I received my private pilot’s license back in 1972.
It was an intense ten week program at Kent State University. I’d call it a “crash course” but that seems counter useful for a program on flying planes.
I was 18 years old, fresh out of high school, and in love with flying. I found the course to be the hardest thing I had ever done in my life till then, and for decades after.
I also had some scary moments, like the time I got lost.
I wasn’t yet a licensed pilot, but I was skilled enough to fly solo.
One day I mapped out a cross country solo flight. I got out my compass, maps, highlighter, checked the weather, and did all the manual things you had to do back in the days before instruments and apps.
I took off.
I remember it being a cool, clear day in Ohio.
I always found it meditative to be solo in a plane, high in the sky.
I enjoyed the peace and scenery.
I looked out the window, searching for a check point to confirm I was on my path. I looked around but couldn’t find it.
I don’t recall if it was a water tower or some other landmark. But not seeing my checkpoint made me wonder if I was on course.
I kept flying, looking for my second checkpoint.
I couldn’t find it, either.
Now I was getting concerned.
I looked at my folded map, verifying my route and the checkpoints. They were clearly on the map, but not anywhere in view from the cockpit.
So I decided to start looking for the signs.
I flew to the left, then to the right, then randomly in any direction that seemed promising.
Before long, I knew I was lost.
I’m a solo pilot, on an alone cross country flight, and I have no idea where I am.
I assume I was still in Ohio.
But Ohio isn’t as big as Texas. I may have flown into another state.
Part of our pilot training is to identify runways on the ground, even small ones that a farmer might have, or an abandoned road.
So I started looking for a place to land.
As my flying adventure continued, and my heart raced, I spotted a small runway and a small hanger.
I aimed toward it, got into the landing pattern, and landed.
I got out of the plane and walked to the hanger.
There was a small coffee shop inside. I still wasn’t drinking coffee back then, but I ordered a cup.
I acted like all was right with the world.
Then I decidedly to ask the person making my coffee an important question.
“Excuse me, but could you tell me where I am?”
I got her attention.
It was clear I was lost.
She helped me look at my map, explained I wasn’t too far from Kent State, and helped me reroute my way home.
I got back in the plane, took off, and headed back to my destination.
As soon as I landed, my flight instructor asked what happened.
I told him I had been lost.
He immediately ordered me back into the plane.
He wanted to retrace my steps and see what I did wrong.
Back in the air, I followed my original map.
I again looked at the window for my checkpoint.
But again I couldn’t find it.
My instructor took the wheel, titled the plane, and pointed out the window.
“You were right over the checkpoint!”
I was never lost at all.
I was right on my path, until I began to doubt and question myself.
My instructor explained that checkpoints have to be seen out the left or right side of the plane. You can’t see them if you are right on top of them.
I also learned that throughout my life, whenever I thought I was lost, I reminded myself that I was probably right on my path, only thinking I was lost.
Is there such a thing?