Back in my flight instructor days, one of the things I always made a point of demonstrating during my introductory flights was a simulated engine failure. I know it sounds harsh, but it was really a gentle illustration that despite all the ridiculous movie scenes of airplane disasters, an aircraft will not spontaneously burst into flames, spin out of control and fall from the sky like a banished angel trailing smoky retribution should engine power be interrupted or lost.
This does not happen during a simple engine failure.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Twin engine aircraft do have some potentially hazardous quirks of their own during an engine failure, especially during the critical phases of takeoff and landing, but I’m talking about a small, single engine trainer in cruise flight. I would smoothly ease the throttle back until the engine was set to “idle” and ask my student if they were frightened by or uncomfortable with the aircraft’s current configuration. Not once was anyone alarmed. I then explained to them that this is exactly what happens when an aircraft’s engine fails in cruise flight. The propeller continues to spin, the noise diminishes and the aircraft’s lift is no longer in balance with it’s weight, and thus it becomes a glider.
Four forces of flight
An aircraft in flight is subject to four main forces, lift (up) countered by weight (down), and thrust (forward) countered by drag (backward). The initial “unbalancing” of these forces is what allows the pilot to control the aircraft.
In straight and level cruise flight, these forces are harmoniously balanced. The combined forces of lift and thrust must be greater than the combined forces of weight and drag to initiate a climb. If those forces remain in equilibrium, the climb continues until the stability of the forces are again disrupted to return to level flight. Even during a turn, these forces seek equilibrium to maintain the rate of turn.
Recently, it occurred to me that this principle can be applied in many ways to our lives in general. We need balance. There is rampant duality in our universe for a reason: good and evil; light and dark; Up and down. How can you truly have one without the existence of the other? Without light, there are no shadows. Without the concept of evil, there would be no reference point for us to understand good.
The pachyderm has a point
A life out of balance can lead to any number of unwanted results. While we all understand the consequences of too much hate, stress, alcohol, drugs, or other negative influences, it is entirely possible for one to be too optimistic, eat too much, exercise too much, sleep too much, or have too many possessions. We are much more content when in a state of equilibrium, but outside influences are always striving to upset our balance. Much like that single engine trainer in clear air turbulence, we must navigate our way clear of everything from temporary traffic delays to devastating personal tragedies in order to regain our equilibrium.
Once you encounter that turbulence, change your altitude, alter your course, do whatever it takes to rediscover your own balance. Otherwise, you may find yourself unnecessarily stranded in a cornfield after failing to re-establish cruise flight by leaving your power at idle. I hear that can be pretty embarrassing.