They come from outer space, sometimes with regularity, other times
as random wanderers.
Strange names these: delta-Lenoid, Draconids, pi-Puppids.
I always try to stop and watch. One visitor is generally enough
to bring a smile.
This night we were supposed to have many visitors. I was tired
but I needed to see a friendly face in the night sky. The night
was calm with a slight haze and some high clouds on the horizon.
I look up and wonder if it will be worth the trouble.
I was airborne in minutes and turned to a northeast heading. The
transponder glows in the lower right corner of the instrument panel.
Each time the air traffic control radar hits the airplane, the glow
tells me that I have been seen. Silently the radio sends back my
altitude and I know that someone is watching me.
I wonder who is going to see me tonight. I intend to climb and
keep climbing till I find clear air and the Milky Way and will search
for my friends from Piscid. Passing through eight thousand feet
I am disappointed. The sky is clear, the Milky Way glowing, but
there are no visitors.
I turn off all the instrument lighting so I will be able to see
Hey - they call it visual flight rules, I hope I can fly by looking
out the window. And look I do, head plastered up against the canopy,
gazing at all those stars.
Slowly I drift in a complete circle, disappointed, pondering what
to do next.
Ok - Let's see how high this airplane will go.
With the nose pointed to the darkest portion of the sky I increase
the throttle and ease the nose up. Nine thousand, ten thousand feet.
The rules say that over 12,000 I have to use oxygen. Ok so I have
to break the rules tonight.
The thin air slows down the rate of climb to only 300 feet per
minute. I think I can go to 14,000 feet, which means maybe 10 or
12 more minutes of this. I relaxed in my seat.
Whoosh - The visitor. A magnificent meteor slashed across the canopy
of the night. One solitary meteor, not quite the shower I expected,
but high drama none the less.
Big smile and I keep on climbing.
Soon there was a moment to make a decision. Here I was, high above
the metropolitan area, thinking about mountains in the west. I had
always been able to say that I have walked higher then I have ever
flown. 14,496 feet. The airplane was struggling to keep climbing
the wings lightly rocking on the edge of not wanting to fly any
more. I kept climbing.
I thought for a moment and decided that I would just have to walk
higher. The Saratoga clawed its way to 14,600 feet and the wings
were quivering. All I needed to do was lower the nose and pick up
some speed and smooth flight would return. I leveled off and dropped
back to 14,500 feet and looked down.
The most awesome sight lay before me. There was no small airliner
window and thick cabin wall to insulate me. I could open the door
if I wanted, and step out into the night.
This was HIGH. Really HIGH. Maybe it's the height fear in everyone
at some stage, but my heart started to pound. Logic told me I was
safe, but the pounding went on.
One of the things that surprised me was how close together everything
appeared. Cities that were 30 to forty minutes apart by freeway
seemed to be a bicycle ride away. I could see over 75 miles in each
direction, spanning one hundred and fifty miles outside my windshield.
Millions of lights. Millions of people. I stared with my mouth open
at the expanse of it all.
All those people, all that life and activity.
I guess it was fitting.
A solitary meteor
And a lone pilot riding in the night sky.