Soft, Tempting IFR

A few weeks ago I was driving to an errand out-of-town. The road, your basic county two-lane, ran due east west. It was one of those soft days, with a blue and white sky of low-rising cloud towers peeping in and out of a silvery grey lower layer. I needed to wear dark glasses for the glare, and it brought the clouds into relief. I felt an almost overwhelming urge to push the accelerator and upon reaching Vr, ease back on the wheel and climb into the sky.

No, I did not have my pick-up at rotation speed. But that was the kind of sky I used to enjoy going up in for practice IFR, or cruising over on an instrument flight plan. It is beautiful, not too challenging but not too easy, and you can still spot potential moments of meteorological interest looming (literally) in the distance.

Imagine, if you will: You are at the end of the runway. You push the throttle forward and the engine roars louder and louder. The plane begins to accelerate, faster and faster down the runway, growing light on the wheels. She wants to fly, begs to fly. You pull back on the stick, just a little light motion of the hand and she leaps up, smooth and graceful, rising above the hangars and trees. The silvery grey and white beckons, luring you higher and higher with promises of soft blue beyond the grey.

First a few wisps of grey brush your wings, then the windscreen darkens for an instant. Then white, blazing white with blue beyond appears, fingers and pillars and small towers of lumpy, purest white surround you. You can feel a few bumps, more pushes from beneath than jolts, as you cross rising and sinking bits of air. If you look down you will catch glimpses of ground, of green and golden fields, of winter wheat almost ready for harvest. A splash of blue shimmers briefly into view as you pass over a small rainwater lake. But your eyes stay up, your hands and mind guiding the plane around the pillars, climbing, climbing, racing for the blue above, pulled into the endless heights until you rise above the low cumulus.

A blue and white world spreads in all directions. Perhaps faint white feathers streak the sky to the west, ice clouds snowing above even the airliners. Below the white canyons march in all directions, glowing, more white than the whitest cloth, whiter than snow, a white that shines with its own light, or so it seems right now, under the noonday sun. Here the air is smooth, the radio quiet. The world is clean and perfect, the plane’s engine hums contentedly, and all is well.