Outside as the wind rushed past at 400 and some miles an hour, the clouds go by the window like a blur. Passengers don't get this view, and if you're lucky and have a cruise altitude right on top of the cloud deck, where you are going in and out of the whitecaps of clouds, it's a breathtaking display of speed.
But outside right now there was only darkness and inside only those small sounds that survive each movement, the flick of a switch, the input of data, plotting course and heading, the key of a mic.
Dad asked me the other night if I missed it. not flying in general, the putting around the sky in a small craft, stopping for a landing and a hamburger somewhere, but the flying that I used to do. If someone walked up to me today and said "here's your jet and the credit card to pay for its gas", I'd be on my way to some far corner of the world in a heartbeat. But the thought of getting up at 3:00 am to put in a 15 hour day, eating meals that might actually be good warm, and being away from loved ones for weeks on end lost its appeal somewhere around my 40th birthday. Flying over countries where there is occasionally small arms fire is even less appealing.
There are part I miss. I missed the chirp of wheels on a very short strip that had likely not seen a large transport before, and the crowd that came out to see this wonder. I miss seeing the formation of weather from aloft, the ring of moisture laden air that dances around the calm of the center even as the air currents begin their uprising, forming into a sinister dark wall that should have a sign on it "there be dragons".
I miss some of the old birds, the ones that bear with them the weary air of a schooner that's been around the world. I miss those even more than the new, shiny craft with a glass cockpit and all the personality of a microwave. So few of them left, so many just languishing in the desert. Some have bones that rattle at night in the hot desert air, the fight in them still strong, even as their form is aged. Others fold their winds up in rest, weary from their battles.
There are other things, that lie in distant memory that come to mind as I lay in my bed, one that I can sleep in without it pitching and rolling over an ocean at night. There's a conception of wind and weather that can't be experienced in any classroom, those storms that penetrate the defenses of man, the awful pause that is the ship's hesitation as it breaches a front, and the curse and the prayers that can be awakened within the breast, when you realize that the weather forecast is nothing more than someone in a dark room casting bones across the ground and hoping for the best.
So many nights spent away from my family and my bed, my spirits falling with the barometer, longing for lightning, something to spark me from another strange bed in a strange land, eager to get back in the air again. There is so much missed out on-- birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, faces and names and sheer human touch, even as we bonded, brothers in arms, with weariness and laughter..
The sky, with it ability to tear up the earth, to uproot trees and to dash the small birds of the air to the ground, had simply challenged me in its path one day, and I stayed for the battle. But the day came that I turned from her, not in submission but simply, with weariness. It was on such a day that I looked at the visages of those that have gone before, those that climbed up to that line between earth and sky, that point in space where sometimes heaven does not release her crew back except as dust of this earth. And I knew I was ready to hang up my wings.
Like any airman that's done battle with the sky and lived to remember, I do miss it-- even as I leave it behind.