Portable Manmade Stars

We have a lot of these in the D.C. Metro area. Objects in the night sky that flash, glow, or glow brightly as they arc across the sky. The aircraft that cover this area with an invisible web of radar trails and flightplans are the manmade stars brighter than the planets and suns that wheel above them.

As a boy I remember being excited when a pair of Harrier Jump Jets might fly low across the field, pilots in training. It was a rare excitement to see these steel Kestrels screech across the sky. The local airfields flew mostly gliders, giant paper aircraft that silently slit the sky. The helicopters I saw in my youth would be small and distant, tiny mayflies buzzing over fields.

Here, barely a day goes by without the vibrations of a police helicopter buzzing overhead, or Blackhawks flying low and fast as they zoom in along the I95 corridor. I still get the buzz of excitement at the sight of these giant military machines, and my eyes are still drawn to the huge, heavy insectlike frames clawing at the air to fly. There is a magic in their daytime flight, when the science and the business of their movement is so plainly shown. At dusk and in the evening though, when the view from your office covers the approach to Dulles, and every sunset is sliced to ribbons by vapour trails, the magic and wonder changes, and all the airborn traffic becomes just twinkling dots in the night sky, manmade stars that glimmer and twinkle.

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