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Fireworks in flight

They look better from the air.

It started out as no more than a lark ‌in 1999. Fly through the midnight of the old millennium into the new. Our family would view the public and private fireworks displays ushering in Y2K from a different perspective: through the windows of our Cessna 172 as we flew within forty miles northeast of Anchorage over the suburban area surrounding the Knik Arm including Eagle River, Birchwood, Wasilla and Big Lake, Alaska. I’d also have one less landing than takeoff in my logbook for 1999 – what a hoot!

First we took a trip into the Zulu time New Year in the waning light of the winter afternoon. Everything went fine and the GPS didn’t get confused as it went through 00 “Z” and into the next millennium.

Mid-flight toast

A toast to the new year (with cider of course).

That night, flying into the real New Year’s eve darkness, we watched the GPS clock as it counted to the magic hour. Finally, we popped off the cork and poured our drinks into the glass flutes we’ve now had for years (seem to break at least one a year). We toasted each other with sparkling cider at midnight aloft over the Valley. For an area where at the time most fireworks were illegal, the displays were spectacular. We’d had the best seat in the house for the display of American hope and promise.

Since then, we’ve been shut out a few times. Weather has caused us to cancel and one time the battery chose to go south, but even these events have become part of our family’s lore.

Toast on the ground

No bottle opener? We’ll toast on the ground.

One year, due to a slight misunderstanding, we didn’t have a bottle opener ready for the sparkling cider on board, and no time to dig around the flight bag for my leatherman, so we decided to wait to toast each other on the ground. We’ve done it both ways over the years, inflight toasting and on the ground. All very sweet.

As the children grow up and move on with their own lives, perhaps it will be just Margaret and I flying from this year to the next. That we can be together flying through the years has always been a happy blessing. How long we continue depends on many factors, but you can bet the memories of our annual family flying tradition on New Year’s eve are already permanent!

Marshall Severson
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9 replies
  1. Liad B.
    Liad B. says:

    Marshall, great family story, thank you for sharing and happy new year to you and your flying family :-)


  2. Sue Spincic
    Sue Spincic says:

    Happy New Year, Marshall! I do enjoy your stories! Thanks again for sharing Alaska with a Jersey girl…

  3. Rob Belisario
    Rob Belisario says:

    Great story Marshall. We did the same thing in a C172 in Syracuse New York on 12/31/1999. As the clock struck midnight, we expected all kinds of crazy Y2K things to happen, but all was quiet. We were the only airplane in the sky that night and had a fun discussion with a friendly tower controller. She suggested that she’d turn off the airport lighting one switch at a time, as everything was both manual and computer controlled, and that whole Y2K worry was causing some concern. We’d continue to circle above and would report what we saw. Off came the runway lights, and then back on. Ditto for the taxiway lights and other signage. She turned the approach lighting up to high along with the “rabbit” and then off. Everything came back on as if no Y2K bugs were present. Finally, she turned off the rotating beacon, but it would not come back on! Interestingly enough, all the aforementioned lighting had been in place for many decades, but the rotating beacon was less than 2 years old and was mounted on a new pole down field when they built the new control tower. So we only had one “BUG” on an otherwise perfect night. At midnight-thirty, with a cold bottle of champagne waiting for us on the ground, we were cleared to land just as the sheriff department’s helicopter lifted off to investigate some New Year’s rowdiness. 15 years have passed and Joan, myself and my stepson still talk about how cool that experience was!

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