Notes To My Forever Growing Self:
Normally, this would be a note to my younger self, but this week, this note is actually real time, present day, a note to my forever growing self. Thanks for hanging with me during this departure from the normal traffic pattern.
Airplanes can be thrilling. And daunting. Thousands of moving parts that have to be in tip-top shape, working in perfect harmony in order to stay in the air. Vintage airplanes, war birds, even more so. Most models have been in service for at least a half century—or more—which means the airframe could easily be 70 years old. That’s right 70 years. If I think about my body with it’s 52 years worth of mileage on it, I’m well aware that the house that I actually live in, is not the same as it was when I was younger, stronger, equipped with fine-tuned, spritely oiled parts. So when considering flying the T-6 Texan, the US Navy’s flight trainer for the workhorse of WWII—the P-51 Mustang— I took a timeout. A two year timeout. Which was confusing for me as an aviator. Since the mere sight of planes like these raise goosebumps on my arms and like an automatic reflex, my mind imagines how it would feel to soar weightless, free from the constraints of being tethered to the ground. The utter respect I have for airplanes. Their capabilities humble me, bring tears to my eyes at times, excite me to the extent that if I surrendered to my instincts, I would beeline headlong for the cockpit, strap in and go punch holes in the sky. If I’m honest, though, there is something about these planes that scares me too. Which is kind of embarrassing to admit as a lifelong pilot. In the T-6’s presence, I feel less like a pillar of confidence earned from flying jets and more like a newbie instrument pilot lost in the clouds. What was I afraid of? The T-6 was just an airplane after all. An engine, wings, tires familiar parts intimately engraved in my mind and heart. So why was I feeling like it was the first day I walked onto the ramp and climbed into a Cessna? Once I stopped and began to think more about this question, the embarrassment disappeared and I remembered. I remembered where those first flight feelings of angst came from; lack of understanding.
Back then, eighteen years old, I didn’t understand how engines turned fuel into thrust. Nor did I have an inkling how hydraulic systems with their pumps, reservoirs, bendy lines moved landing gear up and down. Electrical current? It was invisible to me and all I knew was that it was imperative to the operation of instruments and the radios.
Airplane systems were like magic to me. A chain of miraculous events, reserved for highly mechanical brains to comprehend. Unlike mine. All fear based assumptions that couldn’t have been further from the truth. The fact of the matter was, my fear was rooted in lack of understanding, not my capabilities. Once I found someone to teach me about the pistons, the hydraulic lines carrying fluid to the landing gear and brakes and the ins and outs of electricity and how it’s numerous buses brought power to radios and instruments on the panel, once I could visualize all the moving parts tucked beneath the cowling and burrito wrapped in the airframe’s metal skin, the fear I once felt, was exchanged for understanding. Understanding that transformed into confidence. Because if I could visualize the systems, the moving pieces as they worked hand in hand, if anything didn’t operate as designed, my understanding would allow me to handle the malfunction. So my initial beliefs about the plane, its seemingly supernatural traits, had nothing to do with capabilities—mine or the airplane’s—and everything to do with understanding. I needed to understand in order to have confidence. A fact I’d gleaned so long ago and nearly forgotten.
Back to the T-6. Realizing that my trepidation about flying this vintage plane was less about being afraid of it’s age, capabilities and shortcomings and more about my lack of understanding, I was triggered to search out and enlist every resource I could find to help me get to the point where I could visualize how this amazing machine operates.
I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that I felt inspired to kick off this week’s writing exercises by focusing on learning. Because for me, the key to understanding anything unfamiliar and new is to know how I learn.
Through this week’s exercises, I hope all of us gain insight on how we learn, and in turn, build confidence. Confidence to write a story, enlist a coach or a mentor, build a bridge to a strained relationship, or whatever you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t tried yet. Even fly a T-6.
I hope you know how grateful how I am for all of you coming along on this adventure with me. I know I could do this on my own, but the journey wouldn’t be as rich. Thank you for your time and company.
E.L. Chappel author of Spirit Dance/Storm Makers/Coming very soon: The Surge
What you are searching for is inside of you. All you have to do is go looking for it.
aka The Glamorous Wife