Midnight Under the Star Dome

Position: Underneath Vega and Over Lincoln
Altitude: 35,000 feet
Groundspeed: 632 mph (550 kts)
Winds Aloft: From 240 degrees at 120 mph(104 kts)
PAX on board: 150
Fuel Flow: 5200 lbs/p/hr

Vega is burning overhead like a bright heavenly beacon reminding me what a tiny, insignificant aluminum entity we are as we pass far underneath this mighty star. Oh Lord, thank you for letting me be an airline pilot. I surely do not deserve it.

We are in an experienced A320 with the small engines, but she is a good aircraft and I have a lot of miles in her... We are kind of like old friends, if that is possible. Our altitude was reached after burning off several tons of kerosene at 31,000 feet; the co-pilot will coax her up to 37,000 feet before we start our descent into KBOS (Boston).

Seven miles beneath her baggage stuffed belly, Lincoln slides past at 10 miles per minute. My face is close to the left side Plexiglas as I strain to see the Lincoln airport's beacon. In the bad old days, I used to co-pilot 737-100 Steam Jets into Lincoln. During the spring and summer you could count on some of the biggest, meanest thunderstorms on the planet being in close vicinity of the airport. During the winter... Intense cold, low visibility, and blowing snow. I had some great Captains (capital C) in those days who taught me valuable lessons about dealing with storms that I still use today.

Now, Omaha is sliding under our nose. The coldest I have ever been on the Line was pre-flighting a Steamer in Chicago, the second coldest was pre-flighting in Omaha.

And then there was that time I was a newbie co-pilot descending into Omaha with one of the most feared captains on the Line, a.k.a. Captain Hatchet. He was the airline's co-pilot weeder during their first year of probation. He worked for the training department and looked for weak pilots before their year was over. It was easy for the airline to get rid of a co-pilot during that year of probation.

I remember it well... 200 overcast, half-mile visibility, snow flurries, and polar air. As we descended into the top of the snow storm our Plexiglas began to fog over on the inside of the cockpit. Captain Hatchet had forgotten to turn ON the heating elements before we departed. From the left seat, the cursing switch tripped. I tried to become as small as possible, but there was not much room in those old jets. In a few seconds, he started laughing as he realized the hilarity of going on instruments from the inside. The embedded Plexiglas heaters cleared the fog quickly... I flew with that captain many times over the following ten years and never had a problem.

I remember...

Back in the flight deck, the co-pilot is looking straight ahead into the black void, that midnight stare of lets see now, what time zone are we in and what time is it at home?. Soft green light from the cathode ray tubes illuminates our world. The slip stream is noisy in this old girl and it seems that night air is more so than sunlit air; probably just my imagination, though. About 1200 miles to KBOS, give or take a 100. We should be arriving twenty early with fifty minutes of Jet-A in the tanks. Not bad...

Life on the Line continues....