There’s hardly a more profound time in any pilot’s cockpit than those rare moments just before sunrise or just after sunset while in a high cruise and he/she sees…the “terminator.” No, it’s not a giant scary specter of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it is awe-inspiring.
To astronauts in orbit the terminator is simply the dividing line between daylight and darkness on the Earth’s surface. Awesome as that must look, the terminator appears quite different to the airline pilot, or passenger who watches for it and knows what to expect.
For us the terminator is the shadow of the Earth’s horizon as it is projected against a morning or evening skyscape. The part of the sky still bathed in daylight is blue, the rest black. Flying toward the terminator you watch it climb high in your windshield until you are suddenly in darkness. But here’s the real treat: if you are high enough and the sky is clear enough, you can see the Earth’s curvature in the terminator’s shape. It’s a sight that will still the tongue if it happens to be wagging, and will mesmerize the eyes and heart.
I once called a flight attendant up to see it. She came into the cockpit prattling about meaningless minutiae and suddenly froze when she looked ahead and saw it. As I explained what it was, I saw the woman had lost her ability to speak. She just stared with her jaw hanging low.
The next day a long delay in the holding pad in
Randy and I earned our pay that day. The weather in
Randy was right on. We held for almost an hour outside Philly and when they finally let us go in the winds at the field picked up to over 50 knots. I broke off the approach and we held again. We told Philly Approach Control if the winds didn’t lessen to below 40 knots in 10 minutes we were bolting for
Randy ain’t bad…for a Navy puke.
Give me a break!
Isn't it obvious that my
window is open?!
No that isn't a missile we just launched. It's a 737 1,000 feet under us, which we are overtaking.