Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Sky Rockets in Flight...

I got this email from a friend of mine who's nephew is a pilot for US Air. I found it interesting and thought you might enjoy it as well!

Hi Everyone,
We took off out of Miami bound for Charlotte last Fri night a little after 8PM and as we approached Orlando there was some discussion on the air traffic frequency about a possible launch at the Cape. The air traffic controller said the NASA advisory was for a 9PM satillite launch, and our on board computer was telling us we would be abeam the Cape at 8:45, so we figured we'd be too far north (by about 100 miles) at launch time to see anything. So abeam the Cape at 8:45ish, level at 29,000 feet, we saw a very bright glow out by the lanuch pads intensify strongly, then diminish and dissappear. The Captian and I agreed that it looked like a scrubbed launch. A few minutes later, about 8:50, with the Cape now slightly behind us in our 4 o'clock position, something caught my eye, and I looked back to see this 500 foot long trail of fire out of about 1000 feet. "Holy $&*%! There it goes!"

I professionally advised my Captian. This rocket then proceeded on a northeasterly course, paralleling our course, about 20 miles away. It climed at a very steep angle until slightly above us, then seemed to flatten its climb a bit and proceed to slowly overtake us, flame bright as ever. Due to the clear night, the brightness of the rocket, and its close proximity, it looked as though it might climb over us (there was kind of a "fish-bowl" effect to the whole scene, due to the intense flame combined with our altitude), but it continued to pass slowly along side us, and head off shore. The trail was now diminished, more of a phosphorus glow, but still very visible.

Then the two solid rocket boosters fell away, visible now as only bright points of light, and the rocket pressed on with only its engine as a single point of light showing its location. There was now some speculation on the radio from other aircraft that this was possibly a secret Shuttle launch, probably military, but we learned later that it was indeed a Delta rocket, used commonly for satillites.
Then something strange happened. A bright, bluish-green aura seemed to envelop the rocket's location (the engine now a small point of light), and grow larger for perhaps a minute. Then the cloud faded away, and it and the rocket were gone. We later learned that this was the point at which the rocket had gone through the speed of sound.
In 18 years of flying up and down the Florida coast, that is only the second launch I've seen from the air, and the first one at night.



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