Stress and Pilot Performance: Part 2

-by Sherry Knight Rossiter

Stress hormones are catabolic in nature; in other words, they break the body down. In the last issue of SAFE, the magazine, we discussed the problems of stress relating to pilot performance. Now, we’ll continue the conversation.

In 1976, Selye described stress as “wear and tear” on the body. Some degree of stress is actually necessary in order to perform day-to-day tasks, but stress which persists over a long period can severely affect human performance and health.

Interestingly, individuals with the strongest psychosocial support systems seem to be able to tolerate the most stress without adverse effects (Mitchell, 1997), so creating and maintaining healthy relationships is critical to good stress management.

Stress that persists over a long period of time is called cumulative stress. Some clear indications of cumulative stress are physical and emotional exhaustion, apathy, and deterioration in performance. Cumulative stress needs to be dissipated or discharged through physical exercise, meditation, body massage, or other forms of relaxation.

Extensive research conducted by NASA over the years confirms that a moderate level of stress has a positive effect on human performance while abnormal levels of stress decrease human performance. Additionally, research findings indicate that the performance of complex or unfamiliar tasks requires a higher level of attention than completion of simple or over-learned tasks, thereby increasing stress levels. During an inflight emergency, the pilot’s workload can quickly exceed his or her capabilities to perform certain tasks within a finite period of time.

This inability to respond in itself creates stress, which in the extreme becomes traumatic stress. Everly (1997) makes the point that traumatic stress overwhelms our normal coping mechanisms while cumulative stress erodes them. The analogy that comes to mind is that of an ocean wave. A single ocean wave can easily knock a person down just as a single traumatic episode can overwhelm a person. But it takes many ocean waves over a period of time to erode a beach, just as it takes on going stress to cause “wear and tear” on the body.

Coping with Stress

In theory, as one matures and adapts to life’s many stressors, one learns to cope more effectively with stress. It would seem that as a pilot grows in experience, he or she should be able to handle more stress. However, there is a limit to the amount of stress a human being can handle. This limit varies from individual to individual and also varies over the life span. Elderly individuals generally cannot cope as well with the same amount of stress as a younger person.

There are numerous techniques available to cope with the effects of stress, but some of the most helpful techniques are very simple — just make sure you get plenty of exercise, rest, and healthy food. Research studies show that individuals who get less than seven-to-eight hours of sleep per night are not as alert as those who do (Foster & Wulff, 205; Hublin et al., 2007). Additionally, the Operators Guide to Human Factors in Aviation, a compendium of information first published in 2009, cites research to indicate the adverse effects of too much caffeine on pilot judgment and the effects of sitting for too long at a time on pilot performance. Few pilots would think that drinking too much coffee or sitting too long in the cockpit could produce stress, but it does.

Stress can be significantly reduced through increased awareness of one’s personal signs of stress. In addition, stress can be successfully managed through meditation, the practice of constructive self-talk, socializing with friends, deep breathing exercises, muscle tension release exercises, visualization or guided imagery, therapeutic massage, reiki therapy, listening to soothing music, and by being appropriately assertive in meeting your own needs.

Other stress busters include taking a walk for at least 20 minutes a day, journaling aboutyour thoughts and feelings, planning some “alone time” each day, simplifying your life on all levels, and doing at least one thing each day just because it pleases you. Learn to take control of how you spend your time and you will also reduce your stress level in the process.

Stress that isn’t dissipated daily will continue to accumulate over time and either “spill out” at some inappropriate time, such as yelling at your spouse, or become internalized in the form of high blood pressure, migraine headaches, stiff neck, low back pain, chest pain, or an actual heart attack. For that reason, it is important that pilots of all certificate levels learn to recognize their own personal signs of stress and have a plan for dissipating or reducing stress as necessary.

Rossiter Stress graphic

In Conclusion

The best way to cope with stress as a pilot is to do a thorough job of assessing your own fitness for flight. The checklist in Table 1 was devised by the FAA Aeromedical Branch to aid a pilot in determining fitness for flight FAR 61.53 prohibits a person from serving as “a required pilot flight crewmember” if experiencing “a medical deficiency.” In other words, pilots are expected to ground themselves if they have a physical or mental impairment that affects the safety of flight. Flying when you are depressed, angry, physically ill, fatigued, or emotionally stressed out is never a good idea because such conditions can and do impair pilot judgment.

While piloting an aircraft will never be a stress free activity, there are things a pilot can do to minimize the amount of stress experienced. Educating oneself about the effects of stress on human performance generally and on your own performance as a pilot, flight instructor, or crew member in particular can go a long way toward increasing safety of flight and your mental and physical wellbeing.

This is an excerpt from our SAFE magazine. Members get full access to this magazine (and so much more!) Please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

Sherry Knight Rossiter holds an ATP and CFI-I for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. She is also a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, who has worked extensively with general aviation pilots who have survived aircraft accidents or other frightening flight experiences. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) and teaches online psychology courses for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

SAFE CFI Mentoring Reborn: Share Your Wisdom!

…please share your years of accumulated wisdom and help young CFIs.  Pay it forward!

From a recent FaceBook post by a VFR-only Cirrus pilot:

“First time in 800+ hrs I’ve had to scrub a VFR flight because of weather. The field quickly went marginal to IFR in minutes while I taxied out and did the run up. I waited for 10 min checking the weather and with ATC and it was a losing battle.”

As a responsible flight instructor, don’t the first 15 words of this post ring an alarm bell for you?  How likely do you think is it that a pilot could accumulate more than 800 hours of flight time without ever canceling a VFR flight because of weather conditions?

It’s possible, I’m sure, but there was something about the photo accompanying the post that sent chills up and down my spine. It was the juxtaposition of that beautiful, glowing always-VFR virtual reality screen with the obvious IMC conditions outside.

Cirrus Instruction

Save the nastygrams, I’m not singling out Cirrus pilots. Nearly all new airplanes these days come with glass panels, and all those easy-to-understand visual displays and additional information can help keep a pilot safer.

On the other hand, I believe that for some pilots all those whistles and bells give the false confidence to burrow ever-deeper into deteriorating weather. On Cirrus aircraft, the presence of the red ripcord handle for the parachute can add to overconfidence for judgment-impaired pilots.

In the early days of glass panels, grouchy old instructors would turn up their noses at non-pilots who bought fast, fancy new glass airplanes and expected to be taught to fly in them. The expression often used in those days was “he has more money than brains.”

Again, I’m not picking on Cirrus.  It’s just that this revolutionary aircraft with a parachute was one of the first and by far the most popular all-glass airplane type, and is still a natural choice for well-heeled newbie pilots. In the early years, the Cirrus aircraft accident rate, particularly in weather-involved accidents, was far greater than for other traveling-type airplanes. To its credit, Cirrus redoubled its training efforts and re-emphasized ADM and recurrency for pilots of this type. With that education, the Cirrus’ accident rate now compares favorably with similar GA aircraft.

Bravo, Cirrus!

For CFIs, much of this comes down to teaching pilot judgment. That was difficult enough in Cessna 152s with a single 360-channel navcom, but today some newbies are convinced that all the gadgets in their fancy new technologically-advanced airplane mean it can be used for “anywhere, anytime traveling.”  That makes teaching ADM even more important, also more difficult, and that’s where you, the experienced CFI, come in.

SAFE is re-energizing its Mentor program, which allows experienced SAFE CFI members to sign up via the SAFE web site to advise and counsel less experienced CFIs.  Such advice might be in marketing, transition training or a hundred other topics, not only on how to teach pilot judgment. There’s a convenient sign-up form on our website to share your hard-won expertise and judgment to the younger generation.

Please share your accumulated years of CFI wisdom and help younger instructors.  Login to the member side of the website and fill in the form, we will match you with the many new CFIs seeking an experienced mentor.


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And if you are not a SAFE member yet, this is your cue to join our group of aviation education professionals. Support SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.
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Savvy CFI: “Baked In” Human Pilot Problems!

We humans contain “baked-in” reactions driven by our land-based biology that are extremely dangerous in flight. Our human “operating system” evolved over thousands of years of terrestrial existence and contains some unique inbred vulnerabilities that serve us poorly once airborne. Providing humans flight training, the only kind I have done incidentally :), is largely a concerted effort to overwrite these very basic visceral reactions with “unnatural” trained piloting responses. The durability of these new trained responses depends on the depth of the initial imprint and the recency of review and reinforcement. This last is a very important point. I believe our biology (and fear) will drag us back to unsafe piloting operations without recent flight experience and reinforcement of correct responses. As pilots we naturally revert to our unsafe terrestrial reactions through interference and passage of time.

EvolvedIntoPilotOur most dangerous “naturally human” tendency I see demonstrated as a CFI (and even unfortunately as a DPE)  is the baked-in human reaction of pulling away from the ground. This is especially apparent in new (or rusty) pilots and leads directly to the unfortunate “loss of control inflight” (our most pernicious safety problem in GA). New student pilots, all to some degree fearful and tentative, initially achieve success and comfort tuning and maneuvering at altitude. As soon as they get into the pattern down low, the nose keeps coming up and airspeed drops off (especially in the turns). All pilots, seemingly because of their human nature, unconsciously raise the nose to get away when they see the green earth coming closer. This fear and “monkey pull” response seems to be baked into our operating system; an instinctive and erroneous impulse to achieve safety. Sound aerodynamic knowledge and careful flight training tells us that exactly the opposite response is necessary. Every safe pilot must substitute a trained “unload” response to overwrite this natural “monkey pull” tendency. This same “monkey pull” appears on final approach if the plane gets low at a constant airspeed.  As the runway starts rising in the windscreen and the ground comes closer, you will see the yoke coming back in the aircraft (oh so naturally) with a poorly trained pilot. Witness the B-777 “seawall approach” in San Francisco and endless other examples.

fuseliftAnother related problem that seems to be baked-in and must be carefully trained out is a fear of banking and the resulting turning of the plane with the rudders alone. If you are a long-time aviator I know this seems inconceivable but please reach way back with me and imagine those first flights accurately. (I still teach those first lessons to a lot of people and see the very tangible fear) For all future safety, a pilot must from the very beginning  be able to turn confidently (and coordinated) with a reasonable bank. Unless a pilot gets comfortable banking the plane with coordinated controls and learns to enjoy the bank, they will somewhere deep inside fear turning and instead skid the plane to achieve a turn. Again, this is where comprehensive aerodynamic understanding is the necessary tool to overwrite an initial “naturally human” aversion. Many fearful students have confessed they believe the plane will roll over. Other poorly trained pilots believe lift is unequal on the wings in a stable turn!

These original impressions in psychology are called “naive rendition.” A savvy instructor knows they must be addressed directly and overwritten with correct knowledge to create an enduringly safe pilot. Nervous pilots who never get comfortable banking, usually get increasingly cautious over time and develop the habit of skidding every turn. They limit their bank to 20 degrees and fly huge traffic patterns. Combine this with the “monkey pull” instinct and you can easily explain many LOC-I accidents. Additionally in a startle situation the erroneous response resurfaces. The roots of all these errors are psychological “baked-in” tendencies. Our human psychological payload is often ignored or not specifically addressed in flight training but this is the only path to durable flight safety.

Please make sure your students acquire good basic turning habits before proceeding to more complex maneuvers. Spending time on the basics and achieving a durable “trained response” (as well as stable, comfortable turns) is essential. Constant exposure is then necessary to retain this trained response since our “natural instincts” take over and misguide us in flight. Ultimately, through flight training and aerodynamic knowledge, we need to recognize and unravel these “natural” problems and substitute safe and aerodynamically sound flight reactions.

Future savvy CFI topics: fear, a natural reaction. No fear is dangerous, too much is paralyzing; where is your correct balance? We will also explore cognitive biases that can lead us into disaster; 90% of drivers believe they are better than average 🙂 Another rich area of inquiry is the “two minds problem.” Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow explores our human irrationality. We will see how this impacts our piloting success and safety.

Please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

 

The New AC-61.65 is Available! CFI Power of the Pen!

Our essential guidance as aviation educators, the FAA Advisory Circular 61.65, has finally been updated. This essential document contains all the official FAA guidance on certification standards, knowledge test procedures and “everything in flight training.” Additionally, it conveniently provides the “script” for accurate endorsements. With a stroke of your CFI pen (and the correct solo endorsement) you can make a land-based biped into a pilot (I would also suggest some flight training per 61.87 🙂  As a DPE I see many lousy versions of the required endorsements. And without the correct endorsements your clients cannot start their flight test, and boy is that inconvenient and embarrassing on test day.

6165F_SAFEAppOne major reason I wrote the free SAFE Toolkit App was to provide these exact endorsements (as well as experience requirements and every tool) for every CFI. Everything in one place in your pocket! The SAFE Toolkit is now updated to include the changes found in the the new AC.

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The new FAA AC 61.65F also provides guidance on how to acquire the new plastic student pilot certificate (required after April 1st) for your student pilots through IACRA. Please note that even a DPE will enter IACRA in the “recommending instructor” role (not DPE) to acquire this for a student. And all CFIs can perform this function now. Download the new pdf here: AC_61-65F and put the SAFE Toolkit on your phone (or iPad) so you have this and the experience requirements readily available. Try an emulator copy here.

And please Join SAFE and support our mission of enabling aviation excellence in pilots and educators. The amazing member benefits alone make this important commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

 

 

 

HYPOXIA IN FLIGHT

Master CFI Parvez Dara, MD FACP, ATP, MCFI

As humans we depend on energy. Our energy is created in little biological machinery present in every cell, called mitochondria. These tiny powerhouses generate phosphates from converting (Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP) to Adenosine Diphosphate or ADP). Phosphate groups are needed to move cells within organs to do their jobs, e.g. muscles to contract (locomotion) hearts to pump (heart beat), kidneys to filter (filter blood), livers to digest and brains to process information. Absent phosphate and we are looking at an abyss. Oxygen, the quintessence of all elements breathes life into living creatures. Without it there is no water, nor breathable air, nor the lusty energy that makes us want to fly.

The breathable air contains 20.946% Oxygen. Humans exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen to replenish the stores of renewable energy for every one of the trillion cells that make us. This energy is in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP releases a phosphate group that acts as an energy bar for the cell to chew on so that it can accomplish its functions. These functions include manufacturing proteins, hormones, keeping the integrity of the cell wall etc. From our aviation point of view the function that cannot be clouded is the brain activity. The brain weighs about 3 pounds and consumes 25% of the oxygen supply. The brain’s hefty consumption is a testimony to its integrated and creative functions. 100% of the brain is at work 100% of the time and it needs its constant and uninterrupted energy supply.

Effects of Hypoxia on Brain using fMRI.
Effects of Hypoxia on Brain using fMRI.

The rarified air, for this purpose over 5000 feet at night (due to effect on the eyes) and over 8000 feet during the day, at altitude has reduced content of oxygen, which causes our brains, first to compensate by increasing blood pressure, then the respiration and heart rate to maintain the steady oxygen supply. When oxygen levels lower further, portions of the brain function capitulate, akin to losing the alternator, one reduces energy load by keeping only the most important instruments on the panel active so as not to drain the battery. So flying in un-pressurized aircraft without oxygen, your cognitive skills diminish. The additional harm at the rarified air is the loss of moisture in the air, which makes us breathe our moisture and not breathe any in, thus leading to dehydration. Your communication and math skills suffer as do interpretative skills. Missing calls, airway intersections or flying into adverse conditions becomes possible. To unscramble the brain a little oxygen rich air is mandatory. A “Chamber Ride” at an aviation facility confirms this.Remember an intensely low oxygen level for a short time or a low-level prolonged oxygen restriction can have similar short term and long term consequences on cellular behavior. If you fly above 5000 feet at night or above 8000 feet during the day use oxygen. It is good for the cerebral soul. Think about these problems reading this while seated in your armchair, on the ground rather than trying to decipher this information in the air:

1.      Mathematics Skill deterioration

2.      Cognitive Skill deterioration

3.      Instant Recall diminished (Frequency recall)

4.      Remote Recall diminished (experiential references)

5.      Decision Making Skills deteriorate (Time, distance and fuel consumption)

6.      Risk Assessment Impaired (eg. Go, No go decision into weather)

7.      Physical functional Impairment (muscle weakness)

8.      Lethargy/Fatigue.

The most common reaction to hypoxia is a feeling of euphoria. This is especially dangerous because an affected pilot will not usually feel “sick” or disabled but more typically feel “high” (feeling real good). Given this reaction, there is no incentive to discontinue a flight or exercise an alternate course of action. Pilots suffering from hypoxia feel like aviation gods! Only a trained vigilance from the presence of cues like altitude and duration can arm a pilot to be on guard for the onset of hypoxia; insidious and stealthy. Training in a altitude chamber or oxygen deprivation class is helpful to bring this point home clearly.

The common physiological sign of hypoxia is cyanosis or blue color in the extremities, most noticably in your fingernail beds. Before the easy (and very reasonably priced) oximiters were available pilots checked their nails for blue color.  I highly recommend an oximeter for anyone flying regularly at altitudes above 10,000 feet for any length of time. I also suggest that at altitude, one should take deep breaths to use the entire lung capacity to oxygenate the blood, since we have a tendency to shallow breathe in a cockpit. Having supplemental oxygen readily available is also an excellent safety precaution. Safe flying always requires current training, vigilance and an attitude of caution in the presence of known threats (in this case high altitude).

Please Join SAFE and support our mission of enabling aviation excellence in pilots and educators. The amazing member benefits alone make this important commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

Stress, and Pilot Performance: Part 1

-by Sherry Knight Rossiter

     Imagine that you are on a solo cross-country flight in a single-engine airplane. According to your last calculation, you have used more fuel than you’d anticipated due to increasing headwinds. The clouds ahead are building, and you are not IFR current. You recognize you are off course, but can’t locate your current position on the chart. On top of that, your bladder is full and you are feeling tired and hungry. By now you have plenty to think about. It won’t be long before your heart rate increases and your mouth becomes dry. A growing sense of urgency about your situation causes you to lose your concentration. Your mind begins formulating “what if” questions rather than problem-solving.

Most pilots, if they’re honest with themselves, will admit that they have had at least one experience similar to that. And the experience was, in fact, stressful. Part of what makes flying stressful is the need to do several things, at times simultaneously, while keeping track of many different types of information. In addition, there are a number of factors associated with aviation over which a pilot has no control. Changing weather conditions is certainly one of those factors.

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At some point, too much stress begins to affect your ability to think clearly which, in turn, affects your ability to make good decisions. One poor decision followed by another poor decision is a setup for disaster. That is why it is crucial to know how to assess the impact of certain stressors on your body and mind.

The Physiology of Stress

     Stress is a difficult term to define because it is dependent upon personal interpretation. What is perceived as a negative stressor for one person may be perceived as a positive stressor (i.e., energizer or motivator) for another person. For purposes of this discussion, a commonly accepted definition of stress is the body’s non-specific response to demands placed upon it, whether those demands are pleasant or unpleasant (Selye, 1936).

All living organisms experience a certain amount of physical and psychological stress simply as a result of being alive. Organisms experiencing only a small amount of stress are usually at rest or asleep. A good example of an organism experiencing minimal stress would be a cat stretched out in the sunshine or a bear in hibernation. The only time an organism experiences no stress is when it is dead. All living creatures experience stress of some type each and every day, and that is why it is important to understand the relationship of stress to human performance.

Hungarian-born researcher Hans Selye (1907-1982) spent his life studying the topic of stress. Selye discovered very quickly that the human body experiences two types of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is experienced by the body as positive stress. Common examples of eustress are laughing while watching a movie or playing with the family dog. Distress is experienced by the body as negative stress. Some common examples of distress that might be experienced by anyone are fatigue, high work load, or a life-threatening situation.

When an individual experiences distress, a natural physical response occurs. This arousal of the nervous system is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response. It is as old as humankind ands located in the lower part of our brain, sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain. This part of our brain controls breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and balance. The fight-or-flight response is so basic to human behavior that it can be called instinctual because it spontaneously activates whenever our brain senses danger in any form.

Sensory stimuli (i.e., stressors) are interpreted by the brain as either threatening or non-threatening. If a stimulus is perceived as non-threatening, no stress response is forthcoming. However, if a stimulus is perceived as threatening in any way, then certain protective mechanisms are triggered. In other words, the fight-or-flight response is automatically activated as a survival mechanism.

Any internal or external stimulus that is perceived as a threat to the body’s equilibrium causes a physiological reaction in the body. These reactions include the release of chemical hormones, such as adrenalin, into the bloodstream, and there is a marked increase in the body’s metabolic rate. Blood is redirected away from the stomach and digestive tract to supply the muscles in the arms and legs with more oxygen. Heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, blood sugar, and perspiration all increase under stressful conditions. In short, the body prepares itself to “fight or flee.”

It should be noted, however, that many other factors besides biology go into determining if an individual fights or flees in the presence of a perceived threat. Past experience in the form of memories plays a major role in the implementation of the fight-or-flee response. Research indicates that stored memories of survival have the highest priority of retrieval in frightening situations (Everly, 1989). This is crucial for successfully coping and surviving in any extremely stressful situation.

What is a Stressor?

     Stressors take many forms. However, stressors are generally classified as physical, physiological, or psychological. Any stressor is a stimulus to the nervous system.

Physical stressors include conditions associated with the environment, such as temperature and humidity extremes, noise, vibration, and lack of oxygen. Pilots deal with physical stressors all the time during flight. For example, continuous noise (like the sound of a rotor blade or propeller) can have long-term, adverse effects on not just hearing, but also on blood pressure and heart health.

Physiological stressors include fatigue, lack of physical fitness, illness, and missed meals, which lead to lowered blood sugar levels. Pilots who regularly fly long distances are especially prone to the effects of physiological stressors. A pilot may be able to exist on coffee and nutrition bars for a day or two, but in the long term such poor nutrition will affect the pilot’s body and mind.

Psychological stressors are related to social or emotional factors. Some examples of psychological stressors are a pending divorce proceeding, a sick child, a demotion at work, or thoughts of a previously frightening experience.

The Relationship Between Stress and Performance

     It is now known that stress affects human performance in two important ways. In some situations, stress serves as an energizer, thereby increasing human performance. In other situations, stress serves to interfere with or detract from human performance. Ironically, too little stress can cause poor performance, and so can too much stress.

Research into human performance limitations in the last three decades shows that simple tasks are performed better under higher degrees of stress and complex tasks are performed better under lower degrees of stress. This means there is a range of moderate stress referred to as “a peak performance envelope” (Garfield,1983; Currieri 1985, 1995), wherein optimal performance can be expected – indeed, predicted — in any given situation.

Both Garfield and Currieri have independently conducted research to (a) prove a correlation between stress level and peak human performance and (b) stress level and optimum human judgment. Data gathered seems to indicate that peak performance and best judgment are most evident when the research subject’s physiological responses to the stress imposed are within certain parameters of body temperature, heart rate, and so forth – hence, the reference above to “a peak performance envelope.”

Relationship Between Stress Arousal and Human Performance

Rossiter Stress graphic

 

-by Sherry Knight Rossiter

Look for Part 2 of this article in the next issue of SAFE, the magazine

This is an excerpt from our SAFE magazine. Members get full access (and so much more!) Please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

Sherry Knight Rossiter holds an ATP and CFI-I for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. She is also a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, who has worked extensively with general aviation pilots who have survived aircraft accidents or other frightening flight experiences. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) and teaches online psychology courses for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. 

 

 

Providence In Flight!

Parvez Dara, MD FACP, Master Instructor, SAFE Member

There is Providence in the flight of the bird. Its departures and arrivals are never certain and its flight path is not when or where, but dictated by the breezes, the feeds, the treetops and its kin. There is magic and majesty in that flight nevertheless. From the ground there is a joyous longing to belong to that carefree, wild and non interpretive version of life.

As equally as the joy of flight in an airplane, humans have learned to master the art of that magic. As thrust overcomes the drag and lift picks up the weight, the momentary weightlessness on untying the surely bonds to the earth has a unique if not special meaning to the flier.

The earth recedes as the blue sky enriches the vistas. Little dumplings of white clouds seed the blueness like cotton candy, delicious in their being. The smooth air and the power to transform the landscape by a turn here or there is intoxicating and liberating.

You pull back on the stick/yoke and the climb continues as you feel your weight against the seat, the fears and expectations of living recede with the green earth. The magical metallic beast honors each command without a moment of hesitation.

The roar of the engine, recede fades and dissolves into the sights that come in bunches of wonder. Here there is a cottage where the setting sun sprinkles its embers to color it a golden yellow and there the forest of treetops are illuminated as if the painter had a last minute desire to add color to the rich landscape.

sky1If you are lucky, someday you might see the sun dissected by a thin layer of cloud that stretches from here to the ends of the earth as you witness the golden hue bounce off the bottom and then the tops of the wavy clouds in a climb. It is a beauteous sight to behold; one for the memories. You might see the rich blueness of the sky slowly give way to a darker hue and the first signs of the sunset come alive. The rich tapestry unfolds with its lights burning below, enriching the darkening landscape. Ah, there is such Providence in flight.

You might encounter a momentary pulse of euphoria about then as the night owls rise to take their space and the full breadth of human endeavor below begins to shine. Humans are such creative species to desire to view the earth, in all its phases with the sun, through a birds’ eye.

From above there are no large and small, no tall or short, no fat and slim, no young and old but only in the mind’s comparisons. Everything below dissolves into a symphony of symmetry. The cadence, the pitch and the notes, all resolve to the hum and liberating feeling of freedom.

As the colors darken outside, the colors within the cockpit brighten. The world outside is displayed in a rectangular screen for positional awareness. Ah there the nonlinear, convoluted darkness amid the city lights is the river and here the bright linear flow of lights is the bridge joining the two land masses.

If you are gifted in knowing the Instrument flight systems, the alignment of the horizontal and vertical course deviation indicators show you where and how to arrive safely at your destination. All the lights, darkness or cloudy encounters cannot hide the safety of the runways that beckon you.

There is Providence in flight. There is magic in its delights. There is existential freedom.