Jul 12, 2018

Flying Solo

It was July 2001 and a friend of mine, Brad, called to ask me what I was doing the next day and to see if I wanted to go for a ride in his plane with him to Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

He said that he had to get some flight hours in and that we would stop at an airport in to eat some lunch before flying back home.

I had some time on my hands so I said; “Yes”.

We met at a hanger in Lake Elmo, Minnesota where Brad stored his airplane. After filing his flight plan, he filled his plane tank with fuel and performed a pre-flight check. Once it was completed, we got into the plane and buckled our seat belts.

The plane was only a two-seater, about the size of a Ford Maverick; especially since each side had a small window that could open. The rest of the windows offered a good view.

Brad spoke with the tower and we were given permission to approach the runway and to take off.

The flight was relatively smooth as we followed Interstate 94 East. To liven things up, Brad asked me if I would like him to do a “barrel-roll”; which I declined. Instead he tipped the wings and flew at a forty-five-degree angle so I could get a better view.

I requested that he fly horizontally instead; to which he obliged and continued the ninety-minute flight to our destination.

The sky was clear and the companionship was great as Brad spent time explaining the instruments and what he was doing. Soon we arrived and he landed safely and drove the plane to a place as directed by the tower.

We found a place at the airport that served lunch and sat back and ate a meal together.

After a while, we both mentioned that we should probably head back to Minnesota and made our way back to the plane and departed for home.
Part way through the flight, Brad asked me if I wanted to fly the plane. This plane had two sets of pedals and two steering wheels which made it easy for either of us to fly the plane at any time.

He knew that I had flown simulators before and said that all I would have to do is follow Interstate 94 West.

I should clarify that even though the simulators are professional-grade and are the exact same ones that commercial pilots use for training and recurrent training on; I had never successfully landed a plane before.

In fact, I had crashed every time that I tried to land.

But, to my defense, I should add that I have never taken flying lessons; I was simply able to use the simulators (under the watchful eyes of the person who ran them) when I was working as a subcontractor at the Delta training center in Minneapolis.

Brad asked me again and instructed me what to do. I grabbed the wheel in front of me and pressed into the opportunity. Brad, seeing that I had taken the wheel let go of his side and sat back in his seat.

Instantly my core-temperature went up and my hands became sweaty as I held tightly onto the steering wheel as though it took all I had to steer it.

Brad told me to not hang on so tightly, suggesting that I only needed to steer the wheel with one or two fingers; “kind of like how you drive a car”. He added; “Let the plane do its job. It was made to fly.”

How is this like a car? Didn’t he catch that I had crashed every time that I tried to land a commercial plane simulator?

Brad saw that I was too tense so he folded his arms and said that he wasn’t going to grab the wheel to bail me out. He said that I needed to calm myself and learn to relax if I was going to fly solo.

So, I worked hard to relax my grip and flew using only nine of my fingers as I tried to once again enjoy the plane ride.

Just when I would be feeling comfortable with letting the plane fly with minimal assistance from me, a gust of wind would come up and shake the plane from side to side.

And, once again, I would grip the wheel tightly for my solo flight.

And once again Brad would fold his arms and said that he wasn’t going to grab the wheel to bail me out as he reminded me that I needed to calm myself and learn to relax.

Needless to say, the longer I flew, the more I did become relaxed and once again started enjoying the ride.

As I flew, I flashed back to how I did the same thing when I was learning to drive the car and even then, held on too tightly to the steering wheel. In time I learned to drive the car using only my knees; and this was before we had cell phones to distract us!

As we crossed the Minnesota border, Brad said that he would take over once again so that he could get ready for making the landing. I let go of the steering wheel and noticed that I had completely reshaped the steering wheel when I squeezed it too tightly. Ok, that part I made up.

As we were about the land, Brad looked at me and said; “Hey, I would have taken over the controls if you had gotten into trouble. There is no way that I would have let you crash the plane with me in it!”

As I reflect, I wonder why I had tensed up; especially since Brad was with me the whole time. Why had I acted as though I was flying solo and all alone?

Was it a lack of trust or had my eyes been so focused on myself that I forgot that I had an experienced and seasoned pilot with me who wasn’t going to let me fail?

He was simply trying to let me learn to fly under his watchful eye and protection and would take control should I get into trouble.

And then I thought about my God. 

Many times, I felt as though I was flying solo as He allowed me to step out and go through situations. Many times, I felt abandoned by Him as though He simply had His arms folded and I was on my own.

Was it a lack of trust or had my eyes been so focused on myself that I forgot that I had an experienced and seasoned pilot with me who wasn’t going to let me fail?

He was simply trying to let me learn to fly under His watchful eye and protection and would take control should I get into trouble.

He would never leave me nor forsake me.

Isaiah 41:10
fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.