Flying is really quite simple—all you really have to know is that when you pull back the houses and trees get smaller, and when you push forward the houses and trees get larger; that and a judicious use of the throttles or power control is all that any budding pilot needs to know. I still remember the first time I flew. I spent no more than thirty minutes with the instructor pilot prior to flying and we mostly talked about things related to engine starts and radio calls. As we walked out the door together he casually mentioned the simple flying formula to me. We both laughed. I laughed a nervous laugh, knowing that, in all my ignorance, there certainly had to be more to flying than that. I suppose he was just laughing at me and my nervous attempts at feigned self-confidence. After a few pathetic attempts at radio calls and a smooth taxi, I found myself on the runway, looking at the instructor and expecting him to take the controls and demo the takeoff. I looked at him. He looked at me. I glanced down. “Well,” he said. “Are you going to fly this thing or not?” Feigned self-confidence or pride, I don’t know which, motivated me to push up the throttles and, after reaching the proper airspeed, pull back on the yoke. We were airborne…we were AIRBORNE! It really was that easy.
But things become more difficult after you master the simple formulas. Besides learning how to recover from power-on and power-off stalls, turn around a point, and accomplish emergency landings, one of the most complex puzzles of aviation is navigation. The relatively simple hand-eye coordination needed to pilot an airplane pales in comparison to the mental math gymnastics and intricate interplay between pilot, aeronautical chart, and plotter required to travel from Abilene to San Antonio by Cessna. The many variables of aviation that exist even at takeoff, become much more important once you decide you want to do more than make houses and trees increase or diminish in relative size. Winds aloft, weather patterns, navigational radios, fuel burn, propeller pitch angle, airspeed and groundspeed all conspire to create particularly thorny problems for budding pilots and seasoned aviators alike.
The further one desires to travel, the more important each of these variables become. Take, for instance, the effect of winds on an aircraft. As long as the pilot remains in sight of the airfield he probably doesn’t need to concern himself with the winds very much. Of course the winds (and temperature, and weather patterns, and fuel burn and such) effect his flying; but, so long as he is close to a landing strip, he needn’t be overly concerned about the wind or many other factors. However, when travelling from town to town or from state to state, the winds aloft become a pertinent factor in planning. A pilot who charts his course without taking winds into account can come up with very accurate headings to fly in order to arrive at his destination. Once he leaves his charts and ruler in the planning room and takes to the air, his headings becoming rough estimates at best, and could have disastrous results. Wind speed and direction vary from day to day, however, even a moderate breeze at 10,000 feet can cause an aircraft to drift miles off course if the pilot insists on simply flying his no-wind heading from the planning room. Of course, the solution to this problem is a simple one—simply get a weather report and alter the calculated no-wind heading to account for the winds—but unless it is first planned for and then applied the pilot is likely destined for failure.
Although it has been done many times before, I’m sure, I’d like to draw the analogy between flying and living. At its most basic and obvious level, life is quite nearly as simple as flying: perhaps simpler. All one has to do is get up and move and eat and breathe and sleep, a bit like pulling back on the yoke. This very simple bit of living can be added to as one goes about daily business, doing the next thing, and the next thing, and the thing after that. And, so long as one stays fairly close to the airport, this simple approach to life is sufficient. However, if it somehow enters one’s head to see what lies behind the next ridge or above the clouds, a great deal more planning and knowledge is required. The uncontrollable factors of life—political and economic events, words and actions of other people, natural disasters, for instance—all can exert powerful influence on the navigational course we chart for ourselves, making some decisions irrelevant and others particularly difficult or painful. A lack of awareness that situations like these can exist, and an inability to cope with them when they do arise, leaves many people tossed about by happenstance and external events, unable to do little more than react to a steady influx of contingencies.
While prior preparation and foresight are not sufficient to control the future, they can avert calamaties and enable us to turn what might seem like dire circumstances into fortuitous straits. We can’t know the future or what lies just beyond the sun-split clouds until we get there. Still, the lack of future knowledge needn’t prohibit us from the going and getting. We simply must use the tools we have to lay our plans, and remember that even the best laid plans must be continually updated and altered to account for the winds of life.