In 1922, Then-Lieutenant James H. Doolittle flew a DH-4 from Jacksonville Florida to San Diego, California in less than 24 hours. He began his flight at dusk on the east coast, landing in San Antonio, TX just after dawn, refueling, and continuing on to California. His night flight from Florida to Texas exposed him to thunderstorms, which he flew through, under, and around by catching sight of the ground during lightning flashes. This was seven years before he made the first “blind” flight while developing equipment and techniques for instrument flying – his cross-country was conducted purely by contact with the ground, aided by his compass.
What I like to ponder is the fact that I have flown that course from Florida to Texas many times myself, and have encountered similar weather. Wait, that’s not true – I have encountered the SAME weather. Oh yes, I have much better instrumentation, better navigation, and much faster airplanes – but the weather itself has not changed. No matter your personal thoughts on the age of the earth, we can all admit that it is far beyond a human’s ability to comprehend, given our life span – and we can assume that just like all of the earth’s natural processes, the weather is as the weather has been (more or less) across time.
Think about that the next time you see a line of storms, or a fog bank, or the swirling dust storm that indicates desert winds – what you are seeing with your own eyes is just what Doolittle saw – or Lindbergh, Kelly, Yeager, or Armstrong. We have better tools, but the foe is the same it has always been. The weather’s ability to strike us down is identical. Its ability to produce ice, turbulence, or heavy rain is unchanged. It is implacable, unrelenting – and we have no more reason to believe that we can beat it at its own game than could all of the aviators that have come before.
The view we see is the same view that generations of pilots have seen – a common experience that binds us all together. There is no difference between “modern” weather and that of yesteryear – they didn’t see it in black and white (as we would imagine from old time photos), they saw it in the same living color as you do today – sometimes the terrible green color of a severe storm; sometimes the marvelous reds, oranges, and purples of a gorgeous sunset. If you could be magically transported back in time, the sky would look the same.
Wonderful, isn’t it?