Wednesday, May 11, 2011

England Trip - Enroute

Monday, May 9

Hartsfield Airport, Atlanta is a city unto itself, figuratively if not literally. Its Concourses A through E analogous to busy streets, with shops, restaurants, and news stands lining the sides, scurrying pedestrians crowding the thoroughfares, all of them intent on getting to somewhere else as quickly as possible.
Boarding the big Boeing 767 that will carry us across the ocean, we shuffle slow-motion down the long narrow aisles and install ourselves in the small spaces where we'll spend the next nine hours.

     I love the beginning of any flight. Rolling down the taxiway, watching other planes ahead, the glimpse down the length of the runway as the pilot swings the plane into position for takeoff. I like the sounds, the mechanical whir as the flaps are extended, and the whistling, wailing sound of the engine turbines climbing through octaves toward full power. The best part is the moment when the brakes are released and the aircraft surges forward, accelerating down the runway, watching the nose lift in the moment before the sudden surge at the instant the wheels leave the ground and we leap into the air, watching in fascination as the ground falls away.

     Our flight path takes us northeast across corners of Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. By the time we are winging across Vermont and New Hampshire the sun, falling toward the western horizon bounces firey orange sunglint up toward us from lakes and rivers far below. At 35,000 feet the sky is always clear, with delicate gradations of color for sunset that fade rapidly as we race on eastward.
As we fly across the Atlantic we will pass through five time zones, and although we will land at London's Gatwick airport around 7:30 in the morning in England, our internal clocks will still think it is only 2:30 a.m.

Although this great circle route doesn't take us near Greenland or Iceland, there are some observable indications that we are flying a northerly path. I look at my watch, which tells me it's midnight, although the plane is rumbling on through some more easterly time zone, and already there is a ember-red glow in the north east as if that whole quadrant of the horizon was awaiting some celestial wind to fan it into flames. Craning my neck and spreading my hands to block the reflections of lights inside the airplane I can just make out the lopsided W shape of Cassiopeia, it's center point aiming vaguely in the direction of Polaris. By contorting a bit more I can just barely see it at the upper edge of the window high above the tip of the wing.

As we float eastward at almost 600 mph the sky continues its evolving light show, an infinitely delicate gradation of color from melted-glass orange though daffodil yellow and even a faint spring leaf green to robin's egg blue, mauve, and finally a rich purple high up.

Long before the Sun actually puts in an appearance the scattered light begins to reveal a vast expanse of faintly pink cotton-ball clouds stretched out below us, showing subtle variations in local wind currents that create swirls and eddies in the overall texture of the cloud layer.

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