I’ve always enjoyed flying in small single-engine airplanes. I don’t have a pilot’s license, but the pilots have often let me fly the plane after we reach the desired altitude. Once aloft, it requires very little more skill than driving a car, although there is the additional vertical dimension to manage.
While living in San Diego, I scheduled a speaking en routegagement in San Francisco. The school at which I was teaching had a missionary aviation program, and one of the instructors offered to fly me to and from the gig. I was delighted with the prospect and accepted with alacrity.
The flight up the state was unremarkable, except for the time I had my hands on the controls. However, on the trip home, the pilot said he had bad news for me. It seems the plane had just been acquired by the school, and evidently it had not yet been thoroughly checked out. Something was wrong with the engine or its attachments, and fuel was being used at an alarming rate. It seemed that we would have to land far short of our destination.
The pilot had a good idea of where we were, but we would have to descend through a solid cloud bank to find the closest airport. The plane had no radar, so we would be flying blind through the clouds. As the view outside the plane became as blank as a new sheet of paper, I realized this could be the end. We had no way of knowing if another plane was in our vicinity. I’m not a brave person, nor a thrill seeker, so I considered my calm acceptance of this situation to be pretty good evidence that I’m not afraid of death. The fact that I had made my peace with God had a lot to do with my calm attitude.
I confess, however, that I am not so cool-headed about the prospect of dying. Among my various infirmaties is not included any defect that would lead to a quick and relatively painless end. I suspect that, at some time, morphine will be my friend.
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