Flying through the night, while the world beneath us is at sleep, is a pretty common thing as a longhaul pilot. Late evening departures lead to far distant destinations like Singapore, Hong Kong, Sao Paolo or J’burg. Depending on the direction of the flight the crew and the passengers either have a short night up ahead if flying eastbound or almost eternal darkness if headed westwards.
The latter is the case for my todays flight across the Atlantic Ocean to South America. Our flight is packed and some 340 passengers are settling in for a long night flight. Its my turn to be at the flightdeck for the first part of the journey, as my other co-pilot gets the chance to rest in the crew bunk above the passenger cabin. We are heading our westbound, along the clearly visible Alps to our left. Just before reaching Geneva and the western tip of Switzerland we are making a shallow left turn to join the Rhone valley leading us to Marseille and onward onto the Mediterranean Sea. Our routing will bring us towards Algeria and on across the northwestern part of the vast Sahara. We will be flying past Dakar in Senegal where we will be heading out onto the Atlantic Ocean. Our south-westerly course will get us across the wide blue – in fact it was pitch-black during the night – to the north eastern shore of Brazil. Landfall is expected just north of Rio de Janeiro and the remaining few hundred miles will get us straight towards Sao Paolo. Our landing is expected around 6am local time, still before the sun will rise.
The chatter of the French and Spanish ATC accompanies us for another hour, we get changed over to Algiers and past the bright city light of the capital of Algeria towards the Sahara. Tonight will be a special night, since its one of the few nights every August where countless shooting stars will be seen all over the night sky. Deriving from constellation of Perseus, these meteor showers will guide us through the night.
Just as the bright city lights are vanishing behind us, the Milky way starts to become clearly visible up ahead. Its now us, pacing at almost the speed of sound along the invisible highway and the pitch-black night sky above this surreal landscape. Ahead of us are another eight hours flight time, but we already stopped counting the shooting stars. And we got already to a few hundred.
Enjoy this timelapse video of my night flight towards South America, a short impression of the view that night.