Mitigate danger & trust the Lord

PA32-300 Piper Cherokee Six like one I had

In my preceding post, I described my feeble methods for staying alive in the Argentine civil war, now called “the Dirty War” by historical revisionists. After describing how I turned my safety over to the Lord, I said:

“From that day on, I have not feared for my life–despite being in great danger on numerous occasions. If I discover myself in danger, I do whatever I can to mitigate the risk. But, the Lord is in absolute control of the outcome.”

Over later posts, I’m going to dig into my spiritual journal for examples demonstrating what I meant in the above quote. These examples will illustrate what I mean by doing “whatever I can to mitigate the risk,” while accepting that “the Lord is in absolute control of the outcome”

I previously wrote how flying fighters became my childhood ambition during World War II. As a Marine I failed the color-blindness test to be a fighter pilot. However, I couldn’t shake my love of flying, and when I could afford it, I secured a private pilot’s license, instrument rating, commercial pilot certificate, and an airplane: a Piper Cherokee Six, PA32-300(hp).

Over the years, I flew 49 different aircraft (20 designs), logged 878 hours of flight, of which 505 were cross-country, 40 at night, 103 solely by reference to instruments (actual IFR); including 950 takeoffs and landings. I kept intellectually committed through thousands of hours of courses, seminars, reading accident reports, and reading articles like mine below.

Piloting aircraft has been defined by one wag as: “thousands of hours of boredom punctuated by rare moments of sheer terror.”

In May of 1989, I encountered my first (and only) such moment. The following is taken verbatim from my personal journal (edited only for clarity):

Sunday, April 30, 1989 to Sunday, May 7, 1989 [inflight icing nearly kills me].  Flew alone on business in Delaware, regarding relocating my company there. First leg, flew to my folks’ house in Williamsport, PA, for dinner and the night. Same day, took (sister) Josie’s family for ride. Monday, flew to Allentown, PA, which was as close as I wanted to go in (the prevalent bad) weather, because it had (the) best instrument facilities. After business, I took off for Ohio State University field, where I refueled. The account of the icing encounter follows below the (following) logbook entries.

Date From To Flight time Aircraft ID Make & Model Remarks
4/30/89 SUS IPT 4.5 N2174S PA32-300 non-stop using 55% power and had 38 gallons (2.5 hrs.) left!!!
4/30/89 IPT IPT 0.5 N2174S PA32-300 Josie’s family for ride.
5/1/89 IPT ABE 0.8 N2174S PA32-300 Allentown ILS to 400 feet; drove to Dover DE
5/6/1989 ABE OSU 3 N2174S PA32-300 OSU NDB
5/6/89 OSU DAY 0.8 N2174S PA32-300 DAY ILS: Heavy icing caused me to abort flight and overnight here
5/7/89 DAY SUS 3 N2174S PA32-300

IPT = Williamsport Regional Airport, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, USA

SUS = Spirit of St. Louis Airport, MO

ABE = Lehigh Valley International, Allenown, PA

OSU = Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

DAY = James M Cox Dayton International, Dayton, OH

Below is my article published in AOPA Online (Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association). (article was still online there on June 10, 2008, 19 years later)

Weather and Flight Experience

Listen to your Briefer

This is taken from my journal. At the time, I was an 800-hour pilot, current for IFR and flying the same plane that I had earned my IFR rating in five years earlier. I flew all cross-country under IFR and had about 80 hours actual IMC experience.

May 6, 1989: Returning from Dover, Delaware, where I had been involved in stressful business, I was traveling home to Spirit of St. Louis airport using my Cherokee Six.

I stopped at Columbus, Ohio, at the Ohio State University airstrip for refueling. As I got my IFR weather debriefing over the phone, the briefer told me that there was a Pirep (pilot report) that a Cessna had encountered light icing southeast of the field. Yeah, yeah, I thought to myself. Just like the “chance of thunderstorms” you get all summer long from the FSS in CAVU. Well, they had cried “WOLF” so many times that this Pirep went right through my ears. But, I was now alerted to the possibility of icing, although I considered it remote in the month of May and with the temperatures aloft along my route.

Then this intrepid aviator took his beloved Cherokee Six off into a four hundred foot ceiling (IFR, remember) in light rain and was chugging onward at four thousand feet under Dayton Approach Control about twenty miles out, when I entered driving snow, which changed to sleet and freezing rain, which made my engine run rough, so, because I was a well trained and current IFR pilot with 5 years in this airplane, I opened the air cleaner by-pass by rote for the first time in five years. But the engine continued to run rough as the prop iced up. And ice started to form on my leading edges and on my windscreen.

This situation got my undivided attention. So I yelped: “Dayton Approach Control, this is Cherokee xxxx Sierra IFR to St. Louis. I have encountered freezing rain and need to land immediately”.

“Cherokee xxxx Sierra, are you declaring an emergency?”

“Yes I am!”

“Cherokee xxxx Sierra, turn left to a heading of 210, immediately descend to two thousand feet and intercept the localizer for runway 24 Right. I have put all other traffic on hold.”

“xxxx Sierra. Thank you!”

Moments later, I broke out of the clouds and the ice started to melt and break off the prop, cowl, windshield, wings, wheel fairings etc. I kept the indicated airspeed up to about 140 knots on the approach and 120 knots over the threshold numbers, because I knew that the ice might seriously degrade lift on my wings. Moreover, despite the pitot heat, the pitot tube might be iced up and not giving airspeed correctly. Normal stall was about 65 miles per hour without flaps. You don’t use flaps in this situation. Training pays off in the knowledge that this is not the first time this type of situation has been thought through.

Then I touched down with a loud “CRASH” sound as all the ice fell off the plane as I touched down and, once on the ground, I cut the throttle, pushed the nose down and slowly lowered full flaps. It was a 10,900-foot runway, so I had no problem stopping with a mile to spare from the high speed.

As I walked into the FBO’s office, the phone rang for me. The briefer who had told me about the icing Pirep on the phone briefing in Columbus asked me: “Why did you decide to go after I told you of the Pirep about icing?”

“It was southeast and I was going west. I went up to take a look for myself. But, thanks for saving my life”, I told him.

The briefer was gracious. No infractions were levied on me. The FAA controllers saved my life with immediate rerouting, putting all the incoming airliners in holding patterns, as they are prepared to do when the pilot declares an Emergency.

The moral and lessons of the story are several. Listen to your weather briefing carefully. To assure that you get full benefit from the briefing, do not “tune out” what you perceive as boilerplate. And Pireps are far from boilerplate. Know the risks ahead before starting. Always keep trained for the worst (icing does happen in May), and ready to recognize and declare an emergency IMMEDIATELY. If I had waited five minutes, I would have been buried in a hole in an Ohio cornfield. The logic is this: if I make an error in judgment, own up to it, get out of the danger and deal with it on the ground.

So, you might ask, how does this incident stand up to my words about risk:

“From that day on, I have not feared for my life–despite being in great danger on numerous occasions. If I discover myself in danger, I do whatever I can to mitigate the risk. But, the Lord is in absolute control of the outcome.”

For my part, I did what I could to mitigate the risks:

  1. Aircraft maintained in excellent condition;
  2. Pilot well-rested and healthy;
  3. Pilot well-trained in this aircraft;
  4. Recent Pilot experience in Instrument Meteorological Conditions ;
  5. Pilot pretrained for this specific meteorological condition (icing);
  6. Pilot alert for and recognized conditions as they deteriorated;
  7. Pilot immediately announced problem to Air Traffic Control;

God has a plan for my life, and another plan for yours. This situation could have easily led to a wide range of outcomes, with death as most likely. The icing could have been just a little worse, and the plane would have become uncontrollable. Or, I could have tried to solve the problem on my own, because I didn’t want to admit I had made a mistake–or was afraid of what the FAA might do to me. But, I did what I had previously trained to do, including the preset decision to immediately declare an emergency.

That’s one example, of how a Christian can live without (groundless) fear, and take reasonable risks by training beforehand for adversity. Some had thought I was a control freak in flying. Actually, I was only complying with regulations and industry guidelines for safe flying. That I misread a piece of data was a human mistake, but I was up front in admitting the problem to authorities who could help, and they did. The FAA encouraged honesty at that time by foregoing penalties when pilots reported their errors.

Since I pray as a regular element of daily life, wherever I may be, and start every day with the Holy Spirit and the Bible (which He inspired various men to write)–including on that day described in the article–I live with the indwelling Holy Spirit inside me wherever I go. When this crisis arose, I acted through training, but accepted that the outcome was in His hands.

Thanks for visiting,

Rick Burke


“It ain’t over ’till it’s over.” – Yogi Berra

In early childhood during the dark days of World War II, I decided that I was going to be a fighter pilot. At the age of 6, as I read novels about Dave Dawson and the RAF, the fact did not escape me that fighter pilots did not live long lives–30 years was a full lifetime. So, I expected to live 30 years.

At age 35, after a family tragedy, the Father called me to Jesus and I was saved. I had led a rebellious life until then, and no one knew that better than my dad. I was his eldest and his prodigal, and I don’t use the word “prodigal” loosely. No one was more surprised at my change than he.

While visiting my folks in the following year, I had just finished reading Jesus’s parable about the vineyard owner hiring workers and said to my dad, “Gee, I showed up at 5 pm and Jesus paid me a full wage.”

Rather firmly, my father replied, “Who says it’s 5pm? You have a long life ahead of you.”

Until then, I’d been thinking I had lived 5 years longer than my childhood expectation–and having attributed this to the Marines scrapping my orders to flight training because of my eyesight– I finally realized that I really didn’t know how long I’d live. But, I knew God the Father did.

Just one year later, I was working in Buenos Aires in the midst of the Argentine terrorist wars. The terrorists killed one businessman each day on his way to work. I changed hotels every day for the first 42 months.

As I walked from my hotel to my office early one morning, I took my usual security precaution of walking along the side of the street with slanted storefront windows. This way, I could check the reflections to see whether anyone was following me. When there were no more slanted windows ahead on my side of the street, but slanted windows on the other side, I would cross the street and continue on that side. While crossing the street that morning, I came to my senses and stopped in the middle (no traffic).

“Lord. Why am I doing this on my own? It’s your job to keep me alive.”

From that day on, I have not feared for my life–despite being in great danger on numerous occasions. If I discover myself in danger, I do whatever I can to mitigate the risk. But, the Lord is in absolute control of the outcome.

Are you a Christian, often enervated by fear? Does my above response sound strange to you? If it does, you should ask the Lord to take away your fear, and give you wisdom to deal with the circumstances he places you in. Here’s what he has to say to you, just as he does to me:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Don’t forget, Christian: Isaiah called Jesus “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” And Jesus promised us his Holy Spirit forever.

Unforgiving and Unforgiven Nation.

Just about everyone knows the Lord’s Prayer. But do they really? Here’s the Lord’s Prayer in the context in which it is presented in Matthew 6:5-15. Do verses 14 and 15 surprise you? Are you stunned that the Father expects you to forgive everyone who offends you just as you were forgiven: Romans 5:8. It’s hard to make an argument that we are not required to forgive everyone who hurts us. There are legions of Americans who are unable to forgive Donald Trump because someone told them or ran a recording of his remarks which were not even directed at themselves. The truth is we have no right to be offended when we are just bystanders—but even if we wrongly take offense, we are subject to the above verses.

Forgiveness is a big deal for Christians. But, through some twisted thinking, American Christians think it is o.k. to slander fellow citizens without restraint in politics. The truth is, slander is the coin of the realm in America. Freedom of Speech is a civil right, but if you think a civil right is bigger than God’s 9th commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor,” then you have a big problem with God. Today, we don’t even put perjured court witnesses in jail—people can die because of their false testimony, but their lies are not prosecuted or punished in any way. Do you think that’s o.k.?

I’m not saying forgiveness is easy. It is hard. In truth, it’s impossible in most cases—without God’s help. But, God will always provide help to anyone who wants to obey Him but hasn’t the strength to do so.

Decades Ago, I was maliciously harmed by a group of ambitious people. The consequences of that harm extend to this day. A bitter root was planted in my family towards the conspirators. I tried to forgive the leader of the slander for years—to no avail. The embers seemed cold but would flame up when I least expected. I prayed and waited. Then God gave me the answer, and I took it to Him:

“Father, I have forgiven X for years, but my anger flames up anew every time I look at the effects of his actions upon my family. You know that I want to forgive him, and the others involved, but I cannot make it lasting. Here is what You have led me to pray. When I come to heaven and You greet me, I want X to be at Your side, forgiven, and all the others, as well. As You forgave me, so I forgive them. Amen.”

Incredible as that prayer may sound to you, the issue was resolved at that moment. For two decades, now, I have never thought of those men except in peace, contentment, and good wishes.

God will always provide you with the resources to obey His will. And that includes healing our country from our present turmoil:

“If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Do you really believe political parties can heal our nation? Healing from God will only come when we follow the instructions in the verse above.

God bless you,

2 inch Rick Signature BLUE

If I’m a Christian, how should I live?

When I was the pilot of our family plane, we often wanted to travel when the weather required flying on instruments. Moreover, enroute weather can rapidly turn bad and the only options are to land at an inconvenient airport, fly around the worst of it, or through it if it’s mild enough. Since I was also flying on business trips, I trained for instrument flying and added that rating. I logged nearly two hundred hours in the soup—with zero visibility. The reason I didn’t feel alone was that I was in constant radio communication with various enroute Air Traffic Controllers.

Before I went to the airport for a trip, I checked the weather over my intended route by calling a Flight Service Station, explaining what I wanted to do, and receiving a synopsis of weather and other factors which should be included in my plan. If there were no show-stoppers, I’d then file my flight plan in detail over the phone, with the understanding I should radio the tower before starting to taxi, and write down the final flight plan that was approved. I wouldn’t think of going to the airport until it had been filed.

Before we left home, everybody got weighed, each piece of baggage was weighed, and I calculated the weight of passengers, baggage, and how much fuel we would carry—even where people were seated and where baggage would be stowed. Then we left for the airport.

At the airport, while the kids and Nancy waited, I preflight checked the plane using another checklist, then told the gas truck how much fuel I wanted, and loaded the baggage. Then we boarded the plane.

Only after all that, did I radio the tower (or Clearance Delivery) to get my approved routing clearance, and wrote it down as it was read to me. Then I started the engine, got clearance to taxi to a specific runway, and when there tested my engine, before calling the tower to say I was ready to take-off.

The success of such a flight pretty much depended on how well I executed those preceding steps. Flying the airplane on an Instrument Flight Plan is one of the easiest exercises in an airplane. Once I’d flown us into position to lock on, I flew using radio aids which my autopilot could track. The rest of the flight was managed by communicating with enroute Controllers until reaching the destination, getting clearances at each transition point, including on the ground at the destination airport. Then I closed the flight plan.

Only once in 840 hours of flying did I experience an emergency, and immediately telling the enroute traffic controller gave me priority to land at a nearby city’s airport, with airliners told to hold. The incident introduced a ten-minute interruption in the flow of traffic at that airport, but it saved my life.

Flying is easier than life. Why do we leap out of bed, shower, eat, dress, and run out the door to our workplace, school, or other destination without a plan presented to our Life Controller, the Lord? Why don’t we ask Him for guidance on what we should include (or not) in our day’s plan?

I was called and responded to the Father’s call to Jesus when I was 34—not because I got smarter. No. In fact, it seemed the longer I followed the path at that moment, the worse things got. My career was o.k., and our marriage had held up for ten years (barely) until that time. I had two very young sons. And I was full of pride. People called me “lucky.” Then my firstborn son drowned behind our house.

Over the next two weeks, I came face-to-face with God and found He was the one I had been seeking. With my entire being, I signed up. And I have never started a day since, without first checking with him on how I’m doing, the fitness of my plans, and the specific things he wants as first priority that day. Our communications were less precise (on my side) in the beginning, but after 42 years, his instructions are as clear as Air Traffic Control’s revised flight plan.

O.K. I understand nobody likes to copy somebody else’s methods, but over the past 42 years—which included 6 years surviving amidst South American terrorist wars and the morning before I flew into that inflight emergency—I quickly fell into a routine like my preflight procedures. I rise from bed before I normally would, thank God, sit down with a Bible, and follow my current plan for this “quiet time,” which today includes two “primers” –akin to the weather and route briefing before I file my flight plan. One is a little booklet called Our Daily Bread which gives a small lesson on a specific passage of scripture, and then I do the same with another called InTouch. In the appointed scriptures and lessons, I find guidance and encouragement for the day—like that fuel truck filling up my tank. Afterwards, I make sure to wait for my approved clearance, which is usually the sense of peace Jesus promised (you’ll know it), and sometimes specific guidance to do or be alert for something specific. Then I start my day knowing I’ve prepared for whatever lies ahead.

Both tiny books come free to your mobile phone or computer. Just follow these links to the two web sites: Our Daily Bread and In Touch. Listen to them—you may like them. If you have no morning routine with the Lord, you can start with one or both of these on your mobile phone.

Thanks for visiting this first time.

Your brother in Christ,