Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

The Perfect Rainbow

How many of you have seen the perfect rainbow from an airplane? I asked that question in this column way back in 1999, but now I am on a crusade about that rainbow.

First, a bit of background:

Other than certificates and ratings, learning to fly has one major step along the way that carries a lot of prestige and is well known even to the general public. That is the solo flight. Your students can mention that solo flight in any group, anywhere, and it means something. To the general public, it probably means more than earning a certificate or rating. To solo is to join a very special club - a club of people who have proved that they can fly alone and unassisted. (OK, I admit that many people have heard of the Mile High Club too, but we don't really want to promote that, do we?)

I think we should have another such club - a club of those who have seen the perfect rainbow. We can call it the Perfect Rainbow Club.

As you probably know, the perfect rainbow is not an arc, but a complete circle.

If you have never seen it yourself, here's how to find it: Don't look for the rainbow itself, but instead look for the shadow of your airplane against a cloud. If the rainbow is there at all, it will appear around the shadow. In fact, the symbol of the Beech Aero Club was an airplane with a rainbow around it.

Once you've seen it, show it to your students. It is one of aviation's great miracles, and you would be surprised how many pilots have never seen it. I have met pilots with tens of thousands of hours who have not seen that rainbow. Tell your student that she is now part of a very exclusive group - those who have seen the perfect rainbow. Then put it in her logbook.

To provide a real thrill for your student, get an IFR clearance and fly straight toward and through the middle of the shadow. The onrush of rainbow, shadow, and cloud provides a perspective that will never be forgotten. Again, put it in the logbook.

Explain to your student that nobody else can see the exact same rainbow. If you were flying in trail with another airplane, you could see the rainbow around the shadow of your airplane, but you could not see the rainbow around the shadow of the other airplane. It would be there, but only the occupants of that other airplane could see their rainbow. Your rainbow is just for you. The idea alone is awe-inspiring, and I know one pilot who says it is wonderful to know that God made a rainbow just for him.

According to the physics books, the perfect rainbow can be seen only from the air - never from the ground. That is true simply because it is visible only when the viewer is in a spot totally surrounded by light, and that is possible only from an aircraft. The rainbow is just for us.

You can even use the rainbow to make extra money and have more fun. Tell all of your students about the rainbow; then, after a few lessons, ask each student if he or she would like for you to call him or her for a special treat the next time conditions are right. I think you could get several names and spend extra hours aloft on "rainbow" days.

I like this idea so much that I am working on getting Perfect Rainbow patches and certificates. I'll keep you informed.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying for 33 years and has amassed more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating.

By Ralph Hood

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