Lessons from the cockpit
courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things; knows not “
the livid loneliness of fear” —Amelia Earhart, July 24, 1897–July 2, 1937
When I pushed the throttle full forward, took my feet off the brakes, pulled back on the
yoke and lifted off on my first solo flight, a strong wave of fear washed over me. The stark
realization hit—I was flying high above the ground and I was
alone. Yet almost immediately the anxiety in my gut was replaced by an overriding sense of personal responsibility and
resolve. I understood for the first time
what it really meant to hold my own
life in my hands.
The things we resist
are most often those
which dive straight
into the inner sanctum
Where is the runway?
We rarely get to choose when courage
will be required of us. It is the unexpected guest, the unanticipated call.
Courage dialed my number on October 3, 1996. A high-ranking official in
the Surgeon General’s Office needed
to get to Washington. I scheduled the
flight to DCA for the next evening. It
was one of my first commercial flights, into one of the busiest airports in the world…in a single engine Cessna 182…at
night; all unchartered territory for me.
Fear and anxiety set in hard. I called all my flying buddies, hoping for a DCA-savvy flight companion, but no one
was available. So I prepared on my own, studying charts,
approaches and airport particulars. I made a detailed flight
plan, and an arrival reservation.
October 4 dawned clear and blue, and was forecast to remain so through the evening. At 5:00 p.m., I headed to First
Flight airstrip in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, to pick up
Taxiing toward the tie down area, you couldn’t miss him;
he was the only person in a tailored suit, with a hefty-sized
briefcase by his side. He requested to sit right seat with a
headset, which only deepened my anxiety, knowing he would
hear and see everything.
The flight up was uneventful, and by the time we were
north of Richmond, Virginia, the night was pitch black. Closer
to the airport ATC authorized me to descend VFR. The con-
of our fears
and admit to them.