Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Musings at 40,000 feet!

Although the following ATC communication is based off factual protocol, the exact dialogue for our flight is unknown...

Pilot: "Anchorage Ground, Gulfstream Six Seven Fife Kilo, Alaska Airlines, with information Alpha, request taxi to Runway Zeero Seven Left."

Controller: "Gulfstream Six Seven Fife Kilo, Anchorage Ground, taxi to Runway Zeero Seven Left position and hold, traffic landing Runway Fourteen."

Pilot: "Position and hold Runway Zeero Seven Left, Gulfstream Six Seven Fife Kilo."

As the large Boeing 737 backed away from the Ted Stevens International Airport terminal, I leaned back in my seat anticipating another flight across Alaska. It was the second flight I'd been on in the past three days, and we were returning from National Guard meetings in Anchorage. I always enjoy flying, but flying across the wilderness of Alaska on a clear day is always much more enjoyable than flying across the ocean in a 747... I watched as the flaps were lowered and began wondering - as I always do just before takeoff - how such flimsy pieces of metal could lift us into the air. "If only Wilbur and Orville could see the airliners of today," I thought humorously.

Pilot: "Anchorage Ground, Gulfstream Six Seven Fife Kilo, Alaska Airlines, request clearance for takeoff, Runway Zeero Seven Left."

Controller: "Gulfstream Six Seven Fife Kilo, Anchorage Ground, Runway Zeero Seven Left, cleared for takeoff."

Pilot: "Gulfstream Six Seven Fife Kilo, cleared for takeoff, Runway Zeero Seven Left."

As the two large engines began ramping up for the total outburst of power, I braced myself for the pressure. Suddenly the pilot let off the brakes and a deafening roar began growing throughout the cabin. Faster and faster we raced down the runway. Pressed back against the seat, everything seemed to be tilting slightly backward as the plane picked up speed. The airport terminal, the taxiways, the other aircraft, the city, all seemed to be flying by at frightening speed. And then there was a crushing force that pressed me down as the aircraft's weight shifted from its wheels to the wings. In a matter of seconds I could see the whole city of Anchorage spread out before us like a toy car mat. As the jet continued to gain altitude, I kept popping my ears because of the changing air pressure. Suddenly the ground seemed to disappear as we banked a hard turn away from Anchorage. The mountains then spread out before us like an impregnable guard around the city, and yet here we were soaring right over their brazen tops!

"Welcome to Alaska Airlines flight 188!" came the chipper voice of the flight attendant. As she droned on about how beautiful the day was and how nice we were and how nice they were - a good business policy of course - my thoughts began to wander to the people around me. To my right, a man was deeply engrossed in a stock market magazine where he was reading about the latest tips and tricks to keeping your money "secure". "Interesting," I thought, "but not very interesting to me... I still like the old way of keeping your pennies safe in a piggy bank." Behind me a man had fallen asleep with his iPod playing so loud that I turned around thinking the aircraft had music playing and I was sitting right in front of a speaker. "Must have been a hard day for him to be able to sleep through that!" I thought. To my left a couple boys who were part of the Hutchison basketball team were busily trying to catch up on some sleep. They had just won a game in Sitka and were heading back home to Fairbanks. I wondered what they must have been thinking right then. Probably not much... Behind them sat their coaches, who had been complaining about the 4 o'clock morning, much to the other flight attendant's chagrin. I thought it was quite comical. Directly in front of them was a young lady and her husband (unless that would be in the future - at least I hope it was one of those two...) and they looked pretty taken by the world. From earrings in their eyebrows to their style of dress, you could tell they weren't from the "residential area". And then there were the others on the flight whom I had seen before boarding; the man who had long hair and earrings, the family with kids always buried in their iPhones, the pilots with their crisp uniforms, the flight attendants dressed in matching attire. All of us had different thoughts going through our heads; each of us came from different backgrounds. Each of us had our own hopes and dreams for the future; each of us had different plans when we reached our destination. We all had our different outlooks on life; our various world-views that filter everything we experience. But even though we all had differences of some kind between us, we were all tied together by a common thread - the fact that all of us were strapped into a large man-made cylinder flying through the air at 400 mph. I know, it made me kind of nervous also.

Even though it might seem scary to some people, I've flown enough that I've learn to trust explicitly in the aircraft that carry me. Why? I really don't know. But since they've never personally let me down, I keep getting into these large people movers. I realized it was a great object lesson in faith. I could say I believed airplanes would carry me safely through the air, I could write books about it, I could lecture extensively on the subject, but until I was willing to get in one and let it carry me to heights never reached by man before the dawn of aviation, I would never have true faith in aircraft. And that is where we have to draw the line between an all-talk Christian experience, and a living, abiding connection with Christ that we are experiencing every day. It's a matter of faith, and faith is the outworking of conviction.

"Flight attendants prepare the cabin for landing." The captain's announcement jolted me out of my reverie. "This forty-five minute flight ain't long enough to give any feller time to think, as well as enjoy the beautiful scenery below!" I thought ruefully.

Pilot: "Fairbanks Tower, Gulfstream Six Seven Fife Kilo, Alaska Airlines, with information Charlie, request clearance to land Runway Zeero Too Right."

Controller: "Gulfstream Six Seven Fife Kilo, Fairbanks Tower, Runway Zeero Too Right, cleared to land."

Pilot: "Gulfstream Six Seven Fife cleared to land, Runway Zeero Too Right."

I leaned back in my seat as the familiar sound of the engines died down and the flaps were lowered. As Fairbanks came into view and the familiar scenery of the Tanana valley spread out below us, the plane began lining up to the runway. There was a familiar bump as the gears were lowered, and then the touch down zone lights flashed beneath us. The nose went up in its last attempt to stay airborne, and then there was a thud as the wheels touched the runway. Suddenly the wing literally came apart as the flaps were lowered to their lowest extent and the air brakes popped straight up. The engines roared to life again but in reverse this time. In a matter of seconds, we had come to a stop just 1,500 feet from where we had touched down! Another flight was behind me.

Some of the beautiful mountains we could see from the plane.

A beautiful view of Mt. McKinley!

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