Monday, June 23, 2008

Night Currency and History

It is June 23. I started this blog on March 12, and on March 14 I wrote about going out to get night current. This means two things: first, that I have managed to find enough interesting (to me) things about aviation to sustain a blog for 3 months, and also that I am no longer night current!

First, about the blog. I imagine that most bloggers track readership, and I do, too. While mine has been small it has been eclectic. North Carolina, Tennessee, France, Canada...One of the wonderful things about aviation is its international character: the laws of physics are the same in all hemispheres. My only complaint is that these readers don't leave comments; I would love to hear what you have to say, and about your adventures.

Second, night currency. I flew with a student just before sunset, and the air was so deliciously smooth that I decided to hang around after he left to get night current again. There was still some glow to the west, but the field itself was dark, waiting for moonrise. I was wrapped in the coccoon of an Archer.

I was conscious of the irony of flying an Archer: despite all of the places and aircraft that aviation has shown me, here I am twenty-five years later, doing the same preflight I learned as a student. My first solo cross-country was in an Archer. I got my instrument rating in an Archer. My Archer flights span the continent, from Santa Monica to Cape Cod to Seattle.

Here's an old Archer story. It is 1990, and I am preparing to move from Utica, New York to London, Ontario, Canada, for a sabbatical. I decided that I needed to take a trip to London to look for an apartment. (What I really needed was a flying adventure.) I was flying with the Griffiss AFB Aero Club (I was doing some contract research for the Air Force at the time), and spent a fair amount of effort doing the leg work to find out if I could take an Aero Club airplane into another country. "Yeah, piece of cake, I can take a fully loaded gunship into Canada any time I want," one of the Army guys in the club bragged in that Army way. But I went through channels anyway.

The day came and I filed IFR, V2 at 6000, as I recall. I was on top somewhere west of Syracuse.

New York Center: "N84014, traffic at 12 o'clock, 6 miles, eastbound at 7000, a B-17."

Me: "014, looking."

Did I hear that right? A B-17? I peered ahead, and sure enough there was a B-17 coming directly at me, 1000 feet above. The Sun was dazzling on its polished aluminum. I recognized it as one of the (then) Confederate Air Force birds.

Me: "014, traffic in sight."

Now, that was cool. I couldn't wait to tell my friends. It was so close, and so beautiful against the blue sky, I would never see something like that again, wow, what a privilege!

But I was premature.

New York Center: "N84014, traffic at 12 o'clock, 6 miles, eastbound at 7000, a B-29."

A what? A B-29? That can't be. But there it was, just a little to the right, shining in the sun.

I keyed my mike before I could censor myself: "014, traffic in sight. What year is this, anyway?" Center did not answer.

Nothing like that happened tonight. The tower was closed, I was the only airplane in the pattern. The air was smooth, and I was at home in the same airplane I flew 25 years ago. The landings were easy, my best landings in a long time, and I drove away current and satisfied.

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