Being an airline pilot gives me the exclusive opportunity to catch views and sights not everybody gets to see often.
Among these rare moments up in the sky are sunrises and sunsets, something I can barely get enough. And as a rookie to long haul flights I am still getting used to those long nights aloft. But as an admirer of the blue hour, of course I get the sights I love the most.
Going to the airport for a late evening departure makes me cross path with all the people working the casual nine-to-five routine. As their workday is already over, mine is just beginning. Our operations center at Zurich Airport gets again busy as we have a few long haul departures just before the night curfew kicks in. The crews are gathering, briefing and planning their flight to some far distant destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore or Sao Paulo. After all the flight planning has been done, our colleagues from the cabin crew met and the security control passed we are heading out to our aircraft. This happens some one hour before the actual departure. While the cabin crew prepares the cabin, the pilots are busy getting the planned route loaded into the flight management computers and get all the aircrafts systems ready for flight. Together with the ground crew we are doing the outmost to depart on time. So, while the aircraft gets fueled, the handling crew loads the baggage and cargo and the passengers start to embark.
As all worked out perfectly, we make an on-time departure and start the giant GE90-115 engines during the pushback. Some few minutes later we find ourselves roaring down the runway and taking-off into the cold winters night.
Since we are three pilots on this flight, every one of us gets the chance to rest for some time while the other two fly the aircraft. The captain usually gets the filet, meaning the middle part of the flight, while the two first officers rest at the beginning or the end. I have a long night ahead, as my todays assignment makes me sit in the cockpit for the beginning part. After some three hours we are about to leave Europe behind as we are flying out over the Caspian Sea just to the north of Baku, the capitol of Azerbaijan. One may think that the skies get quiet too during the nights, but in fact they tend to be pretty busy in some areas too. As we are making our way into the airspace of Turkmenistan we are heading into a new day too. It’s now time for the first shift change and the captain to get some rest in the crew bunk. This private retreat for the crew is located above the main cabin and offers two beds and two chairs to relax or even get some sleep.
While the routine tasks keep us busy in intervals there is always some time during the cruise phase of the flight to enjoy the beauty that is our there. The good thing about flying across remote and therefore rather unpopulated areas is the fact that the light pollution is slim to none. These are the moments I get close to the window and enjoy the panoramic view offered to us on the flight deck. Everyone and then I spot stars that are shining brighter than many surrounding him. I always imagine, that these are the stars inhabited by family and friends I have lost and as they are helping me to get safely through the nights by shining brighter than all the others.
“SWISS ONE-THREE-EIGHT contact TURKMENABAD on 131.850”; the chatter on the radio takes me back to another routine task. While I switch the radios to the aforementioned frequency the first sings of a new day show up on the horizon. A very slim silver band secedes the world below from the night sky above. Since we are heading eastward it’s like putting the time on fast-forward. Shortly later, the silver band started to alter in color and amplify in size. The first light of every day is so fragile, yet so mellow. The deep blue of the night swiftly changes into a soft orange and later yellow. The sun is rising below the horizon not yet visible to us, but still letting us know that a new day is about to begin. To our sides, the night still firmly clutches the sky in dark colors fading into light eastwards. The starts slowly start to fade, taking a break before yet shining bright again the next night. This short period of time, not yet day, not quite night are among the most pristine aloft. Everything seems in perfect order yet so sublime. Soon the blue hour will yield for a new bright day.