Flight Lesson – 3

Towards the end of their first lesson, I tell my tailwheel student to take me back to the airport.  Their lightness on the stick immediately changes with the word “airport” biting at their reptilian brain, and they return to over-controlling my plane. Projecting their anxiety, from the thought of their first landing, into their body subconsciously.  I come on the controls to calm their movements, allowing them to observe and absorb without fear.  The only thing I talk about on our way back to the airport is the wind. Pointing out where the wind is mirrored in the water and the pastures all around us. I ask them what the wind feels like, and how is it playing and swaying the plane.  Are we lifting in the heat radiating from the city, or sinking in the cool air over the lake?  I don’t teach power settings, airspeed, or technique.  We just chat about the wind.

Once we’re back on the ground  I tell them they’re going to do this take-off alone, but with their hand only.  I will be on the throttle and rudders so they can concentrate on one thing – the wind.  Then I ask, “So where’s the wind?”  Sometimes they answer quickly, sometimes they search for the windsock to prompt them.  Either way they say where they think the wind is coming from, in relation to the airplane’s nose. My student’s bodies never agree with their answers.  So I ask again. “Where’s the wind?”  They grow wiser and consult nature.  Finding truer information in the tall grass or the tree limbs, and proudly answer my question once more.  But their hand never moves.  The stick remains still – straight up and down.  I ask a third time. “Where is the wind? Look at your hand.”  They look down at their hand. Now that I’ve drawn their attention away from the Top Gun scenario running in their mind of their first take-off, they can focus on the present.

I teach them.  “The wind is not your friend, it is not your enemy, it is your superior. It is far greater than you or your plane.  If someone as magnificent as the wind just walked across our beautiful grass runway, wouldn’t you turn to acknowledge it?  Wouldn’t you wave, point, or extend your hand out to greet it?  Call or even bow to the wind?  Your brain just learned how to notice the wind, but your body didn’t move. The wind can kill your plane, and your plane will die saving you. Point the stick to the wind. Never take-off or land without acknowledging the wind.”

Wind turbines do nothing but acknowledge the wind.  They turn into the wind effortlessly and their blades respond proportionately. From that intuitive response they generate energy.  When you draw your attention to notice the invisible wind, you start to see it and feel it everywhere. The wind is no longer just in the windsock or in the voice of ATIS, it leaves its footprints all around you.  We begin generating our power as pilots by being mindful that there are things in nature leaving footprints all around us, guiding us, and turn our attention to acknowledge them.

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