During the Viet Nam era I was an instructor pilot (IP) in the United States Air Force. I trained not only U.S. students but Italians, Danes, and Saudi Arabians. It was my charge to train students in their first introduction to jets. These students spent every day either flying or in the classroom or simulator. They all were well educated in the mechanics of flight, understanding thrust, drag, and lift. The majority of them went on to make excellent pilots; however, there was a small percentage that did not make it. The term for these students was “washed out.” “Washed out” is a terrible term in my opinion. The Air Force requires a four-year degree just to qualify for flight school and these students could tell you everything there was to know about the T37 jet trainer. They had the brain power—they just did not have the “seat of the pants” power. Any pilot will tell you they “feel” the airplane, meaning they know how the plane will react to their demands. We as Christians are much the same way: we may attend church regularly, read our Bibles daily and attend small groups; however, unless you feel the Holy Spirit and allow him to lead you 24/7, you may “wash out” in your attempt to be all Christ wants you to be. You need to understand that the Holy Spirit participates in any and all activities you are involved in. This knowledge should be enough to keep you in constant communication, allowing you to “seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” There is no such thing as telling the Holy Spirit to wait in the truck, you’ll be right back. “The Holy Spirit illuminates the minds of people, makes us yearn for God, and takes spiritual truth and makes it understandable to us”—Billy Graham.
After students solo, the next emphasis is on instrument training. During this time students wear a hood that allows only the instruments of the cockpit to be seen. It is a life saving must that they learn to believe their instruments regardless of what their mind or body tells them. If you are familiar with vertigo, you understand: in flight your instruments tell you the aircraft is level and on course, while your mind may want you to believe you are flying at a 90-degree angle or even inverted. It is drilled into the students to always believe the instruments—always!! Every pilot knows there are times weather cannot be avoided, or they need to fly VFR on top, meaning they must go through a cloud deck to get to clear skies above, and the reverse is true when landing. Our daily lives are subject to an unexpected storm rolling in on us at any time. When this occurs, hopefully we are prepared by knowing scriptures and God’s promises that keep us upright and on course while relying on the Holy Spirit for guidance. The Holy Spirit is the key when Satan and his team are doing their best to cause you to doubt what God can do, telling you, “Yeah, He’s done that before but He probably won’t do it for you.” As Christians, we should strive to be prepared at all times through prayer and Bible study; in addition, surround yourself with supportive Christian friends who you feel comfortable sharing your doubts with, and in turn offering support to them when needed. John 14:26 explains, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Paul further explains in Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
While the T37 is not the most glamorous aircraft in the inventory, it offered much satisfaction to me as an IP teaching and observing students’ introduction to jet aviation. My next assignment after being an instructor pilot was with the 917th Fighter Squadron flying the A37. Now, talk about fun, the A37 was a T37 on steroids. They replaced the old engines with T38 engines and, while still not supersonic, it was very responsive. It was like driving a truck with a Corvette engine. The A37 was designed to support troops in combat, which meant most of our flying was at tree top level. The aircraft could carry a massive amount of armament. Later, as I was exiting the Air Force, the A37 was being replaced by the A10 Warthog, another fun aircraft to fly and a workhorse as well.
I have always professed to be a Christian even though you may not have thought so by my past actions. Today, it is amazing to look back over my life and see the mercy and grace our Lord has shown despite myself. My wife and I discuss often how the Lord directed us in a direction we had no intention of going and how much better it was than what we had planned. As I continue to mature in my Christian life, I have implemented Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” As I compare my experiences as a pilot with the Holy Spirit’s guidance in my life, it brings to mind the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee Jr.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew;
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.