Night Flight

By anguillian November 2, 2012 08:55

Night Flight


Natalie Richardson

I pondered for weeks about which activity or event interests me so much but I have never had the opportunity to experience in my life.  Gliding across the sky on a thin rope, or kayaking through crocodile infested rivers, would have created a perfect story for me to write about, but neither of those activities seemed nearly as fascinating as the thought of flying an actual airplane through the break of dawn.  I never imagined myself sitting in the cockpit of a Beechcraft Baron 58 until one afternoon as I sat gazing at the airport below from my porch in Crown Mountain.   Uncle Kirby’s plane!  Then imagination turned to obsession!

My love for aircraft has been growing stronger since my childhood when I would always run outside and look up whenever a plane flew across the sky. In my leisure hours, I relax on my porch as I witness, time after time, and with that same child-like wonder, an event that may seem very mundane to some – an airplane taking off and soaring into the sky.   The idea of a five-and-a-half-ton man-made machine lifting from the ground into the sky above is rather awe-inspiring to me.  My legs trembled as I anxiously awaited his response over the phone to my request that he take me flying with him the next morning toSt. Croix.  Thankfully, he said “yes!”

The night drew long as I patiently waited for departure time.  I sat peering out my window at the colored flashing lights across the runway, not daring to blink so as to ensure I wouldn’t fall asleep.

Waking up at four o’clock in the morning for work is not very appealing to most people.  My Uncle simply refers to it as “delivering the papers”.  But for me, flying with him on his pre-dawn St. Thomas-St. Croix-St. Thomas route would be the experience of a lifetime!  It never dawned on me for a moment what risks I would be taking by flying a two-engine plane across the dark sky, because my Uncle Kirby has done this for four decades and, according to him, has never had a dull moment.

Still half asleep, I shivered in the cold breeze as we walked across the damp runway to the plane, which from my vantage point up the mountainside usually looks like two Popsicle sticks on the airport.  My participation in this activity was not simply taking a joy ride, but also to load the bales containing three thousand five hundred Daily News newspapers onto the plane, offload them in St. Croix, load the Avis newspapers there, and then off-load them from the plane when we returned toSt. Thomas.

With only the runway lights illuminating the darkness, I sat eagerly next to Captain Hodge as he spoke with the air traffic controller in what seemed to be some foreign language. The runway appeared to stretch for miles as we slowly bounced our way to the end of the beginning of my adventure. The fumes emitting from the engine replaced the cool air entering through the door which the pilot held slightly ajar.   The increasing reverberations of the engines startled the morning silence.   The vibrations from the engines spread as the plane shook like an earthquake, then there was a series of jolts as we bolted down the runway at ninety five knots per hour.  I grasped my tattered seatbelt tightly as I was forced back into my seat.  I wondered if the weight of our cargo was preventing this small plane from lifting.  Suddenly, the land below lit up like a Christmas tree, and in seconds, the lights sparkled on the water, etching an unforgettable image into my mind.   We were airborne!


The sky was bare with merely a few clouds whitening the sheet of darkness, as I focused in the distance at the dim lights stretching across the horizon. My curiosity intensified as I observed all the gadgets and flashing lights in the cockpit of the plane.   I wanted to know how each of them functioned, and my Uncle was more than pleased to share his knowledge and experience. This uplifting experience would have been pointless if I had fulfilled it without actually flying the plane, so I relaxed my nerves and took hold of the yoke after my Uncle had successfully coaxed me out of my reluctance. All fear left my body as I felt exhilarated to be in total control of what now seemed to be an enormous 747 aircraft.  As we began to fly overSt. Croix, the plane started shaking forcefully from turbulence between two mountains.  Scared, I quickly retired from my position, surrendering the controls to the calm competence of Captain Hodge.

My Uncle was amused at my cowardly actions, and gently informed me that he had been controlling the aircraft the whole time that I felt in charge.  My embarrassing moment endured until I realized that we were about to land.  Conversations with the tower came clearly through my headphones as he steadied the plane, extended the landing gear, increased the mixtures, retarded the throttles and grasped the yoke tightly.  I held my breath, staring straight ahead at the runway and awaited a heavy thud. My anxiety was short-lived as he gracefully eased (or as he said – “greased”) the wheels onto the tarmac.

After removing the hefty cargo projected to supply thirty five hundred awaiting inquisitive customers, we enjoyed a hot cup of cocoa at the Airport Fire Station. My Uncle stayed for a while to chat with fellow pilots and quickly introduced me to them before we took off into the break of dawn.   With the sun slowly awakening the sleepy island behind us, showers of rain painted bright rainbows across the transforming sky. We flew through the clouds and it seemed as though we were entering what Uncle Kirby described as a ‘fly through plane wash’.  Soon, the gleaming sun permitted me to see the massive cruise ships gliding across the sea into the ports ofSt. Thomas.   I sat awestruck as we cruised in to the Cyril. E.KingAirportat one hundred and seventy knots.  All too soon, Uncle Kirby lowered the flaps, put the landing gear down, and made yet another perfect landing.


I was even more thrilled to be landing onSt. Thomasthan onSt. Croix, as I just could not wait to tell everyone about my fantastic night flight.  But it was a bitter-sweet moment as my experience of a lifetime had come to an end.   My muscles were sore from lifting the heavy bales of newspapers, and I felt like I hadn’t slept for weeks.  It was only seven o’clock, and what better thing to do after enjoying Uncle Kirby’s reward of freshly baked bread than to return to my waiting bed!


NIGHT FLIGHT was written in March 2012 by Natalie Richardson for her English 201 Research & Applied Writing class at the University of the Virgin Islands,St. Thomas.  Natalie submitted this to The Anguillian as a tribute to Captain Kirby Hodge, a beloved father figure to her and her cousins who are in St. Thomas attending U.V.I.  Captain Hodge apparently perished after his plane crashed into the ocean nearing the end of his final “Night Flight” on October 13, 2012 and he heroically tried to rescue passengers.  RIP  #Kirby Strong



By anguillian November 2, 2012 08:55


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