Six thousand feet above the onyx blackness of rural North Carolina on a winter night.
Before me a spectacular sea of stars and lights, with Charlotte Douglas International’s runway 18 left less than 35 miles ahead.
I left Statesville just minutes ago in a Beechcraft Bonanza; her climb rate is swift so I made the call up to Charlotte shortly after the landing gear started up.
Tonight the weather god’s and Charlotte’s approach control have delivered a rare gift, a straight in approach. Nothing this pilot likes better than a straight shot to the runway.
So for the next 15 minutes I have the night to myself. Its late, the radio is quiet except for the casualness of late night air traffic controllers wishing departing airliners a good night; I dim the panel lights and take in the beauty of the cold darkness. Never mind that many pilots balk at the idea of single engine night operations. It is true that finding a place to land on a moonless night should your one and only fan go out isn’t easy, but a forced landing in an urban landscape doesn’t have very good odds even on a clear sunny day.
Lilly is running smooth, the sounds coming from the other side of the firewall are nominal; sound is a single engine pilot’s most generous demon I was once told by a flight instructor. Alone above the Piedmont I imagine Lindbergh’s hours droning through the darkness with a straight in approach to France. 33 hours of hum from the Wright Whirlwind J-5C and I am sure he heard noises that were not really there, perhaps for the rest of his life.
But tonight everything is as it should be perfect...
My short odyssey into aviation’s past on a star filled night is suddenly being interrupted.
"Bonanza 235 Whiskey Tango, Charlotte", the radio comes alive.
My answer a short "235 Whiskey Tango".
"235 Whiskey Tango … ahhhh just wanted to advise you of a Citation that will over take you he’s a ¼ mile 8000 and descending, he has you in sight".
"Roger that 235 Whiskey Tango".
My world is being broached by a corporate jet doing one hundred miles an hour better. The strobe lights and red beacon of an aircraft fill my cockpit as he slides effortlessly across my windscreen directly overhead.
The air rushing by just outside the aircraft cabin suddenly seems slow in comparison never mind that I’m doing better than 150 knots.
I watch the distinctive outline of a Cessna Citation X pull ahead of me against the rich backdrop of a star filled sky. He’s stepped on my line, interrupted my Antoine de Saint-Exupéry moment of night flight and there’s nothing I can do about it.
The night is so clear that I watch him flair over the runway roll out and taxi to the corporate aviation ramp ahead of me. The pilots will have coffee in hand even before my wheels touch down.
My headset comes alive again asking that I contact the tower.
"235 Whiskey Tango you’re cleared one eight left wind 185 at 4".
I land and clear the runway via the high speed taxi way, 3o minutes later the Bonanza is safely tucked away in her hanger and now earthbound I’m driving home.
But the images of that Citation X jet passing over head remain and I am left to deal with my envy and I suspect that Charles Lindbergh often felt the same way, always wanting to go faster and farther.
A couple of little known facts: Charles Lindbergh had eleven children including the kidnapped son, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. and Cedar Posts' family once owned a restaurant called St. Louis Spirits.