It’s always a clear day at 50,000 feet, the jet jocks would say, boasting of themselves and their aircraft. The helicopters I flew had a service ceiling of 10,000 feet, and the jet jocks knew it. And it’s true I never got to look down on the world from that height. But on the right kind of day far out at sea, scattered cumulus at around 3,000 feet, I could take that helicopter right in among the clouds, maneuver between the saddlebacks, roll into blue shade or climb out into sunlight, watch the chopper’s shadow, shimmery and haloed, move across the wispy cloud body. No need for speed then, time to savor the feel of joyous flight, the carrier off in the distance, looking like a model of itself set into a painted sea, with shafts of light marking the way home.
John Van Kirk is the author of the novel Song for Chance (Red Hen Press, 2013). His short fiction has won the O. Henry Award (1993) and The Iowa Review Fiction Prize (2011) and has been published in various journals and several anthologies. He is currently at work on a novel set on an aircraft carrier.
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Top photo: USS John F. Kennedy on the Adriatic Sea. From the Public Domain Archive of the U.S. National Archives.