Small Airplanes & Big Missions

By May of 1987 at the height of the cold war, the Soviet Union had clearly constructed an impenetrable air defense system that surrounded both Moscow and their sovereign borders. Just four years earlier, Korean Airlines Flight 007 deviated from its assigned flight plan while crossing the Kamchatka Peninsula, prompting a Soviet interceptor to shoot the Boeing 747 out of the sky and into the Sea of Japan. All passengers and crew aboard were killed including a sitting member of the United States Congress, Lawrence McDonald. It was a tense time and sentiment was truly ugly.

On the 25th of that same May, a 19-year old newly minted pilot with just 50 hours in his logbook defiantly departed West Germany to navigate a long course over water, eventually landing in Helsinki. On May 28 with a startling goal in mind, he filed a flight plan for Stockholm headed west but once out of controlled airspace, he turned east high above the Gulf of Finland and pointed his nose at Moscow. Although picked up on Latvian radar and intercepted by a Soviet MiG, this kid by the name of Mathias Rust piloting a rented Cessna 172 continued on through low cloud cover and landed around 7pm near Red Square! He then bolded taxied up to St. Basil's Cathedral where he signed autographs before being arrested.

Two of the most senior members of the Soviet's military, the ministers of defense and aviation were fired by Mikhail Gorbachev as a result of this humiliating PR disaster. These two ministers had vehemently opposed Gorbachev in his endeavor for improved western relations, and he was thus able to consolidate power, and eventually forge arms reduction treaties with U.S. President Ronald Reagan within a year. Ironically, this 19-year old had carefully prepared a 20-page manifesto on advancing world peace that he carried in his cockpit in hopes of delivering it to the Soviet leader. With apologies to Neil Armstrong - one small flight for boy, one giant flight for humanity.

As a recreational pilot who learned to fly in a 172, I tremendously enjoy the image of a Soviet supersonic MiG-23 flying alongside a small, underpowered piece of low-tech aluminum that we used to joke about "strapping on" rather than climbing into. It is the ultimate David versus Goliath snapshot where a young man is ultimately victorious over the taunting giant.

So you think you might be underpowered, perhaps a little slow, and knocking up against superior and formidable circumstances? Don't think you can make a significant difference in the life you currently live? Please consider the teenage boy armed only with an outlandishly bold plan and steadfast determination who became instrumental in dismantling an entire empire.

Get out there and fly!

Posted on 5/14/13

Nature's Way

As I unpack this web project in the coming months, it will eventually include a personal "Bucket List" that was created many years ago before a movie popularized the term. In my top five is an aggressive wish comprised of many pieces - visit every National Park in the United States. In 1912, the British Ambassador to the U.S. referred to these parks as "The best idea America ever had." I call them a National treasure. Number 59 came on line in early 2013, but we keep planning and plugging away with the current "been there" count at 41. This latest was achieved several weeks ago: Saguaro National Park just outside of Tucson, Arizona.

There are eight parks in Alaska and two in Hawaii, none of which I have visited but look forward to with great expectation in my second half. On the island of Maui, there is an enormous volcano that takes up approximately three quarters of the island's landmass. The volcano's 2.5 mile wide crater is surrounded by Haleakala National Park; created in 1916 by the federal government. Many ascend the park's highest summit at just over 10,000 feet, yet only a fraction of these visitors descend to the moonscape lava formations at the crater's floor. Jack London described this place where "Saw-toothed waves of lava vexed the surface of this weird ocean."

Amidst these bizarre shapes and textures, there exists an extremely unique plant found nowhere else in the world called the ahinahina, or Haleakala silversword. This amazing plant grows for about 50 years as a strange ball of metallic colored leaves, produces a single spire of bright red blossoms, and then it dies. Just like that. My obvious point being that this unusual living creature is actually very similar to the human experience. We spend nearly half a century growing, maturing, honing our skills, trying to look good, and then at some point, we all will die. That's inevitable. But it's the very nature of the blossom that intrigues me - what is it's potential, what color is it; who will it inspire and to what extent? While hiking in the aforementioned Saguaro National Park, I learned this particular desert cactus doesn't grow its first "arm" until around 75 years of age. And the arms are grown to increase reproductive capacity - three quarters of a century before ready to replicate!

I've suggested that we take clues from simple things like leaves, and I'm further encouraging us to absorb a stunning page taken directly out of nature's incredible playbook. All that growing and maturing undoubtedly prepares us for a specific purpose. I sincerely believe that our ultimate "blossom" should be colorful and it should be bold. I think it should be leveraged to inspire.

It isn't any good if nobody gets to see it.

Posted on 5/1/13