After a whole week of low clouds and drizzly rain, the weather cleared as if a curtain was lifted across the stage of the sky. I had time for an evening flight before official sunset. Hurrying to the airfield I arrived just in time to see a giant rainbow downwind. I took this as a good omen. *** My Evans VP-1, G-BIFO (Biffo) is based close to my house and is always at the front of hangar, so just twenty minutes after I leave home we’re both standing outside, bathed in the evening sunlight. As we usually fly together at least twice every week Biffo looks at me almost accusingly, as if to say “Where’ve you been?” *** So far, I’ve been rushing, but as I slip the chocks in front of the wheels, I deliberately slow things down. I check the fuel and oil, do a careful preflight, and complete the time-honoured ritual of pumping the primer, setting the choke, sucking in and selecting the mags on. *** “C’mon Biffo,” I mutter. “Wakey, wakey.” A flip of the toothpick prop and the little engine barks into life, and settles into a smooth, easy growl. The farmer on whose land the strip is based hears Biffo start, so he wanders up and offers to hoist the windsock while I get my kit on. By the time I’ve donned scarf, jacket, helmet and gloves, the oil is warm and Biffo is rocking slightly on his wheels; it almost looks as if he’s fidgeting, impatient to get in the air. Within minutes we’re racing down the strip and up into the sky. *** As we climb slowly towards the west-northwest, the sun sinks majestically below the horizon. Fantastical cloud shapes and wonderful colors accent the azure sky. I swing Biffo through a great sweeping arc and notice that the full moon has slipped out from behind a cloud. I think, “Is it really almost 40 years since someone last stood on its surface?” *** The air is warm and smooth, Biffo is running like a noisy sewing machine. Ah, no place like cloudbase. Thus far, I have directed all my attention upwards, but as I drift over the A1 highway, I notice that every car has its lights on, making the mundane road become impossibly glamorous; it looks like a river of diamonds. However, when I glance back towards the strip I became acutely aware that darkness is stealing across the ground, swallowing everything in its path. Biffo’s only electrical systems are his twin magnetos; we have no lights (not even a flashlight), and it’s getting dark. *** Time to go home. I roll Biffo up onto his port wingtip and then let the nose drop. As we slide down through the warm sky I see a flash of white wings in the quickly gathering gloom. A barn owl (named Barney by my two sons) has taken up residence in the old barn behind my house, and I wonder fleetingly if he also couldn’t resist the joy of flight on such a beautiful evening. More practically but less prosaically, he probably just wanted to catch his evening meal. *** Biffo’s wheels kiss the ground at 8:02. It is truly dark by the time he’s ensconced in his hangar, and the Lincolnshire countryside is busy with the ways of night. The windsock is silhouetted against the evening sky, and an owl hoots as I lower it. I wonder if it’s Barney laughing at me because he can fly in the dark and Biffo and I can’t. Back home, seven-year-old William has just gone to bed, so I go up to tuck him in. “Good flight, Dad,” he asks? “Yeah, great, thanks, Willie,” I reply, tousling his hair. He wants more detail (anything to delay going to sleep), so I tell him about the rainbow, the sunset, the moonrise and all the other wonderful sights. *** He is impressed, although he clearly struggles with the concept of the A1 looking glamorous! “Where did you go?” he asks. “Nowhere in particular,” I shrug. “Just up.”
About Dave— Formerly the editor of England’s Today’s Pilot magazine, Dave Unwin is currently Pilot magazine’s Flight Test editor. He has been flying for 26 years, and has around 4,300 hours in about 250 different types, ranging from antique gliders and vintage biplanes via seaplanes, skiplanes and sailplanes to modern turboprops and jet fighters. ByDanJohnson.com is proud and pleased to have a talented aviator like Dave join our group. We’re sure you’ll enjoy and learn from reading his experiences in light aviation.