I’m one of the lucky few; my occupation is my passion. A few years ago I was flying a training mission at twilight off the coast of Southern California. The Hale-Bopp comet was blazing overhead. I decided to get a better look; dumping the nose of my F-4N Phantom II, I held it at zero g as I shoved the throttles to full afterburner. With no induced drag on the aircraft, the J79-GE-8 engines very quickly pushed the jet supersonic. Leveling at 35,000, its best energy addition altitude, I let the Phantom run up to 1.5 Mach and then began a climb.
Burying the needle of the VSI above it’s 6,000 feet per minute climb limit, the Phantom ascended toward the peeking stars. I should have leveled at 50,000 feet, the limit without a pressure suit, but I didn’t.
Above me the stars were coming alive for the night, below me was the ocean, glistening in the pastel color of a sun just set. Glancing to the east, the coast and San Diego; the city’s lights brighter than the emerging stars. To the west the curvature of the earth was accentuated by the dark ocean against back lit sky.
Finally I looked up to the moon and watched as the Hale-Bopp Comet streaked the sky, just below it. I wondered how I could share this; and some of the other amazing and horrific things I’ve seen in a life of aviation. I have since tried through: film, video, and mostly the written word.