Short Final: Optical Delusion


All my flying for the first several years of owning my Grumman AA1-B was VFR, even at night. And my electronic navigation was limited to the Narco Escort 110 in the panel, which could navigate and communicate, but not both at the same time. I learned the trick of setting what seemed like a good heading, then looking out at something distinctive near the horizon—a large town, brightly lit highway intersection, or a night baseball game—and steering toward it. Then picking up the next visible landmark from there.

One night, flying on an easterly heading homeward shortly after sunset, I picked up an orangey glow on the horizon that I took to be a covered, lighted tennis court or something like that, and maintained my track toward it to compensate for any wind correction (there wasn’t any wind, so it was easy).

As I flew along, the glow got progressively larger. I could see it wasn’t getting any closer, just larger by the minute. I tried to puzzle it out, but couldn’t imagine how this … whatever it was … way, way out on the horizon was getting so much larger, brighter … and rounder, as I flew along.

Then, I got it. I was on a beeline toward the most beautiful, orange Harvest Moonrise I’d ever seen.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


  1. Ah, the wonders of the Narco Escort 110.🌟 Had one in my ’46 Ercoupe 415 C/D and one in my ’59 Cessna 150 straight tail.
    That switch from Nav to Comm got quite a workout in the TEB airspace 💥

    • Flying in the Northeast, I developed calluses on my right thumb and forefinger…until I finally swapped it out for a KX170.

  2. During the early 90’s I belonged to a Bridgeport flying club that had an AA1A in its fleet of Tigers and Cheetahs. I recently finished the of a RANS S-19 Venterra which is an AA1A lookalike.