Real Men Don’t Get Lost!

A chapter in my yet unpublished, and repeatedly turned down manuscript of the same title written for outdoorsmen.

Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalms 119:104-105 (NKJV)

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  2 Tim 3:16-17 (NKJV)

Christian’s often use words that only have meaning within the “club.” Take “lost” for example. Every time I hear someone use the expression, I want to say, “Real men don’t get lost.” I have never been lost. I may not know my exact position, but I am not lost. That a man should never admit if he were lost was first demonstrated to me in flight school. The Army Aviation School’s Primary Phase was located in Mineral Wells, Texas, thirty miles or so west of Dallas-Fort Worth. Each day half of the students rode out to the staging areas on buses. The other half flew the helicopters to the outlaying fields and switched out the aircraft with the other students following the morning training session. Texas might not have subzero weather, but when the winds cross the Canadian border the only thing slowing it down is barb wire. The spring winds are horrendous.

Somewhere over Southeastern Alaska

Somewhere over Southeastern Alaska

The training helicopter at that time was a Hughes 300, loving referred to as the Mattel Messerschmitt, because it looked like a toy. It would cruise around sixty knots. The day of my lesson on lostness started with seasonally strong winds. Those of us on the buses noticed that the helicopters were stacking up on take off. Dempsey heliport had around ten take off pads. The students would hover out of their tie down spots and enter the line of aircraft waiting for departure. As each aircraft hovered to the departure pad the pilot would call the tower identifying his location and request departure clearance. After the tower gave the wind conditions and clearance and the pilot would pull pitch for climb out. Three hundred trainers leaving in rapid succession always reminded me of the bees around one of our family’s beehives.

Probably thirty minutes later we arrived to the outlying field and entered the shack to find that one of the guys was calling Dempsey tower. He was lost. Naturally we stayed glued to the radio. The conversation came across loud and clear, we didn’t miss a word:

Tower: “Three Zero Seven, say altitude.”

307: “307, altitude 5,000.”

Tower: “307, say heading.”

307: “307, heading 360.”

Tower: “What terrain features can you identify?” (We had always been told that if we became disoriented that we needed to climb so that we would be able to determine our position from the bearings to major landmarks.)

307: “I can see Dallas-Fort Worth to my east; Possum Kingdom Lake is to my northwest. I can also see the Baker Hotel (in Mineral Wells) to my southeast.”

LONG PAUSE

Tower: “307, look between your foot pedals. What do you see?”

LONGER PAUSE: “307, Dempsey.”

That poor guy had pulled pitch and climbed almost straight up. He was showing fifty-five knots airspeed and going nowhere. For two weeks he had to wear a huge compass around his neck. No one else in our class ever called in asking for directions.

A few years later I decided that I would fly my new bride to the Bahamas for our honeymoon.  I had several thousand hours of flight time in military aircraft and a commercial rotary wing, single engine, instrument ticket so all I had to do was show proficiency in another type of aircraft to have an equivalent rating. So, after seven hours of instruction and a check ride I walked the aisle with a fixed wing ticket. I still carry a picture of my wife standing beside the Cherokee 180 as we prepared to leave her hometown airport. One advantage of flying is people can’t tie cans to your rudder.

The flight from Cheraw, South Carolina to West Palm was a “no brainer,” just head south until you hit the coastline and follow it until you have to take a left. There was just one problem. The Cherokee’s airspeed indicator registered in miles per hour. I thought in knots per hour. One hundred twenty knots is 132 miles per hour. Unfortunately, when the aircraft instrument read 120, it meant 120 not 132. I can usually figure ETAs, estimated time of arrival, within minutes without a navigational computer. So, I did not think twice when an airfield came into sight as I expected West Palm to appear. I tuned in the appropriate frequency and heard considerable traffic which did not fit with the approaching airfield.

No new groom should ever face the questions and looks I received from Kathy. A reluctant flier in the first place, she immediately started accusing me of being lost. How could I be lost in Florida? The Atlantic was on my left, therefore the Gulf was on my right. We had not over flown Miami. There is no way we could have missed that. We still had land appearing off our nose. I was not lost. So retreating from the mysterious airfield we circled until I figured our position. Once I realized the gauges were in miles per hour it all fell into place and we resumed our trip. I now know that there are numerous airfields on the Florida coast left over from WWII. You learn something everyday.

I wish I could say that was the end of our marital adjustments but I can’t. During our first year in Alaska we became close friends to an older couple, Bob and Dee. Bob owned a logging road construction business and flew a Hughes 500 to travel between construction sights. They were a wonderful couple who loved each other and the Lord. Bob often picked my brain about flying helicopters and I enjoyed going with him to his camps. In the spring of 1975 Bob and Dee crashed in a snow storm. Pulling pitch to climb above some low clouds he was low and slow when the engine flamed out. Scout pilots in Viet Nam loved the Hughes 500. I know men, including my brother, who walked away from multiple crashes in 500s. A major down side to the Hughes was its light weight blades. If you are pulling pitch and experience engine failure the blades rapidly loose speed resulting in loss of control.

Highly respected in Alaska logging Bob and Dee’s funeral drew people from throughout Alaska. There was not a single seat available on any flight to Petersburg the day of the funeral. I was flying for one of the bush outfits at that time and the owner knew I wanted to attend the funeral. We had an aircraft in Petersburg due for maintenance so my boss suggested that I fly up the replacement aircraft and bring the other one down to the shop. He said that I could take Kathy along. Dreary and overcast with low ceilings the day of the funeral fit our mood. Just outside of Petersburg we flew over the crash site. More of a celebration than a funeral we left town a few hours later glad we had been able to make it.

Weather conditions had not improved during the funeral and we had to fly in and out of snow showers, only a few hundred feet off the water. Crossing the side bays on Clarence Strait we often lost sight of everything but the water below which was white capping due to the high winds. At those times we had no sense of the correct heading except for the whitecaps. All the charts of the area have warnings about magnetic variations due to mineral levels which made the compass worthless. There were times when it seemed that the helicopter was going sideways only to do almost a 180 and be facing the opposite direction. We were never lost, but I sure wondered where we were. With the strong head winds we had to stop to refuel from a company cache in a nondescript muskeg bog. When we finally landed back in Ketchikan Kathy looked at me and said in a slow measured voice, “I will never fly with you again!” And she has kept her word.

Truth is, men are more likely to get lost than their wives. Men don’t like to stop for directions or bother with maps. Sometimes we can’t read the gauges or something is throwing our compass off. Whatever the case, the most we know is that we are in Florida or Alaska. Being “locationally challenged” can have disastrous consequences especially for our eternity. A man who lives each day with the word of God as his guidebook will never be lost again and he will be fit to lead his family safely past the pitfalls that await them.

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