Lessons at Mach 2


The spring of 1972 found me very exhilarated. I had just graduated from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and was now on my way with my small family to begin practicing dentistry at the Canadian Armed Forces Base, Cold Lake, Alberta, located north and east of Edmonton near the Saskatchewan border. It was an air force base and sported many big jets, loud jets, and hotshot pilots.

One day a pilot whom I had become good friends with asked if I would be interested in going flying with him. Almost before he had finished the sentence, I replied with a resounding yes. He was a test pilot and we attended The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints together in the Cherry Grove ward, a few miles off the base. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. I had actually flown many planes myself, the ones made of balsa wood that came in Christmas stockings.

In order to fly in a supersonic jet, one was required to undertake HAI [high altitude indoctrination] training. The thought of that was stimulating in and of itself. I simply said, “Just tell me where and when. I’m in.” This training was required of all flight crew operating above 13,000 feet. Aside from learning how to don a flight suit, helmet, parachute, and find your seat belt, it was very instructive. The most captivating part of my training was the time spent in a hypobaric chamber. Students entered the chamber after donning flight gear and were given a pencil and a piece of paper on which to write the answers to very simple questions. The door was then closed and the chamber sealed tight.

Don Wright
Don Wright

About hypoxia [lack of oxygen]

“It is generally recognized that the most serious danger for aircrew is the decreased partial pressure of oxygen encountered at low barometric pressure. Without the proper use of oxygen equipment and cabin pressurization, hypoxia can quickly lead to incapacitation and death.

“Time of useful consciousness is the period from the interruption of the oxygen supply to the time when useful function is lost. The individual is no longer capable of taking proper corrective and protective actions.

“One may consider that the time of consciousness at high levels for civil aviation of 35,000 feet is between 0.5 seconds and one minute. The time to survive is extremely short and if pilots do not recognize the symptoms of hypoxia, it leads to a fatal accident” (AMST.Co).


As I sat in the chamber, the instructor asked through headphones some very simple questions, and written answers were required. As the oxygen levels began to decrease, simulating a gradual increase in altitude, there came a time when I could hear and understand the question, but I could not make my pencil do anything but draw a straight line. My brain clearly knew the answer, but I was unable to make my body respond properly. It was a very strange and scary feeling. Thankfully, they “brought me slowly back down” and I soon regained all of my normal functions.

I was now ready to board a supersonic jet and fly. The craft that day was a CF104 Starfighter jet. It was dubbed by the pilots “the widow maker” or “the missile with a man in it.” Somehow, I neglected to mention that to my wife until after the flight. The aircraft wings were so small that they could not hold the landing gear or support fuel tanks like most jets. It was a bright, sunny day as I boarded the “rocket,” strapped myself in behind the pilot, and took off into a brilliant Alberta sky. It was an incredible ride. The pilot informed me that we had reached the speed of Mach 2 [twice the speed of sound].

Over the years, I have reflected on that amazing experience. It has some instructive analogies to life right here on the ground.

Wheat Field

Listen to the pilot, and learn to obey, immediately!

Perhaps the most important pre-flight instruction given was, “Here is the ejection lever, and if the pilot says eject, just do it. Do not ask why, or try to persuade the pilot to reconsider.” To that I asked, “Why? Why can’t we talk to the pilot at that time?” The answer was quite simple. “Because he will already be gone.”

When we are confirmed members of the Church, we are blessed with a “spiritual pilot” to help us navigate life. He is a member of the Godhead. He is the Holy Ghost. If we listen, He will “teach us all things” (John 14:26). As recipients of this superlative gift, we are entitled to His constant companionship as long as we are living worthy of it. God has promised, “ Behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (Doctrine & Covenants 8:2). However, we have been cautioned. “A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him” (Doctrine & Covenants 130:23).

If we find ourselves in an unsafe place spiritually or physically, He may say quietly, “Eject.” It may come as a feeling, a thought, an impression, or even an audible voice. Should we want to discuss the matter, or suggest that we are in control, He may already be gone.

Jesus Lamb

Avoid spiritual hypoxia

Making improper choices may lead slowly to “spiritual hypoxia.” It usually happens without our knowing, and it may well be too late to react with proper control. You may only be able to “draw a straight line” even while trying not to. Finding the ejection lever may be too late or impossible.

It has always been part of Satan’s plan to draw us slowly away without us even knowing it. Nephi explained it this way, “For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good. And others he will pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well-and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28: 20-21; emphasis added).

Alexander Pope said it this way:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien

As to be hated needs but to be seen;

Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,

We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

Manilla Sunset

Stay safe

I enjoy “Star Wars” movies. Episode 1 is especially instructive. Anakin, while being tutored in a fatherly way by QUI-GON, gives the young Jedi-in-training the following caution. “Your focus becomes your reality. Stay close to me and you’ll be safe.” And, of course Yoda, [the wise one] says, and “Tested he will be.” (https://imsdb.com/scripts/Star-Wars-The-Phantom-Menace.html)

We must all learn to focus, and listen to the Holy Spirit, for tested we will be.