Eastbound with the moon over my left shoulder and the wind on our tail. In fact, it is a perfect tailwind of 101 knots (116 mph); the ground speed is 100 + 1 greater than the true airspeed. There is something about that combination that gives me the warm fuzzies. Behind the reinforced flightdeck door are 136 passengers with tickets to Indy.
Earlier, one hour before sunset:
The wife of my youth straightened my tie after completing her pre-departure checklist, then said, "Don't be crotchety or an old grump bear. I don't want your co-pilots complaining to their wives or girlfriends about you."
"OK, Honey, I'll be good... Promise"
It is her way of reminding me about some of the Captains that were, uh, shall we say, cantankerous, when I was a co-pilot and the stories I would bring home. Even so, I miss (most of) them... A lot. Then, with a last second pat on her shiney hiney, off I go into the wild, black yonder.
Midnight, Lost Wages:
We are number five for take-off. One eye on the fuel quantity and the other on the second hand. In eight minutes, we are out of taxi fuel. My dispatcher and I agreed to a maximum revenue load with fuel burn off to landing weight. In other words, load everything on the aircraft (passengers, freight, mail, Grandma's poodle...), then figure the fuel backwards from the destination at maximum landing weight. The second option is to load the fuel first, then load revenue until maximum landing weight at destination. In the business, this is known as weight restricted. Sometimes Grandma gets left behind using this option, but if the Captain is nervous about the destination (weather, closed runway, traffic, or a creepy feeling), then this option is the safest. Tonight, though, the big picture is good. All forces are in a state of balance. Put Grandma and Fluffy on the plane...
"Crank number two."
The co-pilot opens the start valve and number two engine starts turning. At about 25% revolutions, the kerosene/air mixture lights off with a "whoof" sending the internal engine temperatures skyward, literally. Metallurgy is an amazing science! How can the hot section go from outside air temperature to hell fire in a few seconds without cracking? Unbelievable! Our hands are moving quickly as we push buttons, pull levers, turn knobs, run checklists, and get our ducks all lined up for take-off. We are now number two; the fuel is about minimum amount for take-off.
"Flight attendants, please be seated for take-off."
"Cleared for take-off runway 25 right. Caution wake turbulence from preceding 767."
I am the flying pilot on this leg; I let Fi-Fi roll onto the runway without stopping and advance the thrust levers forward about one inch... Then, we wait while the engines think about it for a few seconds. When they are convinced that I am serious about this take-off, the engines slowly spool up from idle thrust and stabilize, ready and waiting for more kerosene.
Thrust levers forward to the stops. Fi-Fi pushes us into our seats as the fuel flows head north. A last glance at the fuel quantity... Minimum; exactly as planned.
Airborne at 165 mph (143 kts), positive climb rate and "Gear up." The barn doors open into the slipstream and the landing gear is pushed and pulled into the belly with several clacks and a few thumps; barn doors close, flight deck gear lights extinguish indicating all is well.
Twenty minutes later, we level at our first cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. We climbed through thin cloud layers and turbulence, but up here it is smooth. The next three hours will be spent nursing the fuel load and tailwind hunting. My goal is to touchdown at Indy with one hour of fuel remaining.
No shortcuts tonight... We have to watch that landing weight.