Lessons from an Airplane
When I first started flying lessons many years ago, I was introduced to a concept that seemed counter-intuitive, which is you always take off and land heading into the wind. I thought, wouldn’t a pilot have an easier time if the wind were coming from behind the aircraft giving it a push, so to speak, instead of rushing into a strong wind?
The key to taking off into the wind is the concept of lift. The more wind that passes over the wing of the plane will allow the plane to lift off the ground sooner. In short, pilots like to take off into a headwind because it helps them achieve “wheels up” faster. A jetliner like a Boeing 747, needs at least 150 mph of airspeed to become airborne. Without wind, the plane has to accelerate to a groundspeed of 180 mph to lift off, but when you have a 30 mph headwind, the plane only has to accelerate to 150 mph, thanks to the extra boost it gets from the headwind.
Even a small plane, like the Cessna 172, which I flew, would benefit from the oncoming wind. The small planes can fly at extremely slow speeds, so a little headwind while taking off certainly allows the plane to achieve lift sooner.
Landing into the wind is also very crucial in aiding the airplane to slow its decent while maintaining adequate lift to keep it afloat until touch down. If you can slow your speed while descending at the proper rate, it will provide a shorter roll out once you are on the runway.
As an aviation saying goes, “The three most worthless things to a pilot are: the sky above you, the runway behind you, and the fuel you left at the hanger.”
As with life, the wind won’t always blow exactly in the direction that is needed for taking off or landing, which is why most airports with more than one runway will have a runway that crosses the other, so there are alternative options. Even with that, good pilot training consists of taking off and landing in crosswinds also. Just like the Boy Scout motto reminds us, one must “Always be prepared.”
Once you are airborne and at the right altitude, it is best if you can have the wind at your tail pushing you forward much faster than your calculated ground speed. All of these factors have to be calculated ahead of time. There is nothing worse than running short on fuel before you reach your intended destination.
There are many other factors that also need to be considered when flying, such as air-pressure and how it changes with temperatures. We do not have the time to get into the physics around the entire concept of flying, but as a pilot, it is good to have a working knowledge of this information.
Now that we understand, at least a little why it is best to take off and land into the winds, let us consider how that correlates to our trek of life. Most of us would like to “go with the flow,” to have the wind at our backs, and to have some external force drive us on to a life of ease and success. Well, sorry to break the news to you, but that is not how life is for most of us on most days.
This does not mean that we can’t have a rich and satisfying life because it is more about how we interpret and handle the headwinds of life that makes the difference. Sometimes the wind in our lives is a result of the storms that we have created by the choices that we have made. Other times we have no control over the wind that is buffeting against us.
Regardless of that, from this point forward, we can take personal responsibility for how we handle or react to the heavy wind. We may not be able to change the circumstances any more than we can change the direction of the wind, but we can change ourselves or at least our attitudes. That is something that we have control over.
As Winston Churchill put it, “Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.”
The next time you are on a hike, consider that the most resilient trees are those that have grown where the winds are strongest. As they grow, the very fiber of their being is strengthened to withstand the forces of the wind.
Heavy winds in our lives should not be rejected, but welcomed. Just as those winds allow an airplane to take off to new heights, so the headwinds of life will allow us to rise above and strengthen the very fiber of who we are.
We should be full of joy because those winds will allow us to grow, gain endurance, and wisdom. This will allow us to be complete within ourselves, lacking nothing. This brings to mind a paragraph from the letter written to Jewish believers by James, the half-brother of Christ. The Jews had been scattered due to persecution, and James encouraged them with these words,
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.”
Well, there is not much more that I could say about this passage. It is to the point. Now, if I could only learn to put it into practice fully in my own life in every situation. That is my goal.
So as we wrap up our trek for today, I will end with a quote from Henry Ford, “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it …”