December 26, 2001

Just leveling off at the start of a long homebound leg, my mind started to wander. I thought about a morning early last summer when I laid half asleep under the nose of my plane, the sun warming me through the blanket that was holding the chill at bay. I was comfortable, drifting in and out of sleep as different planes arrived and taxied into adjacent parking areas. The little four cylinder engines made a ticky sort of sound, the bigger six- cylinder engines sounded much smoother, but only the big radial engines could make the smooth purr of contented lions.

I was at Geneseo, and I had been one of the day's first arrivals. The morning had started with a three- thirty wake up in Newark NJ after a long nap, and I had returned to Elmira with a load of freight before six. I jumped from the company plane into my own plane and continued up the valley to Genesseo for their airshow. Pretty much, naps had sustained me for the previous twenty four hours, and would have to suffice for the next twelve.

Since I had arrived so early, I laid down and took another nap before all the activity started. I fell asleep promptly and had slept for an hour before the commotion gradually woke me up. It was on that morning that I realized that the happiest pilots have no circadian rhythm. They can sleep any time of day, and can be alert any time of night, whatever is required.

Those thoughts were passing through my mind as I departed northward from Salsbury, Maryland with a winter sun risen high in the sky. My day had started in Elmira at seven the night before, and after the plane was loaded, I had to wait out a traffic delay before I could depart for Newark. I arrived late and settled in for my midnight nap only to be awakened two hours later by the telephone. I was told that I had to leave for Baltimore in one hour, rather than returning to Elmira in two hours.

One of our airplanes had broken, and I was the most available short- notice replacement; there was ample time to move another plane and pilot to cover the Elmira flight later. I had never been to Baltimore, but I stirred a few numbers around with a quick cup of coffee and by three I was flying south with a full load of freight. I laid over for a few more hours and took another full load down the DelMarVa peninsula, to Salsbury, before returning home.

It was all part of an interesting week, one which I had been anticipating since I learned that "my" Elmira- Newark run would be resurrected for a one- week reprise at the end of the busy Christmas shipping season. I had flown this run since my very first night with the company, and did it for the next two years until the my run was redirected to Syracuse each night. I missed the longer flight and the variety of the trip into the city.

By the end of the week, I had my fill of everything I had hoped for. It turned out to be 70 hours long, with triple my normal week's flight time. I had a rainy night, a clear night, lake- effect snow and icy clouds. Once again I watched as the lights of familiar cities, towns, and country crossroads slid past me. On three evenings I was able to cruise above clouds that were brightened by a crescent moon. For the first time ever, I had a chance to see the Chesapeake Bay area, with its tidal marshes, estuaries, and lush farmland.

I also had a chance to cast a few glances at Lower Manhattan as I flew in and out of Newark. I remember as a teenager going into the City to shop in the electronics stores on Courtland Street, where the World Trade Center was to be built. I remember the leaflet campaigns against the plans, but even as a kid I realized that the construction was inevitable.

My favorite recollection of the buildings is from a summer evening when I was on a long approach to land to the east at Newark. The towers were almost directly ahead of me, but beyond the airport and beyond New York Harbor. There was a fireworks display on the water that evening, and the glass faces of the towers showed reflections of the bright and colorful bursts. There's nothing there now; the fires are out but bright lights burn all night long while the demolition continues.

I had offered to fly the Newark run because I wanted to fly. I wanted to sit alone in the plane as it droned through the darkness and the weather. I wanted the time to enjoy the rhythm of a longer trip while listening to some favorite CDs. I did all that plus the Maryland trip and two extra trips to Syracuse as well. I worked, slept, went back to work, and caught a few naps in between.

I slept well through Sunday morning, after the week was done. I was content that I had received my wish... and I was filled with a new appreciation for the short hours of my regular Elmira- Syracuse schedule.

Plane Talk Archives
Return to Home Page
E- mail Bob Tilden at