Do pilots see anything during a night flight?
SEEING A LARGE SWATCH OF AMERICA
On clear nights going east somewhere around Oklahoma City and Tulsa I have seen the lights of Dallas (180 miles) and Houston (420 miles) in one direction and Kansas City (300 miles) and St. Louis (460 miles) in the other direction, all at the same time.
No matter how many times I saw that, it always blew me away that I could see that much of the U.S. at once.
EAST COAST VISTAS
Passing over NYC while flying south from Boston at night, I’ve seen Philly, Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond.
Flying north to Boston while over NYC, I’ve seen the aurora borealis. Only once, as it’s a rare condition to see them that far south, and they weren’t visible on the ground. But they were visible at jet altitude. And, for whatever reason buried in my ancestral amygdala, they gave me the creeps.
ST. ELMO’S FIRE
Speaking of things that gave me the creeps in jet cockpits at night was when we got St. Elmo’s Fire dancing all over the windshield. Sometimes it would come into the cockpit and dance on the glare shield. Despite being a smart guy with an aerospace engineering degree, St. Elmo’s Fire always creeped me out. Something in my unconscious gets weirded out at the sight of dancing electricity at night.
THE GREEN FLASH
Then, there’s the infamous and elusive green flash that is visible at the exact instant the sun sets below the horizon. I know, this isn’t at night, but it’s the beginning of night, so bear with me.
I’ve only seen it twice while on the ground, both times on Kauai, in Hawaii. It cannot be seen without super clear skies and a razor sharp horizon without the slightest hint of haze, which is rare on the ground. But in the air, it’s a much more common sight.
In the air, I missed it the first two or three times when the other pilot said he saw it because the event is ridiculously named. I was looking for some large event, worthy of the term flash.
But finally, a more experienced jet jockey explained to me that it’s really just a green blip when the last tiny dot of the sun flashes green for less than a second. So, I guess it can technically be called a green flash, but don’t be fooled by the name.
So, those are some of the things we see at night.
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