Following the Pilot Car…

This story, “You’re the Man” is from Deep Roots, my latest book.  The ending of the story relates about “The Pilot Car”…

The Pilot Car US 190 east of Kinder LA

You’re the Man

I’d never heard of the Broken Wings Award until recently.

I haven’t met helicopter pilot Edwin Steve Coleman, one of the few two-time winners of the award.

I believe I’d like Chief Warrant Officer Coleman.

Before you meet him, you need to understand what the Broken Wings Award is about. To win it, a pilot must safely bring a crippled aircraft down. The problem cannot be pilot-caused and the pilot must get the machine down with minimal damage to property and life.

Coleman first won the award eighteen years ago in Czechoslovakia, but that’s another story for another day. This is the story of how he won his second Broken Wings in 2006 over the skies—and among the piney woods—of Louisiana.

Coleman and a co-pilot were flying an OH-58 Charlie helicopter over a heavily forested area of Ft. Polk. Suddenly the copter’s engine died, forcing Coleman to make several quick decisions.

Helicopter engine failure normally leads to horrific crashes, usually accompanied by fatalities. Landing a “dead copter” is a quick and grim fight with death.

From an article in the January 2007 Beauregard Daily News, Officer Coleman recalled that day. “When something goes wrong, you must keep the rotors moving in order to have any control. Due to our low height of 400 feet and our speed of 40 knots, there was no time or room for error.”

This is when his training kicked in. He stood on the brakes to make the aircraft stand vertical on its tail. As gravity took over, he was able to negotiate the controls and maneuver the copter toward a small clearing.

Before impact he told his co-pilot, “This is going to hurt.”

Neither pilot was injured in the rough landing, and the helicopter suffered little damage. As the dust cleared and the rotors stopped turning, the two men stared in relief and amazement at the small clearing surrounded by tall pines. The younger co-pilot reached across the cockpit, shook Officer Coleman’s hand, and solemnly said, “You’re the man!”

You’re the man. That says it all.

It’s the term we want those around us to say.

Most of all, we want our family saying it honestly about us.

You are the man. You are respected. Esteemed.

John Avant, pastor of West Monroe’s First Baptist Church, uses this life motto, “To be a man that God can use, and be respected by my wife and children.”

That says it all—you are the man. If God can use you, and your family holds you in respect, you are the man.

What others think—and say—pales in comparison if your Creator and family are pleased.

Conversely, for a man to be esteemed at work or in the world, but not by those closest to him—is not really a success.

More importantly, being used by God and seeking to please Him is the greatest success of all. It has nothing to do with being chauvinistic or domineering. Rather, it’s about servant-leadership. The towel-toting, foot-washing, life-sacrificing kind that Jesus lived.

Yes, Chief Warrant Officer Edwin Steve Coleman was “the man” in the skies above the Louisiana piney woods. He was a pilot who knew what to do.

#                   #                #

They’ve just started road construction on the highway we live on. The paving company has a vehicle with a large sign atop it reading “Pilot Car—Follow Me.”

To control the traffic flow through the construction zone, cars must follow this lead vehicle. As I put my truck in gear, I obediently followed in the pilot car’s exact tracks as it dodged potholes and meandered around equipment.

Pilot Car—Follow Me.

The inference is “I know what I’m doing and where I’m going, so follow me.”

Similar to being in the cockpit with Captain Coleman.

The pilot car reminded me of what I am as a man. Others—my family, younger people, and those in my community—are studying my life. Whether I want to wear the sign or not, my life says, “Pilot Car—Follow Me.”

That’s a scary thought. Whether I lead right or wrong, someone is following me. Therefore, I had better lead in the right way.

That pilot car on Highway 394 leads a trail of vehicles past my house. I bet if it veered off the road shoulder at Mill Bayou and plunged into the creek, someone would  follow dutifully, and as their car bogged down to the frame, holler out the window, “It said, ‘Pilot Car—Follow Me.”

As a man, I’m driving the pilot car, whether I want to be or not.

I hope to drive and lead in a way that those behind me will say, “You’re the man.”

I’ll end this flight with a short prayer. A prayer from the heart of the man writing this.

“Jesus, you’re the real Man. If you don’t lead me, I can’t lead anyone.

Teach me to lead.

Lead through me.  Amen.”





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"Pilot Car" on US 165 Construction Zone, Kinder, LA March 2011

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