The Plane Faith Project, directed by Pastor Jimmy Tidmore, aims high. They come alongside potential missionary pilots to help them overcome the exorbitant cost of flight training. Jimmy recently interviewed me about both my journey to the mission aviation ministry and about my book, Mile High Missionary. You can visit their website and hear the interview podcast by clicking here.
My friend, Ivan, shared this video (03:53) of his USAF unit conducting F-15C low-level training in Wales, UK. Then he sighed and said, “I used to be cool.” His comment struck deep because I felt both his messages.
First, what Ivan did was cool. An elite team selected him from a multitude of applicants. They spent a lot of money and risked their lives to train him. Then, they sent him out to fly multi-million dollar, supersonic aircraft worldwide, trusting him to defend honor, hearth, and home. His daily work was the photogenic essence of great stories. Many dream of that mantle, but few ever wear it.
On a bouncy Spring morning, cotton-ball clouds topped the mountains edging our valley. The glistening Snake River cut through rich green, and brown fields that tipped and turned below. Mesmerized, I thought it almost too beautiful to waste on work. Better a dreary day, overcast and gray to focus on the business at hand.
I worked my flight student hard. “Climb and maintain 5,000 feet,” I commanded, mimicking Air Traffic Control. “Turn right to [a] heading [of] 340 [degrees]. Report reaching PARMO intersection.” He repeated the instructions and maneuvered the airplane.
Our driver weaves the van right to pass the truck but dips back. The truck slides right, so our driver moves left. Still not clear, he trails again behind the swaying load. Another peek to the right reveals open space. He accelerates into the lane. But a motorcycle pulls up behind, then passes on our right running along the pavement’s edge. At the same time, a bus appears around the bend ahead, filling the opposing lane, bearing down upon us.
The honking motorcycle races forward clearing our finder by an inch, then threads the shrinking gap between bus and truck. Our driver drops back into the shelter behind the truck as the bus speeds through the vacated space. A few minutes later our driver successfully exploits a fresh opportunity but then brakes as a farm tractor meanders onto the highway. The truck instantly looms close behind, blasts an air horn but doesn’t drop back.
I’m on an overseas assignment this month. Yesterday morning, when I walked outside onto the porch, something felt strange. I stepped to the edge and looked up at the overcast sky. A bright area of the clouds bathed my face with heat. Bright heat? How could that be? I faced north. I opened my iPhone’s compass app. Checked. Yep, that was north. But, the Sun never shines from the north. Unless…
I checked the time—10:30 AM. Then the date—June 20th. I knew I was north of the equator, so only one explanation remained. What I observed meant I was standing south of the Tropic of Cancer. Sometime during the next day or two, the Earth, on its way around the Sun, would pass a point called the Summer Solstice.
Gravity glues our universe together. Without it, neither we nor any life could exist. The Earth spins at just over 1,000 miles per hour at the equator. Without gravity, anything loose on the surface like water, cars, picnic tables, and people would immediately fly off into space. Without gravity, Earth couldn’t keep an atmosphere. As soon as it drifted free from the surface, the fierce solar wind would blast it away. Without gravity the Sun itself would expand, dissipating in a fine, cold mist of dust and gas.
The cabin’s dark. All shades down. I’m up from my middle seat in a B-777 mid-section, pacing the aisle amidst a couple hundred sleepers. Like river rapids, air rushing over our fuselage blankets all other sounds and provides a steady background for the occasional snort, sneeze, or snuffle. I feel alone in the silent crowd. Unnoticed. Unseen.
I move to the open space dividing Economy from Business Class and stand before the sealed exit. Carefully I stoop down, shielding the tiny window with my body. I slide my thumb under the lip of the plastic shade and slowly push up. A half-inch. A full inch. A thin, brilliant wedge of sunshine explodes. Dare I open it more? I must. Cloud tops tantalize, draw me. I look at the slumbering forms to my left. All wear eye masks. No one moves. Emboldened I push again. A two-inch slot reveals the panorama of broken clouds offering small holes to sea and ice-covered mountaintops below. At thirty-five thousand feet, we’re leaving the eastern shores of northern Canada for the icy north Atlantic.
Preparing for a month-long work trip out of the country inundated me with too many extras, too many surprises. No time left to work on my novel (The Perelandra Paradox), pitch the memoir (Sky Creature), reprint and re-market my previous book (Call For News), and, oh yeah, write this post. I was feeling overloaded and out of balance. Reminded me of flying.
Every manufacturer determines the maxim allowable takeoff weight for every aircraft they produce using four factors:
1. The engine’s power: The engine(s) must produce enough power to move the aircraft fast enough to make the wings work.
2. The wing’s lift: The wings, given airflow, must produce enough lift to raise the aircraft off the ground.
3. The airframe’s strength: The airframe must hold its own weight, plus the fuel, cargo, passengers and crew in their designated places during taxi, take off, climb, maneuvering, descent, and landing.
4. The performance margin: The gross weight of the aircraft must leave enough margin for the airplane to be controllable throughout all of its expected motions in both still and turbulent air.
Imagination inspires us. What could be, grows into vision. Vision draws us, taunts us, challenges us to stretch beyond our ability. We go to super-human extremes to realize dreams based on nothing more solid than an idea, hunch, or wish.
=&0=& the other hand, our concepts of real, but unvisited, places often remain vague. They lack solidity, vibrance, and complexity almost as if they don’t exist at all. We try to imagine what we’ve never seen but reality usually surprises us.
=&1=& NASA’s New Horizon space probe for example. Clyde Tombaugh finally found Pluto in 1930 after an exhaustive search. Since then many wondered what the faraway planet might look like, might be made of. In the intervening years, most of us settled with the hazy picture of yet another cratered but otherwise unremarkable rock moving along its lonely path around the solar system.
=&2=& first wrote how that mission challenged us to think like new creatures (see A Different Kind of Life). This week I’m thinking about some of our default assumptions:
- Every other place is like “here.”
- What we see is all there is.
- We have the all-encompassing view.
- That this life is all about us.
=&3=& out this Astrum YouTube video (13:43 after skipping the ads) of what the New Horizons probe discovered around Pluto. It confirms the truth that we see only the very tiniest slivers of our universe.
=&4=&, the creator has that all under control and takes our limitations into account when dealing with us.
“Darn!” my wife exclaimed. “I lost an earring.”
We’d just finished a two-hour hike among the rocks and crags of Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs, so I didn’t even offer to search. The chances of finding it were non-existent.
“Sorry to hear that, honey,” I consoled.
“Yeah, they were my favorites…” she sighed.
Favorites? I thought. That raised the stakes. Reminded me of other high stakes, impossible searches.
I flew over the Amazon Jungle. It stretched like a flat, featureless sea to every horizon. Hanging there below the wings, the lone engine droning, I easily imagined it extending forever to the ends of the Earth and maybe even time itself. Hours could pass, yet the view below would always look the same—gently rolling dimpled broccoli.