An Illustration From Flight: Seeing the Instruments

inflight-300x199  Any Difference: Not Seeing Them & Not Having Any?

If you have ever flown, or better yet — piloted an aircraft  — you continually walk away amazed!

Fly from the United States for 23 plus hours to Japan — non-stop — and you come to realize how amazing an airplane is — AND how big the planet earth is!

While teaching at a Baptist College in Minnesota in the early 1970s, I began pilot instruction.  We who were on the college faculty had the opportunity to take advantage of flight instruction through the kind offer of a Captain who worked for Northwest Orient Airlines.  He was a fellow believer, and therefore offered to offer pilot lesson at a greater reduced price — only having to pay for the actual flight time and plane rental, not his in-class sessions on — aerodynamics, instrumentation, navigation, terminology, components of an aircraft, props, fixed airfoils, controls, backup systems, flight conditions, etc!

I have always had a life-long fascination with flight.  Just learning the technical and mechanical side and the plane’s instrumentation was truly amazing — and disconcerting at times.

I never completed the flight training to become a pilot.

Somewhat due to the financial pressures of teaching at a Christian college and affording — yes even at $18.00 an hour — for only the hours of rental & actual flying time in the Cessna.

Also due to the repeated consideration and reconsideration, after flying several times with this seasoned pilot and after learning about all the instrumentation and aerodynamic information which had to be processed in flight — “Could I really do this?  Could I really be comfortable flying at the end?”

And finally due to the personal realization that I could not imagine one day taking off — ALONE!

Moving down the runway at 65-70 knots (70-75 mph) — pulling up on the yoke, lifting up off the runway — gaining altitude — traveling at a speed of 120 knots (140 mph), AND having no one besides me to maintain proper flight, AND THEN landing back on the runway in what may well be considered a “controlled stall” — (Now I am in trouble with many a pilot who is reading those words! — see below)*  With me — it would have been a controlled stall.  I can assure you!

Have you seen the instrumentation aboard an airplane upon entering that airplane?  It makes a car look rather rudimentary.  In fact, we could operate a car without any instrumentation (yes — maybe after a ticket or two — but that is the only “instrument gauge” we really need  and that only to avoid such problems.)

Not so with an airplane.  The absolute minimum for flying is at least one instrument!

NOTE: While a good-to-great pilot can fly by looking out of the window when there is good weather (assuming he/she does not experience vertigo) when flying into a cloud, during times of difficult or severely limited visibility, or at night — a pilot needs at least one gyroscopic instrument which will aid him to electronically see & know the orientation of the aircraft in relationship to the horizon.


One of the many important elements of the instrumentation is its lighting!  Being able to see and discern what the instruments read — quickly and clearly — is vital!

One pilot stated . . . .

“The most exciting lighting I’ve ever seen was in an old Cessna 182.  The owner had had all the marking treated with luminous paint, and his lighting consisted of two ultraviolet floods.  The effect was brilliant and highly legible.”

I am sure in this age of technology, led lights, fiber optics, prism focused lights, etc. that excellent instrument lighting systems are more and more common in non-commercial aircraft!

Worse than poor lighting of the instruments is the electrical loss of your instrumentation!

“The first time I had a total electrical power failure in an aircraft was at dusk in a tired old Cessna.

Its alternator gave up the ghost, and a few minutes later, the battery signaled its goodbye too.

I had a momentary panic.

The flight was to an unfamiliar, uncontrolled airport, so I radioed that I wanted to land straight-in, downwind. Someone on CTAF asked if I still had power, wouldn’t it be just as easy to follow the traffic on downwind, in the pattern, rather than jeopardize two airplanes by landing the opposite way? I stopped panicking and agreed. I landed without incident.

The second time I had a total power failure I was in a brand new Eclipse microjet, the EA-500. Forty seconds after descending into a thick, wet overcast of clouds in the new aircraft, all of the fancy electronic displays in our glass cockpit sputtered.

Big red Xs covered my primary flight displays, and then all three screens went dark. Instantly we snapped from satellite-era, technologically advanced navigation back to the biplane-era cockpit of the early airmail days. All that was missing were goggles, leather helmets and a cold wind blowing our scarves. Even the backup AHRS went dark.

AHRS, the attitude and heading reference system, consists of sensors on three axes that provide attitude information, including roll, pitch and yaw. The AHRS was designed to replace traditional mechanical gyroscopic flight instruments and to provide superior reliability and accuracy. Except for us, it didn’t. It was battery-powered, and for whatever reason, the battery didn’t kick in at first.

In our Eclipse, the backup battery engaged after several seconds — which seemed like days — and we regained our standby AHRS Comm 1, and captain’s transponder. I knew KBDL was below and just behind us, so I declared an emergency and asked for immediate vectors to any available runway. We were assigned a Precision Approach Radar approach and vectored around and down.

Our approach was cake . . . . ” — Jeffrey Madison


However, is there really any difference between not being able to see your instruments and having no instruments?

You can have great instruments.
You can have multiple instruments.
Your aircraft’s instrument panel can be marked with backup & redundancy.
You can be an instrument-rated pilot — allowed to fly at night or in low-to-no visibility.

But if you cannot see your instruments — you are no different than a pilot who is flying having lost his instruments.

Losing your instruments & not being able to see your instruments puts you in the same predicament!

AND — you are in serious trouble!


God has revealed Himself, as Hebrews 1 states, in a variety of different ways.  And God has finally and fully revealed Himself in the written and living Word.

What is the difference between those who have been given the instruments for direction and navigation but do not see them, and those who have no instruments?

What is the difference between those who never heard, and those who hear and never do?

What is the difference between the blind, and those who can see, but are blind to the instruments?

What is the difference between those who hear and do not, and those who have never heard?

What is the difference between no instruments, and not being able to see them quickly and clearly so as to make important decisions in a moment, versus having lost the instruments?

There may well be little-to-no practical difference.

— Matthew 7:24-29



Some Of The Various Flight Instrumentation

The vertical speed indicator — VSI
Indicated airspeed — IAS
True airspeed indicator– TAS
The altimeter — corrected for local air pressure
Radio altimeter – under 2500 feet
Turn-Bank Indicator – turn & slip
Attitude Indicator – visual of the artificial horizon
Gyro-compass – heading indicator
Magnetic Compass


* A “stall” with an airplane has nothing do with the running of the engines — as the term is used when it comes to a car.  A “stall” is when you lose the aerodynamic lift on the wings.

One reason the lift is lost is because the upward pitch of the airplane is too great (typically over 15 degrees+) and the air does not flow over the wings/airfoils properly.  “Pitch down” breaks the aerodynamic stall.

Likewise, when landing, you are slowing your airspeed and thereby losing lift.  If you are not careful, you can lose lift too early and “come in for a hard landing” or bounce onto the runway.

Landings are in one sense “a controlled stall.”  Yes, technically you can and should land a plane short of the instant of a controlled stall.  What you actually want to do is perform an “aerodynamic stall” a split second after your wheels are on the runway.

Have you seen an airplane float several hundred feet down the runway, which is typically well past their intended touchdown point?  The pilot is letting or trying to get the airplane to a full stall over the runway – prior to touchdown – which is not how it is meant to be done!

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