Among the memories I cherish most are those of the hours I spent flying small airplanes. I earned my Private Pilots License late in life – in my mid-`40’s - and I flew regularly until I was in my early `70’s; amassing a total of just over 2,000 hours in the cockpit. During those hours I experienced moments of near euphoric beauty, moments when I thought each second might be my last, and moments when I reveled in applying the God-given skills that allowed me to take an airplane into the sky and return it safely to earth. All those moments rolled together left me with a repository of memories which are beyond value for me. One of them is of a night flight of such beauty as to be transcendent. I call it:
STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT
Night flying is both the most dangerous and the most beautiful time to fly a small, single-engine airplane. The dangers are obvious and I will not speak of them. But the beauty of flight on a clear night is incomparable. The crown of stars overhead are closer, more vivid, and wondrous than can be seen anywhere on the face of the earth. The features on the ground below that are so clear in the brilliance of the sun present soft mysteries when cloaked in darkness. While overhead the lights of heaven reflect the glory of God. Below, where people cluster together in cities and town the lights of man become a panoply of sparkling jewels while the lights of those who prefer or endure solitude are luminous jewels in a stygian setting.
One particular night flight will remain forever in my memory. My wife Anne, our youngest son Nathan, and I were returning to our home in Bowling Green Ohio after visiting her parents in Chicago. We left in the early evening on one of those incredibly clear fall nights when the air is calm, cool and crisp. Flying eastward over the lights and buildings of Chicago it was all skill and business; no time to look at anything other than my instrument panel and search for the dozens of other airplanes sharing the sky over Chicago. After clearing Chicago’s airspace we were alone. Three thousand above the ground we watched the small towns and farms of Indiana seemingly moving backwards while we were held suspended in a clear, calm sky. Overhead the stars were as motionless as we seemed to be. There wasn’t much conversation in the airplane. I think all three of us were silently in awe of the magnificence through which we were moving. Like standing in the interior of a beautiful cathedral, words seemed inappropriate.
As we moved through the night following a radio navigational signal that would lead us to our destination I noticed a bright star in the upper corner of the windshield. I was entranced by its brilliance and while I drank in its splendor I could almost hear it say, “Keep me planted in this spot on your windshield and like the star that led shepherds to the Christ child so many centuries before, I will guide you unerringly home.”
It was a message I kept to myself, but I controlled the airplane’s course so that star remained motionless in my windshield. I don’t remember how much longer we flew. But after a time, directly over the nose of my plane, I saw a beam of light sweeping across the sky in front of me. It was the beacon of my home airport. The star had brought me home.
Once out of the plane I couldn’t identify it among the multitude of stars in the heavens. But I knew it was up there. I knew who controlled it. As a fellow pilot wrote many years before, “God was my co-pilot.” We had been in safe, loving hands.
Very nice story Don. I can see the beam vividly. 80 years old. I don't think of you that way. I am so happy you are chronicling these experiences. I know I really enjoy them. I hope you're liking the new editor features. I can't wait for more.
It's been a while since I visited the site. WOW! So very professional. Much more user friendly. I intend to write several more "memories" of the wonderful hours I spent flying my plane. I hope they're not too esoteric for "Legacy." The memories are so much a part of who I am here in my "golden" years. They constitute such an important (to me) part of how I wish to be remembered. The 3 major accomplishments of my life, in order of importance, are: 1)Marrying my wife 2)Earning my Private Pilot's License (and using it), and 3)Earning my Ph.D.