by John Rafferty
Night Mail to Kennedy: Windsor Locks to New York
It's shorttly after midnight at Bradley International, and the airport would be completely quiet now if not for the overnight mail. Here at Bradley, as at airports throughout the country, this familiar oldtime scenario is being played out once again as hordes of aging, patched-up Beechcrafts, Lockheeds, and other Postal Service contractors of their ilk materialize from the late-night shadows, like ghosts, to sputter into life and head off into the sky on their appointed rounds.
As you stroll around the airplane with a container of coffee in your hand and make a cursory preflight check, the ground crew loads Four Six Foxtrot with sacks of U.S. mail for New York. You ignore the telltale red stains below the cowling that reveal minor fuel leaks, and you avoid even glancing at the worn down, treadless tires, satisfying yourself with a simple count of the more important parts, just to be sure they're all still in place.
The ground crew finally closes the doors, secures the latches, nods farewell, and drives away, leaving you alone. You take a final slug of coffee, set the empty cup down on the ramp, and climb aboard.
The sky is clear and there's little wind, so weather isn't a concern, but it's a dark and moonless night, so you'll be on instruments most of the way. Your destination is JFK International and you've filed IFR, requesting direct to Hartford and then Victor 229 to Kennedy. If the airplane holds together for you, the flight should be a simple piece of cake.
On the Ramp, Ready to Copy
Beech Three Zero Four Six Foxtrot
Cleared to John F. Kennedy International
Maintain five thousand
Squawk one two one four.
You read back and indicate ready to taxi.
Four Six Foxtrot cleared to taxi for Runway 24
Proceed straight ahead and veer right to parallel the runway .
Approaching the Threshold of Runway 24
Four Six Foxtrot contact Bradley Tower
On one twenty-one point niner good night.
Four Six Foxtrot Bradley Tower
You're cleared for departure
Altimeter three zero point zero zero
Wind two two zero degrees at four
Visibility ten miles
Maintain runway heading.
Four Six Foxtrot turn left
Heading one eight zero degrees
Climb and maintain twenty-five hundred.
At 1000 Feet
Four Six Foxtrot contact Bradley Approach
On one twenty-five point eight so long.
Four Six Foxtrot Bradley Approach
Climb and maintain five thousand
You're cleared direct to Hartford
Resume normal navigation.
5 Miles DME After Hartford
Four Six Foxtrot Bradley
We have an amended clearance
Ready to copy?
Beech Three Zero Four Six Foxtrot
From Madison you're cleared direct to Deer Park
Then direct Kennedy
Maintain five thousand.
Read back to confirm.
You consult your chart, noting that the new leg from Madison to Deer Park is about 48 miles on a course of about 238 degrees, and you revise your log accordingly.
5 Miles DME After Madison
Four Six Foxtrot contact New York Approach
On one twenty-seven point four good night.
20 Miles DME Before Deer Park
Four Six Foxtrot descend and maintain four thousand
And you can expect the VOR-D approach to JFK.
15 Miles DME Before Deer Park
Four Six Foxtrot descend and maintain three thou.…
(… static sounds …)
New York Approach, Four Six Foxtrot, radio check please.
Nothing. You've lost all radio communications. You adhere to your clearance as far as Deer Park and then follow the “expect” clearance that you were given for the VOR-D approach.
Airport in Sight
You select Runway 22 Right. As you approach, a tower controller uses the hand-held signal unit to flash you a green light.
On the Runway
You taxi to the end of the runway and turn right, stopping at the usual mail gate at the far side of the ramp. When parked, you head for a phone to call the tower.