Our mission was supposed to be a routine formation flight to a base in Fort Worth, Texas. I filed the flight plan at base operations while the pilot of the lead aircraft got the weather briefing – or did he?
When we took off it was a beautiful day. Although the student pilot was beginning to learn to fly in formation he was doing well. I enjoyed teaching formation flight where the separation between the wingtips of our aircraft was often as little as three feet. Flying along at hundreds of miles an hour we looked like we were joined together by an invisible hand. Formation flight really hones the precision skills of the pilot as well as pulling him forward into a new realm of mental determination to “hang in there” wherever lead takes him.
While we were still 80 miles from Fort Worth I could see that there was quite a line of thunderstorms ahead of us. Now, Texans brag about things being bigger in the Lone Star state and a lot of it is hot air. One thing that Texas definitely grows big is incredibly intimidating thunderstorms. As we neared the storms ahead, flight lead requested a higher altitude so that we could avoid the turbulence. As we added power to climb above the clouds it was obvious that these huge white billowing monsters were growing faster than we could out-climb them.
As we followed lead into the clouds I took control of the aircraft since our changing situation was now well beyond the student pilot’s ability. Because of the intense moisture content of these clouds, what looks white on the outside quickly becomes a darkening gray on the inside. I needed to edge my aircraft closer and closer to my leader in order to not lose sight of him. I dropped down lower than normal so I could actually overlap wingtips with him without causing a dangerous situation. Even then there were times that lead’s aircraft was just a vague silhouette.
Next, the turbulence became like riding a Texas rodeo bull. The muscles in my arm and back felt like they had been tied in knots as I fought to stay in the formation without causing a midair collision with my leader. I was being pressed to the limits of my ability as a pilot to “hang in there.” Just when I began to think I couldn’t take it for another second we would pop into a break in the clouds where the sun was shining through and I could ease myself into a safer position with appropriate distance between our aircraft.
Then without warning, we would be thrown into the thick of it again – back in the dark clouds and on the bucking bull once more. My flight suit was soaked with sweat as I used every ounce of skill and determination to “hang in” on lead’s wing all the way to the ground. I tried to whistle a song to let the student know that I was “relaxed and in control!” My mouth was so dry I couldn’t even spit let alone squeak out a tune. I could see flight lead in his aircraft glance over his shoulder from time to time to see if we were still on his wing as he led us forward.
Repeatedly I thought there was no way I could keep going and we should break out of the formation. I could get a separate radar clearance to guide my aircraft to the field somewhere behind my leader. Just when I needed it, we would break into the clear again, giving me just enough time to catch my breath before the next assault.
Once our formation had safely landed and shut down the engines I approached my fellow pilot who had led us on this wild ride and asked to see the weather-briefing sheet he had received before our departure. There was a military weather warning posted for ¾” hail in the vicinity of Fort Worth that could have flamed out our engines. It seems that there was a Fort Worth restaurant of which my friend was particularly fond and his appetite had clouded his judgment.
Whenever I thought that I couldn’t stick with my flight leader through the darkness and turbulence there would be a break in the clouds to give me the recovery time that I needed. Flying is a lot like the Christian life. Among other things it takes teamwork, some foundational skills and the determination to keep at it by God’s grace. He knows just how much we can take.
“Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.” I Cor. 10:13 (NLT).
Dad, was there a time when you had a friend who intentionally or unintentionally wanted to lead you into dark places where you didn’t belong as a Christian? How did you handle that?
Can you relate to that in your world, son?
What do you do when you fall short and don’t have the determination to reach for the “way out” that God provides?
Son, is there anything right now that tests your commitment to do what you know is right and hang in there with where God (the perfect flight leader) wants to take you?
Why not take a minute to pray for one another to have the grace to stay faithful as followers of Jesus? Be sure to thank Him for His wonderful forgiveness that helps you to stay in the game after losing your grip on doing right and following Jesus with your whole heart.
Lessons for Flying Higher:
“The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation.” II Peter 2:9
“Greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world.” I John 4:4
Sometimes God gives us the strength to go through a temptation that we cannot avoid. Sometimes we need to have the good sense to turn away or run from the temptations that others would lead us into. Either of these takes a determined spirit to chose to fly on the wing of our heavenly Flight Leader in the storms of life.