View From The Flight Deck

View From The Flight Deck

  • November
  • 14
  • 2023
  • Advanced Aircrew Academy

During a lifetime spent looking down on the world, pilots have a myriad of stories of what they have experienced in the air—and not just strange passenger stories. From unusual weather to earthly designs, pilots have an unobstructed view of Mother Nature's most incredible works of art, human-caused and natural.

There are an infinite number of unique views and anomalies, but we have narrowed it down to the following top five views pilots see that the average earthbound person might never see with their own eyes unless they have a chance to fly.

Dorothy Should've Been a Pilot

Strangely, you cannot really fly over a rainbow. Since you can see the colors of water being refracted only when the light passes through the front of the suspended water droplets, as you approach the rainbow, your view of it will disappear; however, pilots can sometime see a full circle rainbow. If the sun is low on the horizon and behind the aircraft, a pilot can see an entire circle of refracted light.

Even better than that, pilots can see a rainbow "glory" in both liquid and frozen water droplets from the airplane. Their formation theory is complex, but "The Glory of the Pilot" halos encircle a plane's shadow against the clouds and emerge because of your perspective of being in the air looking down on tiny water droplets in the atmosphere. They are smaller than a rainbow, but the shadow image racing across the clouds will make even the grumpiest pilot smile…unless you're trying to scud run on top of a cloud deck in an aircraft without de-/anti-icing equipment. Those glories are often an indication of potential icing conditions and should make you rethink descending through them without the proper equipment.

St. Elmo's Fire

It starts with a quick blip of a flash. It makes you sit up because at first, you are not quite sure what it was. Then "it" decides your aircraft is a good conductor, so it settles in and appears as branch-shaped lightning fingers dancing across the windscreen. This conglomeration of energy is nicknamed St. Elmo's Fire.

Once it starts dancing, if you reach out and touch the windscreen, you will be amazed when the branches move with the touch of your finger. Or, if the charge is at capacity, it will give you a light zap, similar to wearing socks over carpeting and then touching a doorknob.

St. Elmo's Fire can appear blue, purple, or green—it depends on the windscreen coating—but more bizarre is that you can often hear it "sing" on your aircraft radio. The older the aircraft, the louder the song. It can even interfere with radio communications. There are good rule-of-thumb tricks to alleviate the charge, but it depends on the aircraft type. Pilots claim that if you turn on the anti-icing system, it helps discharge the buildup, but this information is not usually found in the Flight or Aircraft Operating Manual.

St. Elmo's Fire is a good indication of thunderstorm activity in the area because it happens when the atmosphere becomes electrically charged. Now you add the ingredients contained in your aircraft, and the result is the airframe gathers up the extra charge, carries it a while, and then discharges some of the buildup back into the atmosphere where it can alleviate the extra electrical load.


Most pilots have seen unusual lights or strange movements in the sky, but most know, or attribute, that our military has some amazing highly technical un/manned aircraft that aren't known to the public yet. More than likely, that is what's out there. Pilots are more worried about the Drone type of unidentified flying objects. There are numerous reports of close calls, even though drones are not supposed to be flown more than 400 feet above the ground (AGL). Hundreds of drones have flown dangerously close to manned aircraft and pilots' patience is wearing thin.

The closure rate between a drone and commercial aircraft is so fast that by the time you see a drone, it's too late. More recently, there have been heavy fines for drone operator offenders who violate airspace, but it is of little consolation if a drone collides with an airplane full of passengers.

Earth is Art

The earth itself is art, but humankind has also made its mark on it, and it can't be appreciated unless you're looking down on it. Distinctive center-pivot irrigation circles tic-tac-toe across the farm belt while property lines, roads, and crop fields mark ownership. From the sky, it's an endless changing painting from state to state and season to season.

Besides the local farmers cutting designs and messages into their crops for aircraft to see, there are also ancient geoglyphs that were never discovered until aircraft began to fly over them. There are over fifty geoglyphs in Kazakhstan alone. Additional discoveries have been found in Peru, Brazil, Scandinavia, Iceland, England, and Russia.

There is also a rooftop that says "Welcome to Cleveland" painted by someone with a great sense of humor in Milwaukee, WI. The sign is visible for passengers landing on runway 19 at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport.

The Odds Are Good

The odds of getting struck by lightning are 1 in 15,300, but pilots should play the lottery because their odds are even better. On average, a commercial aircraft gets struck by lightning once per year or once every 1000 hours of flight. It depends on the geographic areas you're flying in.

Pilots are not too worried because aircraft are giant Faraday Cages that are designed to just let the lightning pass through on the way down to the ground or back into the air. Just the mere presence of an aircraft in a charged area can trigger a lightning strike.

The challenge is that no two strikes are the same and you never know which components are going to resist. It can cause damage to aircraft systems and avionics. It is the loud bang and flash of light that scares the passengers that makes a pilot's job harder. There is more concern for the winds on the surface near an airport when there is convective activity associated with lightning, but pilots will always do their best to avoid being anywhere near where lightning will strike.

No matter what the phenomenon, Advanced Aircrew Academy can train pilots, flight/cabin attendants, mechanics/engineers, line service technicians, schedulers/dispatchers, and office staff on 120+ general operating topics in Part 91 and/or Part 135. IS-BAO or BASC? Our training can help you be ready for the audits.

If you have USAIG Insurance, they will give you $2500 towards your training.

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