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The Perfect Way to a Flight Plan for Life

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Thom Bush and Cessna 172

The first time I flew was in October 1970, we'd been married for 1 year and were going on our first holiday as a married couple. My wife, a Singaporean, had flown a few times before and somehow I thought I'd enjoy the experience. However, a couple of weeks before the flight, a DeHavilland Comet crashed. On the day of our flight, as we walked across the tarmac (no air bridges then), slowly our plane came into view . . . a DeHavilland Comet! I had an uneasy feeling which eventually turned into a sort of terror. I was a physical wreck throughout the flight, fortunately, my wife was there to comfort me. Gratefully, the holiday itself was great and enough to put the return flight out of mind, for a while. However, the return trip was no better and to make things even worse, my next two trips were preceded by a number of air crashes. The most vivid being Turkish Airlines flight 981 which occurred in March 1974. The cause of the crash was a consequence of a catastrophic decompression when a cargo door blew out. In March 1975 we were flying to Toronto on a Laker Airways DC10, one of only 2 DC 10s not to have had the cargo door upgrade. Thanks to a good dose of Valium, I was able to make the flight with a tolerable amount of angst.

Following this, I decided I had to do something about this terrifying fear. What I discovered, was that my fear of flying was somehow a consequence of 6 school friends dying in a plane crash back in 1966. To make a long story short, I eventually overcame my fear through a form of hypnotic autosuggestion. Over time I began to enjoy flying and a good friend bought me a flying lesson for my 50th birthday. My first flight, in a Piper Warrior, took place on the 17 May 2000. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to go for My PPL (private pilots licence). Around this time I also qualified as a hypnotherapist. And over the coming years, I discovered parallels between the significance of my flying experience and the way I approach therapy and how I manage my life!

However, I need to explain this in some detail as there is an obvious but ignored anomaly that relates to flying! Despite all the statistics saying the opposite, flying is perceived as being dangerous and far more people have an issue with flying than with driving, in a car or motorcycle. Despite the fact that most people are aware that the real order of danger, is a motorcycle, the car then aeroplane? How often does a driver complete a safety check, prior to every journey? Prior to every flight, I performed an A check, this was to ensure that things like control surfaces - ailerons, elevator, rudder and trim – were working free and easy. I would also check the brakes, lights, oil, fuel, pitot heat and stall warning horn. As well as an overall inspection of the airframe and propeller surfaces. So, once all the checks were completed, I would be reasonably sure that the flight would go ahead without a hitch! And for me, it always did, thankfully! That said, I routinely practised emergency procedures, e.g. a simulated engine failure and since the planes I flew only had one engine, that was just common sense. Quite a few of the pilots I knew, however, did not do this, at least not regularly (proof that common sense, isn't very common)!

In addition to the pre-flight checks, I would also do a flight plan. This involved drawing the route on the chart and marking off waypoints on the chart (ground reference points) and the expected time to reach them. The final preparation for the plan took place just ahead of the flight itself, which was the direction and strength (velocity/speed) of the wind. Once everything is in place, I could take off on my journey. While the final outcome of any journey is not known, the flight plan and checks give you the confidence to believe it will end as planned. And, we always had a Plan B!

Throughout the flight, I am constantly monitoring the fight's progress against the plan. This involved checking the instruments, fuel, DI (gyrocompass), engine systems and pressures etc. and checking the chart progress against the ground. One of the difficulties of navigation, however, is that everything on the chart is on the ground, but not everything on the ground is on the chart! As you reach your expected waypoint you ask the question “does this look right”? And it is in this aspect of flying that the significance of piloting parallels life. You see in life we need a plan. We need to know that the vehicle (our brain/mind/body) is in good working order. We need to know that it has enough fuel to last the journey. We need to know that the journey has an endpoint and we need a plan (B) in case we get lost or have an emergency! In flying, we always know that the wind can change and any change in wind changes the direction of the plane. Diligent piloting and planning allow you to notice this change because any change of wind direction has an equivalent change in direction over the ground. For example, if the wind increases from your left you will be blown to the right of the track and visa versa. However, fortunately, there is a simple procedure to correct that error and get back on track.

Very often in life, I see people embark on the journey of life without a plan. They often have no knowledge of where they are, and little by way of how the got there; but somehow claim they know where they are going. The sad reality is, that they can and very often do - get blown off course. They do not have waypoints and so very often don’t even know they are lost! Even those that have a plan often don’t know, until it's too late, that their plan has gone woefully wrong and they're way off track. Life didn’t quite work out how they thought it would! Essentially, we can all benefit from a plan to help guide us through the journey called life. We need to know where we are (the start point), and how we got there may be of immense help too! We need to know where we are going (the endpoint, or a series of them for each stage/goal of life). We also need to anticipate what we may encounter along the way, e.g. markers, interim destinations, changes in the wind, which can be good or bad. From this information, we know how we are progressing, whether we are on track, on time, early or late etc.

As the flight progresses, we also know if it is safe to proceed, or if we should divert to an alternative landing site. Contingencies are prepared for e.g. emergencies and if necessary we can make an emergency landing, which could be a field or road if it is safe. As well as monitoring the engine systems and moving parts of the plane throughout the duration of the flight. When we land we do another round of checks prior to shutting down the plane; safety, safety, safety, all the way, all of the time!

So, all in all, I see a lot of advantages to preparing for life as if we were the plane and life was the flight. And ironically, even those people who are perpetually late for everything; somehow seem to catch their flight?

So, make your plan and when you get blown off course by the wind of life, and you will, you will know about it sooner rather than later. More importantly, YOU will have the knowledge and know-how to get back on track!

Happy Flying

Thom