Church-Community Connection: The flight instructor and the control tower

I learned how to fly a private airplane when I was 27 years old. I loved flying, and flying worked well for the business I owned then, Central Bindery. I learned to fly in a small two-seat airplane — a Cessna 150.

At first, learning to fly was intimidating. Especially takeoffs and landings. I learned to fly at the old Glendale Airport between Olive and Grand avenues. It was like landing on an aircraft carrier. Flying over the power lines on Grand Avenue made it especially exciting. However, after several months, piloting the Cessna became easier. Why? Piloting the airplane became a habit. It became automatic. What was once unnatural to me became natural. That’s the power of habit.

In a few years, I became a one-third owner of a much more complex airplane to fly. It was a six-passenger Piper Comanche 260. It had retractable landing gear, a variable speed propeller, wing flaps, exhaust gas temperature controls, fuel injection mixture controls, and hefty horsepower for the Comanche’s 200 mph speed. This airplane had the same high-performance wing design as the P-51 Mustang from World War II. The Comanche could be a handful on a quick descent for landing.

I still remember taking off with my right foot on the floor, trying to keep the airplane straight. Why? The torque from the propeller wanted to turn the plane sideways. I never experienced that phenomenon flying in the Cessna. Then, I had to listen to the tower tell me when to taxi, where to taxi, when to take off, what runway to use, and what the altimeter pressure was. After the takeoff, they even tell you the direction to fly.

The first time I flew a Comanche was with my flight instructor. I already knew how to fly from my Cessna flying days, but flying a Comanche was a new world. I went from kindergarten to university.

At first, I was intimidated piloting the Comanche. So many new controls and things had consequences if I didn’t pilot the plane correctly. Flaps up, throttle back, back off on propeller speed, gear up, lean out the mixture, keep your airspeed up, take my right foot off the pedal, keep the nose up but not too far, listen to the tower, and try not to ignore my instructor and the air-control tower freaking out.

However, after flying the Comanche for a few weeks, everything became easier. I didn’t have to think about all the adjustments anymore. Taking off and landing the airplane became second nature to me. Listening to the tower became second nature. After a month, I could carry on a conversation with the passenger in the front seat while I was taking off and landing. Why? Because the skills of what was necessary to fly the plane safely had become habits. What was on the outside of me moved to the inside of me. If you make good habits for the right things, you can become efficient and effective at flying comfortably.

Passenger planes are designed to fly in two ways — through the pilot’s skill and the commands they receive from the control tower. So how does a pilot become skillful? Part of the answer is that expert pilots develop habits allowing them to do what is necessary to fly the plane automatically. Hence, they have sufficient attention for the unexpected events that might happen while flying. In addition, they can multitask better when and where necessary.

Let’s review. Part of a pilot’s skill comes from the pilot building up an arsenal of effective habits. The other factor in flying passenger planes is listening to instructions from the control tower and obeying the tower’s promptings. The control tower is there to make order out of the chaos of every pilot doing what is right in their own eyes. Need I say that without direction and crucial promptings from someone or something which sees the big picture, the pilots and the passengers with them are going to underachieve? It’s not going to be pretty.

Let me say it this way. We are like pilots, and God is the control tower. We need to listen to God, or else we will, sooner or later, get into danger. So, get in the habit of receiving your instructions from God, the Bible and God’s character to navigate life successfully. At first, it may seem hard. But after a while, you will be a beneficiary of communicating with God for His highest and your personal best. God’s control tower directs us in essential things. Sometimes by a small voice, sometimes by creative thought, sometimes by the peace, faith and confidence that rises in us when the solution is God inspired.

God’s control tower has two-way communication. Pilot: “Tower, flight 777 with you.” “Which runway should I land on today?” What do you have for me to do today?” “What solution do You have for my problem today?” “How can I repair this broken relationship?” “Should I change careers?” God says to us, “Call on Me.” Listening to God’s control tower prepares and directs us, pilots, to fly the high-performance airplanes of life.

In conclusion, if you make a great habit, the great habit will make you — especially when your instructor is both the Flight Instructor and the Control Tower.

Ed Delph is a noted author of 10 books, as well as a pastor, teacher, former business owner and speaker. He has traveled extensively, having been to more than 100 countries. He is president of NationStrategy, a nonprofit organization involved in uplifting and transforming communities worldwide. For more information, see nationstrategy.com. He may be contacted at nationstrategy@cs.com.