sky. Later is better, to me: I’m senior in the air, which means I don’t get up early any more to fly.

Sure, I vaguely remember “back in the day” when I did, when the coolest thing was dawn on the flight ramp, among the flock of big metal birds fueled and ready to split the air with the roar of jet engines. But this is now and I sleep later since I can; so yeah with the relentless hands of the clock, the dawn is behind me now and almost a piece of nostalgia anymore.

Guess folks leave the nest less wide-eyed the more wake-ups you stack end to end. Slower? Less color? The more comfy chair for you then?

Early, late–whatever the time, you HAVE to fly, to leave the hive eventually and take to the air. That’s what the day brings with the arc of the sun from the first sliver in the east that vanquishes the night. Those were the days, when dawn meant a new day of discovery, not just covering ground. Whatever happened was almost incidental, choreographed by others bigger and further along in their sunlight arc.

And when the light is brightest, the world at it’s hottest brightest best, it seems like moving is all anyone does, and so you fly too, making your rounds in the sky.

Follow them! Move, and move fast, from flower to flower; it’s what you have to do, what everyone does: noon is no time to rest. So we fly, like everyone else. Yeah we do.

So back to my original question: you can see all this unfolding, right? The greater significance of the flight, the ground crossed, the sun chase we never will win? Or am I seeing it because it’s in my face, but for you, only a sidelong glance.

You’re flying too but even though you’re going straight ahead, your only view is from side to side. You aren’t beak-to-beak, chasing the sun, tending the fires and logging the run.

The sun goes down slowly sidelong when you can’t see it slip lower, measuring it not only with the horizon–

–but also with the colors as they fade in the sun’s march with which we can’t keep up. It’s the subtle consolation prize from the lateness of the day: gold, goldeness as if lovely parting gifts: thanks for playing.

You can hardly remember the boldness of late spring cardinal colors–who gets up at dawn anyway, if you don’t have to–in the expiring light of day that slants and shrinks away.

Then you can almost do the geometry and see the arc quietly closing in on the horizon. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you don’t have the pointy end horizon view, or don’t want to.

You have faith in where you’re going and on the way there, a glance outside is enough to see that we’re upright, that you’re still moving blossom to blossom, at least forward. And that’s enough for now anyway, right? Always that “now,” did you notice that?

But sunset’s about “then,” not now; “there,” not here. How many times enmeshed in our busy-bee flight of right now do we really think about “then?” About where that fireball’s headed, taking with it the warmth and the color and the day? Not just the end of flight, but the end of flying?

Colors fade, motion ceases, eventually. Not everyone flies past the golden sunset, you’d have to suppose but who really knows? I just fly the jet for you and though I often wonder what everyone does when they get “there,” I’m too soon taking off again, taking others wherever “there” is for them.

Look, it’s not my place to tell you how to bee–I’m still trying to figure that out myself. I just wanted to give you a heads-up on the revelation that you can only get from the front.

Yeah, the sky’s on fire. But that ain’t all that’s burning.

“Waltz in Blue” is original music by Chris Manno.

Copyright, Cyber-Sonic Music 2010


Bees and Flight, Darkness and Light.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2010 by Chris Manno

Special Note: here’s a soundtrack designed for this essay–you can click on it to play it, then return to this window to read for “the full Monty” if you like.


Daylight is the fountain of youth, and there’s no shortage of seeming noonday above it all westbound.

That’s the way we go, backs to the east and the dawn that’s gone, west to the sun as fast as we can.

We’re younger back there and some of it’s hard to remember: dawn is the time of half awake, of coffee poured and routines started by rote and necessity that give way later to more elaborate undertakings.

Takes time to get your eyes open, to acclimate to the world in general and flight in particular. We’re younger, earlier, closer to the dawn; smaller than now but taking flight nonetheless. Doesn’t seem so long ago until you look back, and then the earlier flights are clearly a different time with different people.

The shine of everything, the newness before a thousand times over makes each seem more like an extra lash of the minute hand rather than a special moment. That was an era of firsts, of an undercurrent of discovery and faith that the cycle would be ever more new and larger ways to fly.

And all of them would last forever. Of course they would, it’s just from that particular momentous “now” that races behind us, linked inextricably to the dawn from which we’re always outbound, they did last forever–it’s just that we didn’t.

Inch by inch, our westbound flight does what we hardly notice as we follow the sun: things change, even as they stay the same. And there’s the conundrum of westbound flight.

The more we repeat the things that were “new” and exciting “firsts,” the less they are that and from the standpoint of time, the less room there is for truly new and exciting as we do diligence to the process. Family. Income. Lifestyle.

Running the machine composed of the endless gears of all that shiny pioneering, they require time and effort that limits the discovery that brought them into our time in the first place.

Still it’s ever westward, tailwind, headwind, bumpy or smooth–we’re on our way, keeping the sun as high as possible over that world of rare, short shelf life newness.

Yet there are those who fly who care little for the clock and the sun that at its highest arc warmed wings best for flight; even the key to navigation in relation to the westbound sun matters little though the routine flight is spectacular and with great purpose.

There’s no fear in this flight, oriented by the sun yet oblivious of the fireball’s second by second dip from the top of the sky, slinking to the west. No thought for the hazards that also awaken with the new day, disguised with jewel-like adornment that is night’s mourning of dawn’s heat, promising nothing but doom.

Relentless, westbound just the same, with lessening notice of the good or bad as the remarkable is subsumed into routine by repetition, blossom to blossom, noon till sundown and onward we fly.

Takes a herculean effort to not give in to the opiate of monotony. Almost have to pinch yourself, remind yourself exactly where you are. To acknowledge that the flight itself is as significant as the destination, maybe even more important: this is the now that’s fleeting, that is relegated over the shoulder toward the vanished forever dawn.

Face it: the cloud swing is moving, just as the sun is, ever west. Looking ahead, it may not seem so but looking down, the illusion is clear.  The gears turn now, but not forever and never the same as “back then.”

Because like the bee’s wings, they cool and move more sluggishly in the diminishing light. Not such a ready flex or easy reach as the day fades, but it’s still easy to underestimate the power of light and loss in the creeping of darkness. As time goes on, that requires more deliberate effort for any creature transcending the automaton-ish, hive-centric bee’s life.

If you do, you won’t be fooled by seemingly carefree flight that is borne more of indifference than courage.  Because what he doesn’t know–but you do–is this: the sun will win this race, fleeing westbound and eventually, leaving you without a shadow. The molten gold near the end is beautiful,

but darkness waits just beyond and as Swinburne warned, “. . . in the end it is not well.”  Bees go somewhere at night and eventually, don’t fly any more. If the sun shines brightest on the liveliest, then this is truly “the rest” of life.

To know or not know that ending won’t matter as much then as it does now while there’s still daytime left. Never mind the bees buzzing unconcerned around the fountain of youth, that’s the promise of light.

Soundtrack: “Stormy,” Chris Manno–Lead, Bass,  Drums.


The bee’s story: I was heading to breakfast in Nashville yesterday, getting ready for another day in the sky. Looked like he was doing the same, which got me to thinking. I’m lucky he didn’t sting me for sticking the camera in his face, but he seemed more interested in his collection business than in me. Or maybe he wanted to be part of this story . . .


Ride the sky home.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, faith, fart, figure skating, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, mile high club, night, pilot, savchenko, travel, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2010 by Chris Manno

There’s a song in my head and it won’t go away. It comes at the top of the slide,

a sloping seven mile glide, ever downward and south toward home. Bound for DFW from the west coast, the captain’s voice my own, says “we’re eighty nautical miles from touchdown in Fort Worth; be on the deck at half past.” and on it drones with the same spiel as ever, but the music gets louder each mile, drowning it out.

It’s a tedious trip west to east to south, like the ride from The Stockyards to Tanglewood, or God forbid, the Far Southwest side on Bryant Irvin where any time of day, never mind rush hour, it seems like forever: there’s just no hypotenuse. East to west, or north to south but not north to southwest in Cowtown, not without a lot of pain and aggravation. But come down easy, that’s how you get home. There are no shortcuts.

The mayor once said with a hang dog tired face it’s so bad you could change a tire in a Cowtown traffic jam and not lose your spot, and he wasn’t even talking about trying the mythical hypotenuse between the North Side and the southwest Mecca of Hulen and Tanglewood. Really, it’s not so far away but just hard to get to yet home is definitely worth the trip.

When I cross the Red River I feel like I’m in the neighborhood and the red dirt pancake of the Panhandle starts the song of home in my head. It’s those comfy notes your hands just know, a cozy riff you can get lost in like a half-awake morning in the Paris Coffee Shop, more aware of what it’s not—and it’s not a modern chain shoveling breakfast—than the bald light, melodious clink of silverware and bracing aroma of strong coffee that it is. Newspapers and linoleum and waitresses who call you “hon” and the comfort of an old tune not redone, not over done; rather, the original from way back when. That’s the music that when you play it, you transcend fingers and frets and keys and notes, simply cruising along with the melody.

A hundred plus people follow me down in the back, some coming home and humming the same tune. Picture my wife’s Paschal mafia: they graduate and scatter to the four winds—but they return sooner or later. So there are the inexorable five year milestone reunions at Joe T’s or the Stockyards Station or anywhere Fort Worth that’ll hold the returning classes; hugs, backslaps, “so good to see you!” but because so many seem to move back eventually, and we see them weekly anyway at Thom Thumb on Bellaire, what’s the big deal?

But that’s everyone humming along—no one needs sheet music; like the song in my head, they probably don’t even know they’re doing it. That’s the song of home you get to sing aloud now and again with others who know it.

We slip between big-shouldered thunderheads marching out of the west toward Fort Worth, casting a bruised blue shadow across a red sky sprawling east like a dome you can see best atop Reata, the bustling crisscross of Sundance Square below. Storm’s coming with one inch raindrops plopping an inch apart, but nothing’s perfect and who knows? Maybe it’ll hold off till we get there, and we need the rain nonetheless.

Things look bigger the lower you go and now the swaths of green and brown and lakes of blue define themselves like individual musical notes on a scale but now you don’t need them: there’s DFW and you’re cleared to land. More hands and feet on the controls, working less with science than art, riding the familiar tune whose beat is like that of your heart. Close your eyes and see the flow of red tail lights snaking down the main artery to Fort Worth.

Slower, down to earth but still, the music will carry you home. The steel and glass on Main and Commerce rise straight backed and tall, waiting. Patience, slowly, mile by mile, the music will carry you home.

“Are we there yet?” Trust Me: You Don’t Want to Know.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, faith, flight, flight crew, jet, life, night, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2010 by Chris Manno

Being the captain, I think I hear it more than most but all flightcrews get a fat share of the “are we there yet” question–especially at night. I might hear it from a bored F/O with a tired butt aching from sitting in the cockpit for hours, or often a call from the cabin from a flight attendant wishing the time until deplaning was an hour or two shorter because passengers are asking them that question over and over.

And I usually answer, “yes we are” and add “open the door and plunge to your death” but only in my head for that last part. But the impact of the question comes not from the answer–in my head or what others hear–but rather in the reality: we don’t really know where we are.

Seriously–and I don’t really care.

Sure, I could press a couple buttons and get a present position reading down to a tenth of a degree of both latitude and longitude–but that reading would look like a car’s odometer with the tenths place rotating as we moved: by the time you can read the position, we’re not there any more anyway.

And at night, there aren’t any visual cues outside to define an approximate position (there’s the Mississippi!) or even direction of flight (the sun’s off our right wingtip, it’s afternoon–we’re headed south) to orient oneself. So it becomes even more glaring that in the absence of any real or definitive position, no one seems to mind plunging through the darkness at the speed of a shotgun blast in a metal tube with thousands of moving parts.

Powered by dual blast furnaces turning gears and wheels at 50,000 rpm. In air so thin you couldn’t breathe and so cold you’d turn blue in a minute. What a curious detachment there has to be in order to step aboard and not worry about where you are for two or three  hours in unsurvivable conditions.

Like that last breath you take before jumping out of an airplane miles up, there’s that confidence that never mind this moment, soon enough we’ll end up where we expected to and presumably, in one piece. I’m not sure if this belief is borne of faith or convenience.

I’ve seen from the cockpit the groups of people and cars below watching us landing and have often thought, as they park and wave from the exact spot where we’d impact if we landed short, that it was the former–a greater faith in the institution of piloting and aviation than I have. Which is a convenience item–bored? Let’s go watch airliners land.

But having lived the human side of piloting from behind the scenes for thirty-some years, I have my doubts, which I’ll share, followed by why I have faith nonetheless. The important thing is not the asking of “are we there yet,” which translates to “how much longer?” but rather the leap of faith that ignores the fact that where we are is not significant.

The very nature of travel–like life itself–is an extended process. While there’s always a point of embarkation in both, the waypoints en route are significant only in relation to the end of the route. How close is it? How soon? And is it where I meant to be?

Which brings me back to the giant step out of an airplane into empty miles below: we’re really counting on the positive result at the end more than the process of getting there.

So here’s the secret: the important part is not where we are, but rather where we’re not. For that, we pick a defined point and measure from it to plot our relationship to the known. For me, it’s always north. In this hemisphere, no matter where I am in the dark or daylight or weather all that matters to me is where North is. Then I can position myself in relation to the Big North, the pole, where I’ll never go but which will always define where I am by comparison.

I’ve done my freefall then looked up to see a tangled mess of a parachute above my head, hard brown dirt racing up from below at terminal velocity. And besides a fleeting thought cursing the chute packer–at least till I recalled packing it myself–the only significance of my unwinding altimeter was not where I was, but rather how much time I had until I inherited the Earth in a big way. And so I really didn’t want to know “are we there yet,” figuring the end would be apparent enough when it happened.

And because I had more important things to worry about along the way–like  pulling the reserve chute ripcord but holding it in tight, then with one end-of-the-world throw downward, hope to God it billows roundly in hundred mile an hour slipstream sufficiently below me to brush aside the tangled mess above me. That would separate me from the ultimate “known” I spoke of above, truly the “there” in the journey that comes only once. And let me tell you, when you’re close to the edge, you suddenly don’t want to ask that question.

Which returns us to the matter of faith or convenience. What you believe in truly is a convenience: from below, spectators watching a plane land or sky divers tempting fate always think they’re immune and immortal since they’re uninvolved in the process. How much more so the passengers in a jet? Even asking demonstrates how little they know of how close to the edge they really are.

And that’s the convenience of faith: you have to believe in the safe passage or you probably wouldn’t take the journey. Never mind the risks of standing in a landing aircraft’s path, much less riding one down. Don’t even think about plummeting from the sky with only your wits and just one backup between you and the hard earth calling you down hard.

That’s life and while yes, I said “you probably wouldn’t take the journey,” you are nonetheless on your way. No real meaning to where we are en route save where we are vis a vis the end of the journey. You can close you eyes and have faith in your own north and where you are in relation to it. You can trust in the choice of conveyance en route. But it’s only if you ignore the perils of the journey and the ultimate destination that you you can ask the foolish question, “are we there yet?” Because really, you don’t want to know the answer.

The good news is this: I’m awake up front; station-keeping at 500 miles an hour and I’ll always know where north is. You can relax in back because I’ve got the clock measuring our fuel and mileage and the right course set in relation to true north and ultimately, a clear focus on throwing the reserve out as effectively as possible to ensure our landing in one piece if need be.

That’s why I really don’t care where we are, only that we’re safely on our way to exactly where we planned to be. And the “plunge to your death” addendum I’ll add silently after your annoying question “are we there yet”–which is really asking “how much longer”–is born of firsthand experience, so trust me when I tell you on both counts: you don’t want to know.

Keep your north in mind always, and know where you are by comparison. Don’t curse the guy who packed your chute–just be sure it works or if not, you have a backup. And if you live your journey fully, you won’t need to know where you are in relation to the end.

That reality is beyond faith and convenience–rather, that’s life. Enjoy the ride. I’ll keep you on course en route, but you really won’t need me to tell you when we’re there.

So do me a favor: just don’t ask.

You and Zeus and a Bug’s Eye View

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, life, night, passenger, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2010 by Chris Manno

If the devil’s in the details, a birds-eye view is a double edged sword in what you can see. Take a look.

Picture this world through a bug’s eye, crawling across a massive green waxy leaf on his way to wherever bugs go in their daily business: sun warming spindly limbs, a day ahead, a day behind this one no different than the last; on we go . . . wait. How the hell did I get stuck here?

Too late. Missed the details obvious from above: the fat dew drops refracting the sunrise into a thousand jewels suspended in a gossamer web. Web, get it? Spider web, certain death–wandered right into it with your head down. Crawling across the ground can be like that: no big picture, connect the dots beyond the here and now; creep along and don’t look up. From the God’s-eye view, far above and really aware? The double-edged sword: you can see things but do little to warn anyone.

Look down. Cowtown! That’s home. Jewels of golden light suspended in an urban web–see the Cat’s stadium lights blazing away in the bottom right corner? A thousand little cheering voices unheard but you know they’re raising a ruckus you’d enjoy if you weren’t a few miles above. You get the view like Zeus’s Daemons, but no voice to warn of the spider.

Which you get to see from where you are.

This giant storm anvil is sailing east to hammer the city and rain out the Cats, sending a thousand ant-like creatures scattering to their cars. They could see the shadows towering and blotting the setting sun–if they looked up and west. If they could see beyond the Klieg lights ringing the field like dew drops on a spider’s web.

If you look carefully from above sometimes you can deduce the story line below.

See the red emergency lights on the northbound freeway lane in the bottom right? Trouble in the ant pile: someone missed the dew drops or the anvil above and came face to face with the spider. Somebody’s not getting home when or how they envisioned and if you look miles north on the road you can almost picture an empty driveway and a phone about to ring.

Typhon, a Greek vision of a Daemon.

Ancient Greeks claimed Daemons were sent to earth to warn mortals of danger, yet we’re anything but earthly, cruising above and right on by at unearthly speed, more like Plato’s darker version of Zeus’s guardian spirits. We’re granted the magic carpet view from above, but altitude and speed come with a vow of silence as the rolling tapestry scrolls away the past in seconds flat. We look ahead, and down.

Somebody’s today was painted with a rusty brush.

Looks hot and dry and rugged; hard to imagine but you know someone did creep right across that rock pile foot by dusty foot not even that many years ago. They took on faith or word of mouth what we can see miles ahead: water.

It had to be there or that would be pretty much it for those creeping bugs, right? You can see that joyous revelation flying east to west: notice how many mountains hide water on their western flank and when they do, how many cities pop up between the mountains and the water. You can see in your mind a raggedy knot of pioneers pausing atop the mountain saying, “Thank god! Water. We’re staying.”

Albuquerque tucked between the mountains and the Rio Grande.

Just nod your heads, fellow Platonic Daemons. We have miles to go and more to see in the silence of our Zeus-like jet flight above the rolling story board of time and place. Time only to notice individual leaves and dew drops and mountains but not a moment to linger on any.

Because here’s my clock, and it rules our ride:

Fuel flow is Godlike in the sky world. I keep the fires burning that shove us through the air high above the world even Plato would have trouble envisioning. And two jet engines are burning like a glass furnace, spinning the turbines at over 32,000 revolutions per minutes and sling-shotting us through air so thin we barely make a sound to those miles below.

You can tell them about it later. Our view, like our ride, is fast but temporary. I know, you weren’t here to look, but rather, just to ride from a certain here to a particular there.

And maybe the view is a sideshow, but the truth isn’t.

Beyond the magic of flight is the genie that is scale: how much more can you see if you can claim the Zeus-view? What’s the mountaintop-valley-river reality in life waiting to be noticed, to be brought down to Earth in a bug’s life? What don’t we see when we’re crawling across a Manzanita leaf or an asphalt spaghetti bowl that would just make all the difference?

I could be Zeus’s good Daemon with the P.A. in the air and point out the view and the viewpoint. But I’d tend more toward the Platonic evolution: what you discover yourself, you own. So I won’t say much.

But the sky-high Daemon view is full of devilish details just for you–for now, for as long as our fuel burn permits. But after you think about it for a while, from now on.

Because when you look with a wider, higher viewpoint, there’s a whole new world buried in the details, right? Might look beyond the bright lights and dew drops and save yourself from being stuck nose to nose with the spider.

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