Monday, November 20, 2006

Sparkling City

I had one of those experiences of a lifetime last night. The ones that make you smile for days afterwards no matter what else happens, the ones that make you realize why you love flying so much. The ones that make you want to try to write about them and then almost give up in frustration since it is impossible to put the silly smiles and feelings down on paper and make others feel the same way. The experience was my first night flight over downtown Toronto.

It was the first class of my night rating and we were supposed to stay in the circuit doing endless touch and goes, but it was my last flight together with my instructor (he is leaving to a new job) and even though the ceilings were low (OVC025), the visibility under the clouds was unlimited and the downtown looked bright and inviting, so we asked YKZ Tower to permission to leave the circuit, got transponder code and took off towards the lights in the south.

Normally, a student training out of YKZ does a downtown tour by the time he or she is finished, or flies it immediately after, but I just never got around to it, so it was my first ever downtown tour and it spoiled me forever.

The low ceilings were reflecting the bright lights of the downtown, the sea of sparkles below and the sea of fire above with dark outlines of downtown skyscrapers in between. I never knew that the night downtown sparkled so much as viewed from 2,000 ft – the light level was not constant, always changing in intensity and color. I could just sit there and watch that light show for hours. Alas, I also had to fly the airplane, too, for the first time at night, so that took some concentration.

Island Tower cleared us for the tour and frequency grew silent. We were the only plane in the area and had the whole downtown to ourselves. YYZ traffic was reduced to bright dots way on the horizon and we were free to go anywhere we wanted. Surreal does not begin to describe that experience…

I flew over downtown TO more than a few times in the commercial flights when they turn over the city before landing on Rwy 24, however this experience was entirely different. Firstly, we were much lower. The clearance from City Tower was to stay at 2,000 ft, which put us 1,000 ft lower than commercial airliners and below the very tip of the CN Tower (it extends to over 2,000 ft). And secondly, I was the pilot, not the passenger, deciding where to go and what to see. My first circle was wide, all the way to Humber Bay and then on the outside of Toronto Islands getting a wide view of the downtown with its very recognizable outline silhouetted against the sea of light behind. The contrast between the dark water and the city light was striking. The visibility was so good, I could easily see the lights of St. Catherines in the distance, miles across the lake.

My second circle was tighter, it was actually a square pattern as I wanted to keep wings level as much as possible so that they won’t be blocking the view. I flew a bit further North to Manulife building and then took Spadina to the south passing as close to CN Tower as regulations would allow. I was a bit tense (that being my first night flight ever) and exhilarated at the same time, flying next to one of the world’s most famous landmark. Looking down on the tallest buildings was neat too – especially given that I look up to most of them out of my 6th floor office window that is facing Bay St.

And then it was all over and time to go back to YKZ. We picked up the DVP North, checked out of City Tower frequency, checked in with Buttonville and were cleared for a straight in approach to Rwy 33. I came in a bit high and had to slip almost to the flare to loose height. Landing was not my smoothest, but that was to be expected given I had been learning how to land the taildragger and have not not flown a 172 Cessna i 3 months prior to that flight.

1 comment:

Unknown said...


You lucky dog!!! I still haven't flown down to YTZ yet! Adam never got around to it. My new instructor, Justin, promised to do this on Monday when we go again.

It is so pretty at night, eh?