Extra Lights

My two daughters were interested in visiting several colleges in New York and Maryland. A long commute if you happen to live in Colorado Springs as we do, so I contacted my parents in Southern Maryland and hatched a wonderful plan. By their graciousness, we would borrow Dad's Cessna 180, enabling us to make short work of the college campus visits and we would get to see some other relatives as well.

We traveled to Maryland by airline, flew the 180 up to the several colleges in New York, culminating in a landing at Allentown PA for a three-day visit to New York City. A closer destination was planned but the weather wasn't cooperating that day. Without an instrument rating, Allentown became the clear choice. Besides, it just isn't that far from the City.

We finished our college visit in the City on the first day. As I sipped a glass of wine over lunch on the second day, we marveled at our good fortune, the beauty of New York, and the sites we were planning to see before our departure the following afternoon. As luck would have it, though, the weather would once again interfere with our plans. Leaving the restaurant I glanced at a TV monitor and saw from a weather map that I needed to check the weather again for our trip the following day. It quickly became clear that a late evening departure would be necessary to ensure that we would be able to get home to our airline flights three days away.

I started my stopwatch. Only one small glass, but eight hours must pass first. And I would need to make two landings to become night current before our departure. It would be a late night. We called my parents to let them know we would be coming in late and played New York tourist for the rest of the afternoon.

We arrived at Allentown with 20 minutes to go on my watch. I checked weather one last time and preflighted the airplane. My wife turned the car in and the girls settled down in front of the FBO television. I taxied out, performed my two full stop landings, and returned to the ramp. I used the cell phone to call Dad with the final plan. He assured me the car would be waiting at the airport. We loaded up and departed.

The ceiling was already down to 3000 feet, but it was smooth and clear underneath. At midnight the frequencies began to quiet, and soon we were over the Chesapeake Bay. At the urging of Potomac Approach we crossed over to the west coast of the Bay and into his Class B airspace at the Bridge. No one's around at that time of night, so we had his airspace to ourselves. I looked back. Both my girls were asleep in the still night. My wife and I took in the view of the Washington lights from our magic chariot, our dependable 180 that Dad wrangled away from a United Airlines pilot back in the spring of 1960.

Shortly after 1am, the power plant came into view signaling time to turn away from the Bay. The beacon at St. Mary's blinked faithfully at us, and I keyed the mic to turn on the runway lights. Shortly after I did so, two extra lights came into view. What are those, I wondered? Oh. Headlights on a car, on the taxi way midfield. It was Dad. Immediately I knew this. Too worried - no, not too worried, too caring to sleep.

Overhead now, I called my position, rolled into a tight pattern, slowed to 75 mph, and with only a little bounce stalled our dear 180 onto the runway. Before we turned onto the midfield taxiway the lights turned and he guided us down the taxiway. We arrived at a portion of the taxiway I had not realized was unlit that led to our hangar. The car's presence made finding our way much easier.

The hangar doors were open. Few words were said as we pushed the airplane into its den and moved the baggage into the car. But no warmer feeling would I entertain than that night, knowing I and my family were in good hands.