Uplift or Accident
By: Jim Virkler
Childish dreams sometimes materialize into adult reality. When I was in early primary school I envisioned becoming a teacher after observing my classroom instructor hold forth. The seed was planted in my awareness. My interest in science education did not materialize fully until after my senior college year. Many prior incidents had piqued my interest in adhering to ever-present physical laws of science, a necessary learning experience for science teachers and their students in everyday life.
As I progressed into high school, I transitioned to church activities and basketball, among other interests. My older brother also had church activities as a high priority. He eventually went into full time service as a pastor and evangelist. One of his gifts as a young boy was an interest in aviation, possibly sparked by the fortuitous decision of World War II officials to rent my grandfather’s L-shaped farm field in central New York State to use as a training venue for small reconnaissance planes. Piper Cubs were useful for the war effort. The farm was a few hundred feet from our home. Several rides Piper pilots offered my brother piqued his interest in aviation. Without such memories, he may not have taken flying lessons at the Budd Lake (NJ) airport in the early 1950s after we moved there from New York in 1951 a few years later.
One day my brother, a senior in high school and I drove eight miles to the Budd Lake Air Field where his lessons were offered. He had arranged a flight for his younger brother over the northwest NJ ridges. With a sense of adventure, I agreed. The flight instructor and I taxied across the field in the small Piper J-3. Off we went, gunning the motor on the short gravel runway in the small two-seater. In what seemed like no time the pilot pulled back on the control stick, The small plane briefly started to ascend, but quickly returned to the ground. The scenario was repeated several times, bouncing as we went. We were running out of take-off space. One more bounce and we would have landed in what appeared to be a large tomato patch with disastrous results. But my time had not yet come! Finally, we were airborne. We will return to the story in a few moments.
My early envisionings of becoming a teacher were fulfilled immediately after college. In succeeding years, one of my favorite curriculum topics was “weather.” Embedded in the weather unit were many references to air pressure. Our class performed many experiments to illustrate the force of air pressure when the pressure gradient (difference) between two adjacent regions differed by even a small amount. Air flows from higher pressure to lower pressure regions, often exerting a great force. This is not a reference to the force of wind—moving masses of air blowing across the surface of the earth. The force of air pressure acts even when there is no wind. Wind is a separate force.
For this post we will not go into detail about the aerodynamic details of how “lift” operates when an airplane wing slices through air. Briefly, however, the upward forces of the air pressure acting on the bottom of the wing must be greater than downward pressure from the top. Therefore, the pressure “lifts” the airplane into the air, overcoming several other opposing downward forces. But the air speed of the plane must be sufficient. Before we taxied down the runway, air speed was 0 mph. There was no lift. Soon, after perhaps 15-20 seconds with moving air flowing over the wing, the pilot judged that air speed was sufficient to lift the plane into the air. He pulled back on the control stick, but he had misjudged. In the next moments the Piper J3 managed just enough additional speed to become permanently airborne. In our case, an additional two or three mph of air speed spelled the difference between a successful flight and a disastrous crash into the tomato field. Many times over the years I have told the story that, but for two or three mph of air speed in 1952, no one would be listening to my story.
There are many object lessons to enjoy concerning the wisdom of knowing and adhering to physical laws. The behavior of matter, including the behavior of air molecules and the lifting power of airplane wings, is predicable under many differing conditions. The difference between a successful and an unsuccessful flight is the difference between rigorous and careless adherence to the rules of successful flight. Hundreds of similar rules are set in place for operational success in our physical world and in the world of the spiritual. Our Creator is the author of both worlds.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.