“My flight instructor inadvertently gave me one of the most profound business and life lessons I’d ever heard.”
One of the great pleasures of my life was becoming a licensed pilot of my own single engine airplane. Indeed, it was very challenging, and sometimes a bit scary, but I loved it. After several months of training, I passed my written and flight examinations and was given my Private Pilot License which allowed me to fly on clear weather days. In order to fly on days when the visibility is poor, you need additional training and must pass additional exams.
Only being able to fly on clear days really reduces the number of days you can fly, and I was wanting to use my airplane for business purposes and therefore wanted more travel flexibility, not less. So after getting my initial license, I immediately began working on getting the next license, which is called an instrument rating. This would give me the skills and confidence needed to safely fly my plane using instruments only, without the aid of visual flight references like the horizon.
Flying In Heavy Weather
One topic that was given a lot of attention in my training was the weather and what to do about it. The first rule I was taught was to do everything possible to avoid bad weather. But I was also taught that regardless of how hard you try, if you fly long enough, you will likely find yourself in difficult weather since the aviation weather forecasters, no matter how hard they try, can be wrong.
So, what do you do when you are caught in turbulent winds and rain? Well, what happens in turbulent weather is that the small aircraft gets bounced around quite a bit, tossed back and forth, up and down, quickly getting off your assigned altitude or your assigned course — and many times drastically off course and altitude. You could find yourself losing thousands of feet in altitude in seconds from a downdraft of wind.
The Mistake Often Made
The mistake the untrained pilot often makes is what my instructor called ‘fighting the weather.’ He meant that for every drastic movement of the airplane caused by the weather, the pilot tries to counter that movement in an attempt to stay on course and altitude. If the plane drops in altitude, the pilot pulls up the nose of the airplane in an attempt to climb, only to find himself now getting hit with an updraft, throwing him hundreds of feet above his assigned altitude. Now he quickly tries to lower the nose of the aircraft and decrease altitude, and again gets hit with another downdraft dropping quickly and starting the vicious cycle over again. This can go on and on, trying to stay on altitude without any success. This puts great stress on the aircraft, wastes fuel, makes for an even more uncomfortable ride for the passengers, and tires the pilot making him or her less effective. In extreme cases, the pilot’s actions can put the small aircraft under such enormous stress fighting the weather that the plane can actually break apart.
When my instructor explained all of this to me, I said, “Well what am I supposed to do? This sounds very dangerous. There’s got to be a solution! How do I survive a storm?” He said calmly, “Just keep an eye on your instruments and fly straight and level. Yes, you will get tossed up and down. You may lose altitude. Fine. Don’t fight it. Keep your plane straight and level. You may get blown off course. Fine. Straight and level. Keep this in mind, no matter what happens, and you will come out the other side of the storm. When you do come out, then get yourself back on altitude and course. If you fight the weather, you will make things worse.”
The Life Lesson: Keep It Straight And Level
My flight instructor inadvertently gave me one of the most profound business and life lessons I’d ever heard. It’s a lesson I’ve often thought about and referred to. When I’ve been in a stormy situation in my business or life, I try not to respond each time I get tossed about — by a poor paying client, losing a contract bid, a severe drop in revenues, a personal or family crisis. I just hold it straight and level. I try not to drastically respond to every turbulent bump as it happens. That would be exhausting, costly, and in extreme cases even dangerous. I just focus on what I know are the facts, keep the situation in perspective, don’t make any drastic moves, and eventually I get through the problem — flying straight and level.
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