By the time we get to the runway the rain is coming down hard enough to be heard over the engine noise as it strikes the windshield and fuselage. The airplane in front of us, an old Mainline 737, flips on its landing light as it is cleared for takeoff and starts rolling forward. The light beams cut a path through the heavy rain and the engines, set low to the ground under the wing, kick up a huge spray of water vapor. As the blinking strobe light of the 737 disappears into the murk and clouds we are cleared on to the runway and released for takeoff as well.
It’s my leg, and the 4th flight of a day that began 12 hours ago and has yet to show any sunshine. I gave up on that hope hours ago as it is rapidly approaching 11pm and the likelihood of seeing any sun now before we get back to Dayton is slim to none. With the landing lights on and the thrust levers up we start moving forward down the runway into the clouds of vapor left by the recently departed 737.
The FO calls out rotate and we are in the air. Before I can even call for the gear up we enter the clouds and the ride gets bad. I trying to remember when we dropped into the clouds on the descent into Charlotte earlier in the evening, but the day has been too long and I can’t remember. With that happy thought I tighten by grip on the yoke and watch our airspeed and climb rate yoyo back and forth. Due to the late hour and lack of other traffic the departure controller immediately climbs us to 14,000 feet and gives us a turn to the north and towards home.
Through 10,000 I turn off the exterior lights and am debating about calling back to our two Flight Attendants to tell them to stay seated when we break through the top of the cloud layer. The ride instantly smoothes out and I flip the Electronic Device sign off which is the cue for the FAs to get out of their jumpseats.
Overhead, now unobstructed by the clouds, a blanket of stars come into view. As we climb higher they seem to grow in numbers so that as we level off at 30,000 feet the entire dome of the sky is filled with splashes of white. Overhead a meteor flashes by, visible for only seconds as it skips off the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrates in a burst of light. It is followed by another and then another and soon every 30 seconds the sky is torn by a streak of light that fades as rapidly as it appears. My FO and I stare, transfixed at the display as the darkened Kentucky and West Virginia countryside rolls by under the solid layer of clouds below.
Eventually ATC gives us a descent to 24,000 feet but I put off starting down as long as I can. Finally, when I can wait no longer and still keep the ride somewhat comfortable in the back, I roll the nose downward and pull back on the power. We slowly sink towards the clouds below where 100 miles ahead of us the Dayton Airport sits under a low overcast and rain showers. Above us the lightshow continues as the Geminid Meteor Shower passes over the darkened earth.