I was talking to someone the other day and we were discussing flying and the fact that pilots will tell you that usually it’s pretty uneventful. I have heard flying described as hours and hours of routine punctuated by moments of stark terror. Now obviously, many pilots will never experience those moments of terror but yet they still need to train for them.
Back in the old, old days (1981 to be exact), I was in Air Force pilot training at Vance AFB in Enid, Okla. They located pilot training bases in places like western Oklahoma so if you did happen to crash you wouldn’t be as likely to hurt anyone on the ground. That was comforting to say the least.
As an inexperienced student pilot you had to learn a whole heck of a lot of stuff just so you wouldn’t kill yourself or your instructor. You also learned how to fly but they paid special attention to, and drilled into your head, the emergency procedures that you needed to know just in case you had one of those moments of stark terror.
You had cheat sheets for a whole host of procedures and those sheets were bound into a small notebook that you strapped to your leg any time you flew. But there were a few emergency procedures that you were expected to know by heart and be able to execute without even thinking. We would be sitting in class on navigation or any other subject and all of a sudden they would stop class and have a pop quiz on emergency procedures.
And these were not written tests. An instructor would call on you by name and ask you to recite one of the emergency procedures in front of everyone. Heaven forbid that you didn’t get it right – that wasn’t even really an option (at least not twice).
The T-37 that we flew was the only plane in the Air Force inventory at that time that was designed to spin (think death spiral with the nose of the plane pointed straight down and the plane corkscrewing toward the ground). Our instructors helped guide us through the process of recovering from a spin but we also had to know how to get it out of the spin without thinking just in case it ever did one accidentally.
Of course most of us were pretty scared of this whole process but our instructors told us that if we followed the emergency procedures, as we were taught, that it would work 100 percent of the time. It was one of the few things in life that was absolutely foolproof. It has been over 30 years since I sat in the cockpit of a T-37, but almost without thinking I can recite to you the emergency procedure for recovering from a spin and I have no doubt that I could do it in an actual setting.
So what the heck does all this have to do with anything besides me telling an old Air Force story? It’s a statistical fact that most people don’t fly airplanes and don’t have to worry about memorizing a bunch of emergency procedures. But, what about life itself and the moments of stark terror that we will encounter?
Whether it is the sudden death of someone we are close to, a health diagnosis we never thought we would hear or maybe a financial disaster. Each of us will face our own moments of terror in life and when we do, what emergency procedures will we immediately turn to? The answer is personal to each of us but I know that for me, the emergency procedure is to turn to God, family and friends.
I can’t answer for anyone besides myself but I guess the point of this column is to get you to think about who you depend on when the moments of terror occur in your life. If you don’t have your emergency procedures memorized you better think long and hard because it’s not a matter of if, but rather when you will need them.
Kevin Wilson writes a weekly column for the Daily News.