Last night was a beautiful September evening, with thin high clouds and mild breezes. Needing to practice night landings for future instrument flying, I took off in the Diamond DA-40 from Leesburg Airport just at sundown. I could just glimpse the fields and farms below me as I headed west from Leesburg, over Purcellville, and on to the dark mass of the Blue Ridge. With just a few lights glinting off the Shendandoah River, I got in two landings and an ILS approach at Winchester, then dropped in at Martinsburg to touch-and-go alongside the hulking C-5 Galaxies lining the parking ramp. My landings were actually more gentle than my last round in the daytime!
I finally returned to Leesburg on a GPS approach just after 9 p.m. local, settling onto the brilliantly outlined runway and taxiing in to a quiet airport. I was the last pilot to tie down my plane and head back to the parking lot. The flight was a perfect end to a nearly perfect late summer day.
Although I was usually traveling no faster than 110 knots, the flight reminded me of the many night flights over West Texas I enjoyed in the back seat of a NASA T-38. I can only contrast my exhilarating mission last evening with what the P-47 Thunderbolt pilots of the Hell Hawks experienced every time they strapped on a P-47.
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