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Dinner over the Pacific (6 minute read)

24 January 2018

A dim glow all around the horizon for as far as we can see, so typical for night flights that are accompanied by a bright moon hiding behind our tail and out of sight from the cockpit.

Even though the atmosphere around the earth is extremely thin, at this altitude we can see so far ahead that even the few moist and dust particles in the air are reflecting the moonlight, making it appear as if a band of silver blue light sticks around the earth surface. Enhancing the view of the curvature and literally showing us the delicate blue atmosphere that protects the planet from the unforgiving radiation and vastness of outer space.

To my surprise, only afterwards I noticed on the computer our airplane contrail that made a nice shadow on the Pacific surface, created by the moon far, far below.

 

Cruising thousands of miles away from the nearest coast, we've just been handed over from Fukuoka Control to San Francisco Radio after passing an imaginary line on the map, drawn in 1945 most likely.
So far away from nearest landfall and with many thousands of miles to go, there is still an anonymous operator watching over our progress over this seemingly never ending ocean.

As radar coverage is actually pretty limited around the world and only working 'line-of-sight', radar cannot see over the horizon. Contrary to popular believe, by far most of the world's airspace is not monitored by radar and thus a giant blind spot for any controller on the ground.

To make sure that at least someone knows more or less where we are, we have to check in with position reports every now and then so our far distant and at times inaudible guide knows that we're still alive. Just in case we never check in at the next estimated waypoint, they will have a rough idea on where to start to search for us.

As I've just barely been able to get a hold of San Francisco over the scrambled HF long-range radio set and nearly have to yell with an annoyed tone our position report through the radio, the whole flightdeck fills up with a tempting and almost out-of-place smell of spicy chicken-curry. My colleague (seen here on the far left) is just taking his meal out of the oven as he puts mine in to be heated up.
As he's there in the galley part of the 747-upperdeck, stretching his legs and enjoying his food, I decide to dim the lights in the cockpit even further and lean towards the heated window in front of me. The cockpit is completely mine again for a dozen minutes or so and I decide to make the best of it.
 

The fourth meteorite for this night flashes by high up in the sky. I smile at the thought of making another wish when seeing this one; by now I guess they stopped taking me serious up there. So many wishes for the wellbeing of people close to me, my own health and future or others that I care about. After so many meteorites and wishes, I guess I've reached the saturation limit already a long time ago.


Then again, the thought that I'm probably the only person on this planet that saw that particular burning meteorite does make me feel privileged in some way.
Its last, short, dying flash of light for this piece of primordial rock wasn't just in vain. I was the single conscious witness to the short ending of its 4,5 billion-year existence in our solar system so at least it did not end unnoticed.
 

And below us, absolutely nothing but an endless dark blue-black mass of ocean for so many hours. At some places that dimensionless void is even deeper than our altitude above its surface, with god-knows what's going on in those depths.
Im sure a couple of submarines and countless of marine animals have passed down below, but so much of that hidden world is still unknown to us. A world that I, as one of the few, can let my eyes wander over on a flight like this.

 

Its a strange combination, the smell of warm curry-chicken and a view over such a remote and cold place like the stratosphere, 35.000ft above one of the most remote areas of the planet with nothing but inhospitable conditions around me. For hours on end.
We live in our little capsule designed to keep our fragile pink human bodies in an artificial state of survival, guided by instruments and technology that was regarded as pure science fiction not even 50 years ago. Part of the world but at the same time an almost unimaginable distance from anything we can ever comprehend or be part of.

While contemplating these thoughts, I look at the fruit basket that was placed on the pedestal next to me.

Two pieces of fresh fruit. A piece of watermelon and some pineapple. Probably grown in South-America or Africa, found their way through Europe to South-East Asia and processed as catering for some freighter pilots that are finding their way over the Pacific and now heading for Alaska.
And here I am, a Dutch and hell-for-leather, self-taught pilot that has found its way up the throne of the 747 against all odds, somewhere in a forgotten part of the globe.

Ready for whatever may come over the horizon. 

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