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Dr Cliff Robertson, Jr

Flying Lessons #1

In Isaiah 40:31, the prophet tells us that if we “…wait upon the Lord, we will mount up on wings as eagles…” This will begin a series that we will often return to called “Flying Lessons” – because if we are going to mount up on wings as eagles, we have to learn a little bit about what that means and what it ultimately is all about or we will come crashing down.

In the world of aviation, all pilots must learn to fly with their instruments if they are going to be able to go far, fly high or be able to remain in flight during troubled times like bad weather or darkness. One of those instruments is an “Attitude Indicator”. This instrument gives the pilot a visual representation of the aircraft’s position in relation to the horizon. Is the plane in a climb or a descent? Is it turning left or right? While you may think the answers to these questions should be obvious – in an aircraft, at altitude, in a cloud bank, in the dark or bad weather, it’s just not that simple.

The attitude indicator has cross-hairs fixed on the face of the instrument that represents the aircraft. Behind the cross-hairs is a ball that moves as the plane turns, climbs or descends. This “ball” will go from white to black as the attitude of the plane changes from up to down. When the aircraft is flying straight and level the cross-hairs split the middle of the ball and all you can see above them is white and all that is below them is black.

This attitude indicator is crucial during night flying or flying during a bad weather. Pilots have been known to get vertigo and not be able to tell, on their own, whether they were in a climb or descent, turning slightly left or right. Sometimes, it can be so bad that when they need to go up, they actually go down and when they need to go right they actually go left – all the while thinking they are going in the right direction. Their eyes and their “feelings” are lying to them in cases of vertigo.

I had the chance to witness this firsthand when I was in the Navy as an air traffic controller aboard the USS George Washington (CVN 73). While we were on our maiden deployment in the “Med”, as we called it, the ship was conducting flight operations at night off the coast of Italy in support of our mission in Bosnia. This particular evening, the seas were a bit rough and it was a pretty dark moonless night. The deck was pitching about 10 feet and it made for tough landing conditions. As one of the Carrier Air Traffic Control Center’s Final Radar Controllers, I locked onto my next aircraft in line for landing at about 10 miles out from the carrier as it was handed off to me by the approach controller. I began to issue instructions to the F-14 and he acknowledged them all and complied.

When I locked on to the aircraft with the ships precision approach radar, it shoots the pilot a “needles representation” that they can fly to the deck. It is their approach attitude indicator that lines them up to make a safe landing. In addition to that, as final controllers, we offer verbal instructions as well. At 200 knots or so on final, it doesn’t take long for things to go bad, so having a redundant system certainly helps.

Well, this particular pilot appeared to be having some problems. When I first began to work with him, everything seemed alright but then I noticed him going below the glide path for a safe approach to the ship.

So I said, “Eagle 201, 6 miles, below glide path, going further below.”

He replied, “201, roger”.

A few moments go by and now he is even further below and I say, “Eagle 201, 4 miles, well below glide path, going further below”.

He replied, “201, roger”.

It just kept getting worse and I continued to issue control instructions and it just kept getting worse until at 3/4 of a mile, I said, “”Eagle 201, 3/4 of mile well, well, well below glide path, going further below call the ball!!!!!”

Before he had a chance to answer, the Landing Signal Officer begins to scream over the radio at the pilot, “Pull up Pull up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Well, at the very last second when he finally saw where he was at, he pulled up. If he hadn’t acted at that moment, he would have either crashed in the water or into the back of the ship killing untold numbers of men. Yet, if he had been flying his instruments instead of looking at the lights in the cockpit and getting lost in the blackness of the sky and the pitching deck and its lights that went up and down, none of this would have been an issue. If he had been following his “attitude indicator” the entire time, he would have been just right where he needed to be.

How many of us are flying blind right now with all manners of indicators and buzzers going off? You see, the world is our pitching deck and the dark skies is just another representation of the evil in this world that we face everyday. Our cockpit lights and the lights of the ship are all good things and can represent home and church and good things, just as they do in a real aircraft. What we have to always remember though is that even those good things can be the very things that distract us from the one thing that is most important – God Almighty. After all, Isaiah the prophet told us,

“The mind that remains stayed on thee LORD, remains at perfect peace.” Isaiah 26:3

We can’t take our eyes off of the most important thing. He is our “Attitude Indicator”. If our eyes and our minds are fixed on Him, we will not get lost. The decks of life may be pitching and tough to see where or how all of this is going to turn out but we can have confidence in the One who is guiding us home – every time. So take your eyes off the world, for the world will deceive you. You may think you are doing everything right when, all the while, you’re being set up to crash and not even know it. Look to Him, the One who calls you to fly on wings like eagles, and know that if He calls you to fly, He will guide you safely through whatever storm you may encounter.

Stay tuned for more “Flying Lessons”.

Praise Him!
2 Timothy 4:2,5


Transformed by the Grace of God. Writer, Preacher, Teacher, Father, Servant and Child of the Most High! Currently Writing - The Transformation Project. It's my story of how God leaned into my pit and changed my life.

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