01 August 2018

Flights of fancy

He ducked his head down inside the cockpit. The phosphorescent needles had begun to glow. One after the other he checked the figures and was happy. He felt himself solidly ensconced in this evening sky. He ran a finger along a steel rib and felt the life coursing through it; the metal was not vibrant but alive. The engine's five hundred horse-power had charged the matter with a gentle current, changing its icy deadness into velvet flesh. Once again the pilot in flight experienced neither giddiness not intoxicating thrill, but only the mysterious travail of living flesh.

He had made a world for himself once more. He moved his arms to feel even more at home, then ran his thumb over the electric circuit diagram. He fingered the various switches, shifted his weight, settled back, and sought to find the position best suited for feeling the oscillations of these five tons of metal which a moving night had shouldered. Groping with his fingers, he pushed the emergency lamp into position, let it go, seized hold of it again after making sure it wouldn't slip, then let go to touch each throttle lever and to assure himself that he could reach them without looking - thus training his fingers for a blind man's world. His fingers having taken stock of everything, he switched on a lamp, decking out his cockpit with precision instruments. Attentive to the dial readings, he could now enter the night, like a submarine starting on its dive. There was no trembling, no shaking, no undue vibration; and as his gyroscope, altimeter, and r.p.m. rate remained constant, he stretched his limbs, leaned his head back against the leather seat, and fell into an airborne meditation rich with unfathomable hopes.

- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Night Flight, 1931 (trans. Curtis Cate, 1971)

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