Waypoints

Unforgettable morning flight

July 1, 2009

Editor in Chief Thomas B. Haines flies his A36 Bonanza from Frederick Municipal Airport (FDK).

As the big door lifted, light from inside the hangar washed across the dark ramp as if a dam had broken. With the door open, I took a moment to survey the cool early morning. A thin blanket of fog a few hundred feet overhead blocked the starlight, but light from the half-moon set the fog aglow from above.

6:47 a.m. - sunrise over ManhattanMinutes later at around 5:30 a.m., the Bonanza, especially anxious to fly in the crisp air, lifted off into the fog, and almost as soon as I could focus on the gauges, we burst through the top into the moonlight. Ahead, the lights of Baltimore seemed to mirror the stars overhead. Leveling off at 7,000 feet, I felt suspended in the darkness, the air remarkably smooth. Making my way northeast up the Atlantic coast toward Boston, the seaboard seemed to continue forever. Soon, Atlantic City, New Jersey, crested the horizon, the casinos creating their own glow even at this early hour. To my right, the barrier islands near Toms River interrupted the reflection of the moon over the still ocean. To my left, the hulking blimp hangars at Lakehurst Naval Air Station seemed to heave themselves out of the dark ramp.

7 a.m. - sunrise over ManhattanAs usual during the wee hours, the controllers seemed especially accommodating and cheerful. Apparently, they had drunk their coffee. The frequencies were often quiet for minutes at a time, punctuated by calls from FedEx and UPS pilots hauling the nation’s goods to airports big and small.

With New York City glowing ahead, the skies to the east turned from dark to ashen. By the time I crossed over John F. Kennedy International Airport and turned toward Long Island, the skies to the east were glowing orange. At 7 a.m. on this late winter morning, a crest of the sun slipped above the horizon, and then quickly the full, blinding disk emerged, casting a dark orange glow above and black across the water.

7:01 a.m. - sunrise over ManhattanWithin minutes, the orange glow of sunrise gave way to the soft light of dawn in a pale blue sky, and another day was under way. The rising sun apparently awakened pilots everywhere, because soon the frequency was humming with traffic and the New York and Boston controllers stepped up their cadence to keep up. The newbies in the system never knew the glorious event they missed that morning.

Ask me why I fly—yes, for the convenient transportation, but also for moments like this; for the chance to witness sights that those who never take wing will never even know exist.

E-mail the author at thomas.haines@aopa.org ; twitter.com/tomhaines29.