Flying by the seat of your pants

By Janet Walgren 

I thought up this post as I read Ben’s blog Top of the Mountains. He has a wonderful mind and an inquiring heart. Several of his posts lately have hit on themes that have been common to my thoughts for years. His posts made me think about people, gossip, judging, and some peoples’ rude unrestrained comments and behavior.

I wonder where the saying, “He’s flying by the seat of his pants!” came from. Shouldn’t it be, “He’s driving by the seat of his pants?”

There is a difference between driving and flying…

When you drive a car, you should keep your eyes on the road ahead, look to the right, look to the left and check your rear view mirror. You signal before you turn or switch lanes, watch that you do not exceed the speed limit, and back seat drivers are discouraged. If your car breaks down, you stop and call for help. If you get a flat tire, you pull off to the side of the road, get out of your car, jack up the car, remove the flat tire and put on the spare. If you run out of gas, you take a walk. This may all seem a little complex, but many a person has mastered the skill. Anyway, millions are out there driving.

Flying is a different matter. When you fly a plane, you keep your eyes on the… well every point of the sphere surrounding the plane. It is completely a three dimensional activity; co-pilots are nice; they even get their own set of controls. There is no right or left turn signal and you don’t stick your arm out the window. The speed limit is determined by your airplane, and you don’t want your plane to break down, get a flat tire, or run out of gas so you make sure that it doesn’t. Seems a little simpler doesn’t it? Yet, few people have mastered the skill, and many are out there wishing that they could try.

The greatest difference in becoming and acting in the capacity of a driver or a pilot is preparation. The physical part is actually just as easy and in many cases, takes less courage. (Roads are very scary where I live.) Before someone gets a pilot certificate, they have to see a doctor and get a physical. They go to ground school and pass a federal examination covering a multitude of topics. They understand weather, navigation, communication, and the rules of the airways. They understand the instruments in the airplane; they understand the airplane.

After student pilots pass the written test, they have to practice take-offs and landings, flying dual, flying dual cross country, flying solo, flying solo cross country, and flying using visual flight rules (VFR) during both day and at night. They learn how to do short field take offs and landings, and how to manipulate the plane to land in a short field when there is a tall obstruction just before the beginning of the runway. They learn how to taxi in a heavy cross wind, and how to turn the airplane into or away from the wind so as to fly a perfect circle around a point on the ground when there is a heavy wind. They are aware of airspeed versus ground speed. While there are no stop signs in the sky, there are a multitude of navigational aids to help the pilot be in just the right space in the sky to get to the airport and safely land the airplane, then taxi to the tie down or hangar.

Pilots also learn about the physical airplane and the value of trained mechanics. They keep careful records in log books for both the airplane’s engine, and airframe. Before they fly, the use a printed checklist to verify that the airplane is safe and ready to fly. When they start up the airplane, they use a printed check list to verify that the engine and instruments are all working properly. Before a pilot starts to taxi, the pilot must first get permission from a ground controller, and when cleared for takeoff, they are safely directed away from the airport by an air traffic controller. When a pilot wants to do an aerobatic maneuver or anything out of the ordinary, the pilot makes sure that nothing and no one are in the way.

Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of driving our tongues, our minds, and our hearts – we became pilots and started flying them with God as our ground controller, our air traffic controller, and our co-pilot?


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