Instrument Flight Rules

I am not a pilot and I do not play one on t.v. I feel like I just need to state that up front. This isn’t a technical post about how to fly an airplane. I know just this side of nothing about flying an airplane.

But here’s the thing: I spent a fair bit of time in airplanes this past week. And it got me thinking. And did I mention that my husband, Don, was an Air Force pilot? So he used to talk about flying and airplanes. A LOT. So when I’m sitting in an airplane, and I’m thinking, it’s not that unusual that what I’m thinking about is…well, flying. And airplanes.

So the first leg of my flight out to San Francisco took me to Philadelphia, and it was raining. A lot. It was raining and cloudy when I left D.C. and it was cloudy and raining when we landed in Philadelphia and when we took off again. It was so cloudy, in fact, that I didn’t see the ground until we were almost on it. I’ll get to that in a bit. Landing comes after the whole flight.

Which brings me to the flight itself. We took off from National Airport early in the morning (and do please remind me to avoid these first-thing-in-the-morning flights in the future – I really don’t like getting up at 3:30. Sorry – where was I?). Yes – we took off at around 6:00 am on a dark and stormy day. Almost immediately we were engulfed in clouds.  And then, we were above the clouds. Just like that. And it was…sunny.

Well, of course it was sunny. it was early in the morning, and the reason it wasn’t sunny on the ground is because the clouds were blocking the sun. We got above the clouds. Sometimes in life, you have to get above the clouds to have a clearer view of things.

It’s so easy to get bogged down in the rain and the clouds and to forget that the sun is still up there. When that happens, it can be useful to take a step back…or up…and get a broader perspective. The clouds won’t be in the way forever. And we need the rain as well as the sun (as I was reminded all week long as I stayed in an area that’s still affected by a water shortage).

Then there was the approach to Philadelphia. I was looking out the window at….clouds. Nothing but clouds. Clouds above me, clouds around me, clouds below me. I knew we were on our approach to landing (because of the announcements and all) but looking out the window, it looked and felt to me as if we were perpetually banking to the left and drifting right. I knew, in my head, that wasn’t happening, because things inside the cabin weren’t sliding off to the left. It just felt that way to me.

This is why pilots have instruments in the cockpit. Not all pilots are IFR (instrument flight rules) qualified. If you know about The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, and Richie Valens, you know that they all died in a plane crash in bad weather. That pilot wasn’t IFR-qualified. I know, from many conversations with my husband in which he reminded me over and over again, that it’s very important that pilots trust the instruments over what they see or think they’re feeling. It’s very easy to become disoriented, especially in bad weather.

Sometimes we get disoriented. We need to have advisors around who can guide us. We need to be able to trust those who can help us find our perspective again. We need guideposts. Otherwise we risk flying ourselves right into the ground.

We came out of the clouds and there was the runway! Right there! We landed safely, and then I just made it (I just made it) to my connecting flight. It all ran smoothly.

Not all of my colleagues had flights that ran smoothly. Many were cancelled outright. Sometimes, even with the best instruments available, it’s just too dangerous to fly.

In life, sometimes we also need to know when we have to step back and say, “Nope. I’ve done all I can. I need to give this a rest for the time being.”

It’s good to have a clear view and to know where we are, but that’s not always possible. When we don’t have clear skies, we need to use the tools we have to keep ourselves on track. And sometimes, we just have to stop and take stock. Sometimes, the best we can do is wait where we are and try again another day.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.


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