Christmas Lift 2011

Position: 100 miles south of KMSP
Altitude: 37,000 feet
Groundspeed: 515 knots (592 mph)
Equipment: A320 V2500-A5 engines
Pax-on-Board: 150 + 2 jumpers
Local Time: 0220 hrs

Airborne... Compass heading 091 degrees

It's the beach thing again... Think I am looking west (for as the Led Zeppelin song goes: there's a feeling I get when I look to the west...)

The wife-of-my-youth, laying beside me in the ridiculously skimpy bikini I bought her last summer, is the quintessential, semi-professional, non-revenue, sun bunny. The beer is iced down in a battered but still functional airline-issued six pack cooler (Yep, back in the un-PC days it was SOP for the Chief Pilot's office to give us atta-boy prizes for behaving longer than a couple months; beer coolers, pens, wind breakers, etc.). Little trinkets dropped from Cloud City where the F-4 Gods of Thunder lived... I remember.

How did I get to this beach? Well, obviously I have made it to the top of the seniority mountain where the wise old captains fly day trips, or an occasional run to the sun. A Chicago overnight? You must be kidding!

Reality check... 37,000 feet

The noise of the slip stream is back in my head again. What happened to the world's smallest bikini and coldest beer? Am I awake? Yes, I am awake... The thin air beach fantasy runs wild in the middle of the night. My co-pilot looks like he is awake, but you never know. We are operating a trans-con red-eye in the deepest part of the night. Even though I am a high-time night pilot, my body wants to sleep. It is called circadian rhythm and trying to defy it is most difficult.

My left hand reaches behind the seat and brings the oxygen mask out of its storage box with a loud hiss as the regulator charges the head-gripping harness. The co-pilot jumps when the mask hisses... I laugh and tell him, "Need to wake up. Going on the Os."

The alien-inspired harness slips over my head; I release the finger-pinch valve and the harness squeezes my head sealing my consciousness from the outside world. Automatically, fingers feel for the 100% valve under my chin. It is ON... Pure aviator's oxygen. A deep breath of the cold, gaseous elixir... And I feel better instantly; will stay in the mask until my throat gets too dry.

Overhead, the star fields of the Milky Way are bright and clear. Consider that I am looking through an oxygen-mask face plate and one inch of heated Plexiglas with old eyes. Imagine what the stars must really look like... It is a humbling thought. One hundred miles north, I can see a yellow smudge on the horizon. That is Minnie under a layer of fog.

Underneath, appearing sporadically through a broken cloud layer, the homes of sleeping farm families are disappearing in our six. If they are awake, the faint whisper of V2500-A5 engines passing overhead in their ears...

First hints of twilight...
Finally, the morning light ahead of us.  It is a beautiful pale blue... The pale blue light of Christmas Eve 2011. Payloads are heavy, open seats are non-existent as we haul the kids to Grandma's once again.

Tonight, westbound and looking for Rudolf's nav light...

Life on the Line continues... Crew O2 pressure is 1400 psi.