I flew Rae, with friend Z, to Palo Alto for a weekend’s respite from the trials of college life. It was a typical mid-autumn evening in Arcata at the airport (KACV): chilly and overcast. It was also Z’s first time in a small airplane.
In addition to the standard pre-flight briefing (seat belts are a three-piece affair, no retraction reels; no smoking; emergency exits are here and here and work like this and that), I added a description of what to expect. We’d make our way to near the runway, stop and check out the engine’s ignition and control systems and do a few other final checks, call air traffic control, and begin our roll down the runway. As we gain speed, I’ll raise the nose and we’ll lift into the air. As this happens, all the lights will disappear, and we’ll enter blackness punctuated by dark cloud. We’ll be turning in the cloud, and your balance will be completely whacky and have no idea whether you’re right-side up or halfway upside down. Even once we climb out of the clouds, after perhaps 30 seconds, it will be pretty weird because the cloud top will probably be tilted one way or another. Just relax: “Everything’s gonna be all right.”
And that’s how it was: uncomfortable, without precedence, indescribable until experienced, disorienting. And that’s how it was: everything was all right. As we continued to climb above the clouds and turned southwest toward the Bay Area, the lights on the ground beneath and away from the undercast (overcast, if you’re on the ground: depends on your perspective!) became more familiar, the stars’ patterns became recognizable, Venus shone in her glory, and it was an entirely lovely night.
And one better.
Arriving into the Bay Area, I saw that the fog and clouds had not yet formed. Time for a nice treat: “Norcal Approach, 2FR, if you can get me a Class Bravo clearance and a Bay Tour, I’ll cancel IFR.” “Mooney 2FR, I can do that.” “Mooney 2FR, canceling IFR.” “Mooney 2FR, Norcal Approach, cancellation received. Remain on your current squawk code, and you’re cleared into the Bravo airspace, via own navigation; advise when ready to proceed past the Bay Bridge.” “Mooney 2FR, understand cleared into the Bravo, own nav; will advise.”
“Z, see that string of lights off to the left, over that dark spot?” I asked, as I began a turn to the left. “That’s the Golden Gate Bridge.” Rae and I then began to describe the sights and sites of the nighttime Bay from the air, descending to 1500′, crossing over and circling the Golden Gate and her bridge, past the San Francisco Marina and piers, toward the new Bay Bridge and Leo Villareal’s light sculpture, turning gently with the connecting gentle straight-and-level flight.
It was the perfect ending to the introductory flight!