Sunday, September 23, 2012


Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
23 Sep 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - GVQ (Batavia, NY) - ROC (Rochester, NY) - 5G0 1.5 1091.7

Celebratory Night Flight

Rolling into a left bank after departure from Rochester's runway 25, I watched a shimmering reflection of city lights slide across my port wing.  The radio was silent; mine was the sole aircraft occupying the inner sanctum of Rochester's Charlie airspace, pirouetting at each corner of the rectangular traffic pattern.  Above the horizon, stars comprising the Big Dipper provided a sense of depth to the infinite darkness.

When I flew at night in years past, I maintained minimal cockpit lighting such that the airplane itself disappeared and I would be soaring alone beneath the moon and stars.  After completion of avionics upgrades earlier this year (not to mention a repair to the radio lighting circuit), the interior of my airplane glows softly at night with the reflected light of instrumentation.  Bathed in the artificial light, I became keenly aware of the airplane wrapped around me, that I was ensconced in what Ernie Gann called an "island in the sky".


My quiet flight was interrupted by a shill electronic alarm sounding 3,000 times per second.  I was startled by the unfamiliar noise, but quickly realized that I was turning over the threshold of runway 4 and that the noise was the inner marker associated with the runway 4 ILS approach. Silence returned to the cockpit once I passed beyond the range of the narrowly focused radio beacon.

"Cherokee 481, clear touch and go, runway 25."  The tower controller sounded almost bored.

I began descending for another landing and the city seemed to swell in size as I passed below the tops of the high rises at city center.  Where the invisible black serpent of the Genesee twisted through downtown, it was outlined in lights like a watery runway.  The illuminated rotunda of the University of Rochester library shone brilliantly, a symbolic beacon of knowledge in the night, before passing beneath my starboard wing.

As the airplane and I swam through placid nighttime air, I surveyed the bejeweled landscape below and reaffirmed how much I enjoy flying at night.  It was also a first of sorts; my first night landing at a Class Charlie airport.  A minor "first" really, but a first nonetheless.

Inbound, I noticed that locating an urban airport at night is different than finding the small, rural airports I usually visit.  Rural airports are easy to find in the darkness because their rotating beacons and runway lighting stand out from surrounding farm country.  For an airport enveloped by civilization, however, airport lighting competes poorly with the luminosity of the surrounding city.  Indeed, the Rochester airport first became visible to me, not as an array of colored runway lights, but as a black hole among man-made stars dotting the landscape.

It was my first time solo at the controls of Warrior 481 in nearly two months; a treat in celebration of the ten year anniversary of passing my private pilot check ride (see: "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad DPE?")


I remember telling friends in 2001 that I was going to learn to fly.  Most were very supportive.  A coworker used to ask me and Kent at least once a week, "how are the flyers doing?"  The naysayers, on the other hand, were few but memorable.

One person told my wife that they "could not believe [she] was permitting me do that."  An acquaintance who overheard me discussing the matter with a common friend interrupted with, "what are you doing that for?" in such a derisive tone that it was clear that my dream to fly was the dumbest undertaking ever.

Why did I do it?  What was my plan?

Honestly, there was no plan.  I did it because I could, because I was in love with the dream of flight, and because I relished the challenge.

September 23, 2002, with Bill and Two Seven Uniform.  Photo by John C.

So there I was, ten years ago, having just conquered sky and check ride.  I was master of Cessna Two Seven Uniform and the awesome power of 100 horses harnessed within her petite cowling.  My plan after earning my certificate was simple: fly.  Beyond that, I had no clue.

Frankly, I think the brand new private pilot pictured above would be rather surprised by what has happened since.

Photo by Kristy.

As a student, I never imagined owning an airplane.  That dream - at least in any realistic sense - came later.

Photo by Reuben B.

I never imagined that I would land an airplane at the highest elevation airport in the United States and stand before the iconic mural that I first saw in my ground school textbook.

Photo by Cheryl O.

I never imagined that Kristy and I would embark on several multiple state cross country trips by single engine airplane, but we have had many adventures over the years.

I never imagined that flying would be something that I and my then unborn daughter would do together.

My plan in 2002?

There was no plan, only a journey.  Over ten years, that journey spanned 1092 flight hours, 21 states, 138 airports, dozens of first time flyers introduced to general aviation, mountain training, an introduction to glider flying, instrument training, and many great adventures with friends and family.

Aviation has given me many things that I did not necessarily foresee ten years ago: self confidence, therapy, terrific friendships, a visual and poetic muse, passion, a new lens through which to view the world, and virtually unbounded opportunities for self-improvement.  The decision I made over a decade ago to pursue flying lessons stands as one of the most satisfying decisions I ever made.

As for the coming years, who knows?  I'll go wherever the journey takes me.  The first decade has been a blast, why mess with what works?


  1. CONGRATS!!!!

    Love the post! I look back at times and always end up back at "who knew". It's been a fun ride!

    1. It sure has, Gary. And, hey , if we can't surprise ourselves sometimes, who can we surprise? :-)

  2. As we often say on the AOPA Forums...

    Conga-Rats! :)

  3. Chris - somehow I missed this post until now. Congratulations on your decade of flight. Ed D.

    1. Thanks, Ed. I can hardly believe it's been 10 years already.