The Windsock

by Julie DeStefano Shahen and Edon Copparini, ATP, CFII, MEI

Every time I drive past an airport, and certainly on the days that you are going flying, the first thing you do is look to the sky and then look to the windsock. 

Pilots look to the wind for decision making, We look to see what direction we will be taking off from, and which runway will be suitable for landing. If there isn’t a windsock, we look to the lakes for telltale ripples on the surface or the rustle of treetops that beckon a sign.  Possibly there is a flag nearby waving in the wind, but rarely is it so calm that there isn’t some stirring, some suggestion, a nod of guidance. Mother nature gives us many signs and so much direction, but only if we pay attention.

How do we choose our course through life? Do we only go where the winds are calm? No, that is not always possible. Sometimes the wind is right down the runway, and sometimes it’s 90-degrees off your wingtip — whatever it is, we face it (literally, and physically), deal with it, make the corrections and compensations to deal with it, and go forth. Your inputs follow you to the chocks, intuitive, hands and feet in sync, feeling the wind in the wires. It is a part of life as a pilot where you must be totally in the moment, totally a part of the airplane you are controlling.  It is a time in life when you are fully engaged in every decision and every movement that you make.

Perhaps you’re one of the lucky few to be flying a floatplane and it is a calm day. Perfect, no? Funny that it is just opposite, as you must now land on a glassy, reflective surface, a depth-perception issue dubious to a pilot. Interesting that calm presents its own challenges, huh? Some of my worst (and hence, memorable) landings occurred on calm days. Is that because I felt just a skotch more lax on these flights? Were my inputs a fraction more relaxed, my nerves one-quarter of a peg down, imperceptible to anyone but my airplane and the touch conveyed upon her control surfaces? Is this a metaphor to living – that we are at our best when our senses are at their peak, when we’re working a bit at something, set upon a task?  I believe that it is so.  We are so engaged when we are living in the moment.  You are required to be there and nowhere else.  It is a beautiful temporary escape from anything else that is happening in life. 

This sort of accountability is two-fold, I think, in the way we can look to the wind for guidance – as in, “I made my decision because of the wind. I made the best decision I could make at the time…”


“My landing sucked because it was super windy.” The latter is not the best way in my opinion, but a way to look at what occurs in your life. We all have our trials, our challenges and our “bad landings”. I like to look at each trial as a testament to my openness to learn from it, but also the growth that occurs within as a result of it. Every bad landing or close call have been lessons on every level. The most important lesson I tried to instill in each of my students was to never become arrogant about flying because it can bite any one of us at any time. We willingly take that risk, but must always be cautious and make safety a priority on every flight.

What fun to judge/critique landings. This is part of the fun of going to lunch at The Hangar restaurant at Albert Whitted Airport in downtown St. Petersburg, FL. If the winds favor runway 07, odds are the conversation will drop a moment to watch the plane coming over the numbers touching down. Once they’ve got it, we resume our “hundred-dollar hamburger”.

And then, sometimes, we go around, abort a landing – this too being a sound metaphor in life. It’s okay – better a moment or two longer in the sky than a bent airplane.

Whether you are a pilot or not, always remember that a plane lands against the wind, not with it. May we all stay positive during this difficult time.


Phantom Photo: The Yellow T6

While getting a manicure, I engaged in friendly conversation with the woman at the adjacent station. She mentioned the current month’s InStyle magazine, featuring Diane Keaton.

Later that day while shopping at Publix, I grabbed a copy as I passed through the checkout lane.

How do you explain that, as I perused the brand-new magazine, a photograph fell out of the pages – an older photograph – of a yellow North American T6 airplane?

Where did this photo come from? It was just nestled within the pages of a fashion magazine.

Yellow North American T6 Trainer Aircraft

This plane was flown as a trainer in WWII. In this image, it appears to be parked as a static display, perhaps at a museum?

I’ve searched – but I cannot explain anything about it.

But that is what I’ve come to love about it – the mystery. This little scene happened about four years ago, and I still keep the picture in my studio. If you know anything about this plane, or the photo, I’d love to hear about it! – Julie



Mourning the loss ofsomeone very important to me, lost in an aviation accident, my father offered consoling words that have ever remained in my heart: “You will never again turn the key in the ignition without thinking of them.”

I became interested in general aviation in 1998. I worked in the field until 2008, though I still fly and consider it a passionate hobby. In the wake of losing friends, as has unfortunately happened, I came up with my own assessment: aviation’s greatness can be equaled only by its terribleness.

I’m referring to the bleak days in aviation, when the news spreads that an accident has happened. We check in with one another and find relief when they respond back – they’re okay.

Some people do, but I do not consider flying to be dangerous. We train for emergencies, we are hyper-aware of our own well-being and take precautions to make our flights safe. But. Things happen.

Aviation has taken some very special people; people I admired, that mentored me. These people were hugely influential in inspiring and sharing the passion for airplanes and flying that I hold dear. Not all were aviation accidents, but they all left an impression.

When we lose someone dear to us, there is of course grief. But when it is an aviation accident, a whole other dynamic comes into play, another layer upon an already devastating situation. These were good pilots, people worthy of respect, flyers far more experienced,talented and dedicated than I.

I’ll think of them at themost random times when I’m in the plane. Sometimes, I’ll hear their voice,coaching me on a landing or reassuring me about a quickly-executed decision. We lose them, but we never really lose them. They teach us, guide us, and will forever be our friends, no matter where they are.