Evening Flight

8:30 PM

[Ed. note: This is a post by aviation photographer Jo Hunter, aka @futureshox...info on her can be found here - dan

I'm meeting my friend Jim at the airport on a baking hot Texas afternoon, one of a seemingly-unending series of 100F+ days; hot enough to fry eggs on the hangar roof. The air is made of bumps and the wind is high, so we take refuge in the shade of the open hangar, drinking cold sodas, chatting about the airfield and admiring the resident Beech 18 parked over yonder.

We watch as the sun gradually creeps downwards, while the wind settles to a more manageable level. As the sun reaches a handspan or two's width from the horizon, Jim rises from his chair and begins the preflight. Fuel is squirted into testing cylinders, control surfaces are tweaked, oil is checked. I give Jim a hand to push his Vans RV-7A out of the hangar, and turn her round on the ramp.
Jim has me close the hangar door over while he taxis around to the pumps for fuel. I watch him start the plane, then lean on the button as the door slides down. A short stroll across the grass and I'm joining him by the aeroplane. He finishes the fueling, stows the hoses and we climb into the aircraft. There's a technique to this; left foot on the step, right foot on the wing root, stand on the wing. Right foot onto the seat cushion, grab the handle overhead, slide the left foot down towards the rudder pedals and lower yourself onto the seat. Once we're both installed, close the canopy most of the way and start her up.
Taxi the length of the airfield, watching our shadow on the adjacent rows of corn, until we near the threshold. Swing the nose around and perform the power checks. Take a look around for anyone else in the circuit - all is quiet; we're good to go. Close the hatch. Jim calls on the radio that we're taking runway 17, taxies out, lines up and pushes the throttle fully in. The engine responds with an obliging roar and we begin to hurtle along the runway. We soon come unstuck from the tarmac, as the Vans climbs easily away from the airfield.
By this time, the sun is a few fingers' width off the horizon and the lights in the town nearby are coming on. They twinkle amongst the long shadows below as we ascend. There's a few thin clouds off to the west and a layer of haze below, as we pass through 2,000 feet. The temperature drops, too; as though someone had turned on an air conditioner; welcome relief. We climb another couple of thousand feet over towards the lake, which gleams with the reflected warmth of the late evening, only matched by the polished aluminium of our wings.
We level out to watch the sun set. It is bloated and red and almost ready; a slight elongation as it sinks close to the darkness; lengthening now, with a sliver of cloud across the sun's disc. I am reminded just how fast the world is spinning as the whole sun becomes a part, then tapers into nothing and it's gone.

Shadows have covered the ground, but we're still lit by the ambient light. The town becomes brighter. Moving white and red lights are traffic on the roads below, but a solitary white and green movement in the distance is another aircraft enjoying the evening's magic. The air has become smooth and cool and it feels like our own little world.
It's beginning to get darker now, so Jim points us back towards the field and we descend. Feel the heavy warmth of the lower air hit us at that 2000 foot boundary again. As we approach, Jim takes delight in turning on the runway lights with a few clicks of his microphone switch. He brings us round through downwind and base until we're looking into a pathway of green lights. Gently down; fly her onto the tarmac. Squeaks from the stall warning horn and the tyres announce our arrival. We roll out and turn onto the taxiway, heading back to the hangar.
Jim shuts the engine down, and we climb out into the dusky Texas evening. He opens the hangar and I help him push the plane back in. Tuck her in with fans to keep her cool, then bid her goodnight. It's been a beautiful evening.

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