While flying at 27,000 feet over Malaysia, the long course from Seletar Airport in Singapore to Darwin, Australia was speckled with seemingly innocent popcorn-shaped cumulus clouds. My minimum nine-hour flight seemed to be progressing in slow motion, and judging by our onboard radar alerts, as well as pilot reports coming in from other flight crews, the weather environment was changing fast. Headwinds were picking up and what were once small puffs of innocuous cumulus activity had now turned into eruptive, towering storm clouds in the distance.
The storm was massive; its highest point reaching 60,000 feet into the sky. Headwinds were steady at 45 knots, causing us to burn fuel at a rapid rate. As we approached the towering cumulus cloud, I contacted air traffic control to request a change in heading from the original filed flight plan. We made course corrections of ten degrees to the left, 30 degrees to the right, and so on, for about two hours. Weaving and diverting around the edges of the violent weather system, my course looked like a confused path of constant change.
If I had maintained my heading along my original course without requesting an adjustment, I would have experienced severe turbulence, quite possibly resulting in damage to the aircraft, and injury to my co-pilot and myself. Rather than turning back 180 degrees and flying back to Singapore, I was able to navigate around the storm, constantly adjusting my course to meet the changing environment we were flying through. I landed with minimal fuel, completely exhausted, but I got there.
When fear kicks in, we have the choice to adjust our path or just head home. Which will you choose?
I learned a very important lesson that day. Flexibility along a flight plan can literally save one’s life. On the same note, maintaining flexibility along the paths we’ve created for our education, careers and relationships can keep these aspects of our lives moving forward. Perhaps our newly modified route looks nothing like what we originally imagined. For me, reaching my destination became less about the ability to share a story of calm skies and an easy flight, and more about finishing my journey, completing my plan, and being open to taking an unconventional path.
When looking out at the horizon along your own journey, remember that staying the course and turning back are only two options on a compass that has 360 different directions to choose from at any point in time. The course headings on our personal compasses hold solutions, options, lessons and often uncover more about our capabilities than the straight line from Point A to Point B.
About Amelia Rose Earhart
Named by the Jaycees as one of the “Top Ten Young Americans”, Amelia Rose Earhart recreated and symbolically completed the 1937 flight of her namesake, Amelia Mary Earhart. Her 28,000-mile flight around the world in a single engine aircraft, the Pilatus PC-12NG, became a symbol of determination, courage and empowerment for anyone who has ever decided to seek new horizons.
Amelia is the president of the Fly With Amelia Foundation, a non-profit providing flight training scholarships to young women across America. She can be seen each morning on Denver’s NBC affiliate, KUSA-TV reporting on breaking news and traffic, is an active member of the Board of Directors at Wings Over the Rockies, Colorado’s Official Air and Space Museum, and is currently working toward her multi-engine aircraft rating. Amelia produces a weekly segment on STEM Education, which can be enjoyed each Friday on Denver’s NBC TV station.