Monday, April 11, 2005

Firefly, in a City of Lights

Saturday we slept late and lazed around the house until afternoon, then headed back out to the airport, as the great weather continued to beckon. I suggested heading south; we could look up some 'net friends, and/or visit my old chum Chris. Which is what we did, as it happened; Gail and I had dinner with Chris and his wife Carrie, and their little girl Kyra, who was pleasant company despite being not quite over an earache. We didn't get any other replies to our short-notice invite, so when we left Allentown we decided to go east and have another look at Manhattan from the air - at night!

My flying comrade Dale had recommended the Hudson River flight at night; it's certainly one of the most striking sights in the country, and we arrived at the Verrazano Bridge in less than an hour. Rather than go through Air Traffic Control as we did last time, I descended to below 1,100 feet to scurry under Newark's airspace, and we skimmed low over New Jersey and out across the dark water. (As I checked out all my gauges, to see that our trusty Lycoming engine was ticking away happily.)

Barnstorming Manhattan
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
The VFR-legal airspace is a narrow layer between 800 and 1,100 feet, and the uprights of the Verrazano bridge reach almost that high. I approached the bridge on an oblique from the southwest, then flew right between the goalposts and turned north towards Manhattan. The water below was dark, but everywhere there were lights; cars, highways, buildings and even the ships on the bay shone like diamonds. As we crossed Governor's Island I slowed the engine, flipped on our landing light and announced our position on the radio, as Gail carefully worked the video camera. (Some stills from the video are in my album here; Gail's journal entry is here.)

Air traffic was light in our immediate area, although helicopters crisscrossed the city and international jet traffic swam far overhead. I was busy keeping an accurate course and watching for traffic, but I still had opportunity to boggle at the massive city on my right wing. At 950 feet, several of the skyscrapers reached higher than we were. Seen from our vantage point, the city was a brilliant crosshatch of lights and glowing towers, with traffic flowing in the streets like molten lava. When we passed downwind of the tallest buildings, we were rocked by some light turbulence, and I held tight to the reins so that Gail could keep filming.

We kept on all the way up the west side of Manhattan, and after a while we crossed the George Washington bridge and passed east of Teterboro. I increased the power again and turned west, and waited until we were clear of the New York airspace before climbing up to 4,500 feet. The night was brilliantly clear, though moonless, and Gail dozed as we droned over the mountains. In 35 minutes we were back over Honesdale, and I circled and keyed my transmitter to turn on the runway lights. (Or what's left of them; many of the marker lights are out, mostly on the east side.) I eased us lower until the landing light picked out the trees, slipped into the dark clearing and touched down.