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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


T.H.ursdays with Tom Hill
I'm conscious but not quite awake. It's dark. Early, too early. Good, the alarm hasn't gone off yet. Checking it, I'm still a few minutes from the 3:30 wake-up. Way too early, but I'm slowly, steadily coming to life. Time to get going. It just happens to be pre-dawn flying today. The hour is such that it's easy enough to believe no one else is awake at this dreadful hour.

Done with the shower, shave. I have my coffee - got to have that coffee or the wheels might fall off. Off to work, driving by beams of light from headlamps. Nothing else exists beyond those beams. I chance a glance at the night sky, checking for clouds. It's a 30 year habit from worrying about clouds and aviating. Good - stars! There's Orion to the west. I see others. Happy thoughts begin to form. I know what the sunrise will reveal.

At work, now. Plan the mission. Scribble notes on cards; NOTAMs, weather, airfield-status - all are checked. Briefing finished, doing a "door-check" before hitting the crew-van. It's dark. More stars. Still an hour until take-off.

A quick pit stop to get my helmet, parachute, g-suit. I hit the flight-line. It's quiet, calm, steady. My jet is there, illuminated by a powerful spot light. All the other rows of jets are dark, quiet, waiting for the morning sun. It's perfect - still, quiet. A glow starts over the mountains to the east. I shake hands with the crew chief: "Nice morning, Rooster." "It sure will be."

We both know this moment is the best of the day; before the sound of start-carts, the roar of jet engines, the ballet of starting that will disrupt the perfect calm.

The pre-flight is finished in the silence. There's a pause at the boarding ladder, a moment soaking in the last of perfect quiet. "Rooster, time to fire it up." The start cart roars. My jet comes to life with internal lights. The calm is gone. Color builds from the east. Time for business.

The ballet starts. Engines ignite with a shriek. Now it's deafening. Flight controls move. The ailerons flash the growing light from over the mountains. I'm ready to taxi.

"Ground, Benjo Zero One, taxi one T-38 with the numbers."

"Benjo Zero One, taxi Runway 25 via Bravo, Charlie, altimeter is three zero two five."

"Benjo, taxi Runway 25, Bravo, Charlie, altimeter 30.25."

A quick run-it-up with a finger wave overhead, moving forward. Then, a salute to the crew-chief. He looks under the jet one last time and gives me a thumbs up. I'm back to a beam of light on the yellow taxi stripe showing the way. I don't need it. The sun is coming. The colors are building inevitably from the east; pastel pinks, reds, yellows. The night gives way.

A last check at the end of the runway. This must be the thousandth time I've done that Before Takeoff checklist. Off to tower. Earth's shadow is kissing the mountains to the west. The sun is almost here.

On tower freq, there's nothing going on. A moment of pleasantry: "Good morning tower, Benjo is number one Runway 25."

"Benjo Zero One, winds are calm, Runway 25, cleared for take-off."

"Benjo, cleared for take-off, Runway 25."

A slow taxi onto the runway. In position, I apply the brakes, firmly. The throttles move to military power. It's deafening through the canopy, helmet, and ear-plugs. The jet struggles against her brakes--she wants to fly into the sunrise. A quick check of the engine instruments: all is good. Time to let'er loose.

Off the brakes, select the afterburners. Then, the kick in the pants with extra thrust; 50 knots, 100 knots, 135 knots, the stick comes back, the nose lifts, the mains are airborne. Sunlight crests the mountains over my shoulder. We're off into the morning. A perfect start to the day.

Note: "The picture is of a post WWII era flying wing called an M9M.  There's one flying and it looks great.  The image was shot at sunrise on the flightline at Edwards AFB about 10 years ago."


  1. I can't say body or mind is eager to leave the warmth and comfort of of my bed in the morning...but oh how I love to fly in the morning. Great post.

  2. Very nice piece. I used to fly traffic watch many previous lives ago ... always loved the early morning walk across the ramp to preflight, in the dew, with birds singing and no human-made sounds. I almost felt guilty firing up the aircraft...

    1. "... almost felt guilty firing up the aircraft..."

      That is precisely how I feel first thing in the morning. The ambiance is so perfect it's almost immoral to break the perfect silence.

  3. I can definitely relate to this post as my wake-up is 0420 everyday. There's nothing like going up to greet the sunrise as opposed to it greeting you.

    Have a great day everyone even if you're somewhere like NYC where the sun isn't shining.



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