Busy Night Sky

Roaming about the busy night skies over the the endless nowhere of the American Midwest.


„The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.“ - Vincent Van Gogh


The weather radar echoes some decent yellows and reds as are heading northeast-bound across North America. The chatter on the radio is getting more quiet with every minute more we are passing into the journey. As pilot flying I am fully focused on the flight path ahead, trying to get the most accurate situational awareness possible while we are blasting through the pitch-black night sky. The dim-lit sky shows some nice blues and fading stars as a band of convective clouds decided to cross flight path. The heat of the Colorado Plateau created some impressive thermal clouds throughout the day that are now making up a midnight challenge for the two of us up here on the flight deck. I recall my preparation back home, reading about the influential air masses making the weather sometimes spanning across a whole continent. We are flying over an unpopulated vast area with some random lights as my massive air ship is getting some first bumps indicating that we are entering an area of unstable air. My thoughts are quickly getting back to the weather topic and the way thunderstorms develop. As an airline pilot it seems pretty down the road that a deeper general knowledge of how the weather works can be expected. My bio-clock screams as I am trying to get my brain at full speed and making cerebral convolutions remember the way it is. Some first thunderbolts are seen in the distance, slightly left of our flight path. Generally speaking, thunderstorms are generated by thermal instability in the atmosphere and represent a violent example of convection. The bumps are getting more intense as we are progressing on our routing. „Seatbelt sign on“, I order he Captain sitting next to me to put the first safety measure in place ordering all passengers to take their seat and properly fasten their seatbelts. „SWISS FOUR-ONE-HEAVY, Denver Center be advised about a large weather cell on your eleven o’clock position range ten miles. Deviation left or right of course approved. Report your intentions!"


I switch on the storm light, a combined switch on the overhead panel giving us the quick access to switch on a set of cockpit lights in order not to get blinded by a possible lightning strike close by.


Lucky us the echoes on the weather radar a nicely depicting the weather situation up ahead. A massive cell spans eastwards from the Colorado Plateau towards the Great Lakes making a deviation around that convective area a pretty long detour.


Its now up to us – the flight crew – to safely pass through that belt of bad weather. Some switching’s on the radar later the picture is getting clearer and as we can see the lights of Rapid City coming up at our 1 o’clock. It seems that along our routing the activity of the cell is pretty low. To our left the radar echoes some solid red and to our right some decent yellow, areas we definitely wanting to avoid flying through. The alternative option would be to fly around making a long detour and not knowing what exactly to expect.


We let air traffic control control know about our intentions to sneak through the weather band up ahead without needing to much deviation left or right. In the meanwhile, a TCAS target showed up on the same display as the weather radar draws its interpretation of the weather happing outside. The +10 and a white diamond-shaped symbol indicates another airliner passing through the vast night sky some one thousand feet above us. „SWISS FOUR ONE HEAVY contact Denver center on Minneapolis Center on 133.075 have a good night“ and as we are getting passed-on to another controller as we are closing in to the aforementioned airliner.


I am not yet sure if its pure imagination or for real, but if I hold my ears close to the windshields it seems that I get to hear the thundering roar of the crossing airplane. Arguably not something just made up by me if you imagine that we are passing each other at more than the speed of sound if you add up our individual velocity.


A few seconds before I switched on the landing lights not only letting our colleagues know that we have them insight but also to wish them godspeed on their flight to another somewhere as we.

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