Instrument Flying
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“Instrument Flying,” Ensign, Apr. 1985, 65–66

Instrument Flying

I remember well the afternoon a few years ago when I went up in an airplane with an instructor for a lesson on instrument flying.

It was a crystal clear day, though a few gusty winds were blowing. We left the field, flying due north into a chilly headwind. When we reached the right altitude, the instructor put a special hood on me so that all I could see was the instrument panel. After an hour’s lesson we stopped in an airport about a hundred miles north to eat and make another check on the weather.

It was early evening when we climbed into the plane for our return flight. Both of us were a little nervous because a small storm front had moved in, and as we climbed toward the clouds we could feel the increased power of the winds. Now we would have an opportunity for some real instrument flying.

I wasn’t really worried until the instructor told me to put on the hood because I was going to fly us home. Once we hit the storm front, the weather started tossing us around. But he assured me that things were well under control: all I had to do was fly by the instruments just as I had done in practice, and follow his directions.

As the minutes went by and we flew deeper into the turbulence, a terrible fear began to grip me and I began to experience vertigo, feeling as if the craft were in a turn, slightly diving. I started making panicky corrections for it. My instructor had to tell me four times that the instruments were right and that I should trust them, not my own judgment.

After several more minutes of agony and constant reassurances from my instructor that the instruments were indeed telling the truth, I couldn’t take it any longer and tore off the hood to see for myself. When I looked through the window, all I could see was the blast of rain streaking out of a pitch-black sky. My face went pale, and a terrified expression swept over me.

My instructor said, “Norman, you’ve been sitting here for twenty-five minutes with a clear signal and true instruments to follow, but you’ve veered off course thirty-two times and have lost nine hundred feet of elevation. Now you really don’t even know where you are. Let me show you something.”

He took the controls and with little effort started climbing up through the clouds. Eight hundred feet later we were skimming across the tops of the clouds with a beautiful full moon glistening across the billows like glitter on an ocean of dew. In the near distance on the side of a hill we saw two large red lights topping a broadcasting tower. On the other side of that hill through the broken clouds we could see a faint green and white light flashing out a signal that to us meant home.

As we touched down safely and taxied to the hangars, I felt that I had been taught one of those great lessons we are sent here to earth to learn: that the Lord gives us fine instruments, a good strong signal, and many clear markers, and still we sometimes stray from their indications and fall into a sea of confusion. Yet if we will trust those signals and follow them, whether we fully understand them or not, we will be able to fly above the clouds, safe and secure, knowing our course and our destination.

  • Norman J. Poulsen, father of two, is the elders quorum instructor in the BYU Sixtieth Ward.