Not quite night, not yet night - The hours in between are almost endless when flying east-west. On two thirds of the flight, I occupy the right-hand seat up front, thundering through the dark skies in the middle of nowhere.
Its the loud 'ping' sounds, the constant chatting on the radios and the discussions with my colleagues, that accompany me through this moonless night somewhere north oft he Himalayas on our way back home from Hong Kong.
Six hours ago we lifted-off from the almost four-kilometer-long runway at Chek Lap Kok.
„Ready?“, the final question of my Captain seconds before he moved the two throttles almost to full-forward, unleashing the incomparable power of the two GE-90-115B engines of our Triple Seven.
„Ready!“, I recall the emergency procedure for an engine failure during take-off a final time in my head. We are slowly accelerating and the bright runway lights are guiding us into a long night aloft. Slowly but truly we are picking-up speed. Shortly before the engines reach take-off thrust the Captain calls out: „You have controls“ - „I have controls“.
My hands firmly grip this giant machine. (No pressure but...) Three hundred and twenty-seven people are now relying on me doing a perfect job. I press the control column slightly forward and control the runway centerline with my feet. Few moments later our three hundred and forty-two tones giant is reaching the decision speed: „Veee-one“. We are now too fast to safely reject the take-off run, whatever happens I will have to lift the aircraft off the runway. „Rotate“, the call from the Captain puts the physics at work. I gently start to pull back, lifting the nose wheel of the ground. The aircraft slightly wobbles as gravity starts to loose control. A few minutes later we are passing over the city. Millions of lights are shining bright, boats are crossing in front of the skyline and an unimaginable amount of people are passing somewhere underneath.
„Autopilot engaged“ – a long night’s ahead.
„SWISS ONE THREE NINER, contact Almaty on One Three Two Decimal One, good morning“. The radio shatter abruptly makes me return to here and now. The vast endlessness somewhere between Urumqi in China and Astana in Kazakhstan is passing below. Our visit tot he stratosphere is just passing half-time as the night slowly starts to give way to a new day. A few minutes ago we where shaken-through by a quick tempered embedded thunderstorm cell obstructing our way. As we where too heavy to climb we had to fly around it, still catching some descent bumps for some time. The weak morning skies start to become friendly again as we are passing into over the city of Astana. I got myself a double Espresso as my shift will last another two hours before getting some brief sleep before landing in Zurich. My colleague and I are constantly updating our flight status and action plan as my eyes glance along the instruments and displays to complement the picture. Nothing too much going on I conclude...
I’m not really feeling tired even though I’ve been flying through the pitch-black night,
dragging my sleep rhythm somewhere across the globe. I look out the window, below me is about 75% of the earths atmosphere and a land completely unknown to me. Yet I take another sip of my
Its these moments, I’d say, that keep me hooked about aviation. They are hard to be put in words really. Spending a night in between time zones, crossing have the globe westbound, enjoying such a volatile sunrise gently shaken by a collapsing thunder cell. Five hours before home. What a sight. Or how Charles A. Lindbergh, pilot of the mighty Spirit of St. Louis, put it back in 1953: "Sometimes, flying feels too God like to be attained by man. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for human eyes to see.“