Jason B. Ladd

Ask the Questions. Embrace the Answers. Make the Leap.

Which Way Is Up?

which way is up fighter pilot

Every fighter pilot must learn how to conduct low altitude bombing runs. This mission requires mastery of several skill sets.

You must fly at high airspeeds at low altitudes. You must dynamically maneuver around terrain and quickly respond to surface-to-air threats. And you must be able to acquire the correct target and make a valid weapons delivery.

Then you must do it at night. This might sound obvious, but there are varying levels of darkness at night. It depends on moonlight, weather conditions, and cultural lighting to name a few. Special night vision devices (NVDs) aid aircrew by amplifying the available ambient light.

Some nights it’s dark, and other nights its terrifyingly fly dark.

I conducted practice bombing runs over the ocean on a moonless night. We aimed for a single point of light floating on the surface–a special device dropped by our own aircraft to serve as our target.

We had to operate below a thick cloud layer at 9,000 feet. Had there been a moon, it’s light would have failed to penetrate it.

Our NVDs helped us see the target, but we could see little else. Darkness covered the sea and sky, and we could not distinguish between the two.

This flight created a high risk for misinterpreting which way is up. We had to rely heavily on our instruments.

Changes in acceleration, pitch, and roll wreaked havoc with my vestibular system–the inner ear’s mechanism for maintaining balance and determining spatial orientation.

You must trust your instruments.

Every aviator knows he must trust his instruments when he is unsure about his orientation. His feelings can be tricked and are likely wrong. But his instruments cannot be tricked.

The biggest danger on this flight was spatial disorientation. In order to fly my jet correctly, I would have to know which way is up.

Similarly, in order to live life correctly, you must know which way is right. On what or whom are you depending to calibrate your moral compass? What keeps you from taking the wrong path?

How do you know which way is up?

To make the most of your life, you’ll need to master several skill sets–finding meaning, discovering your purpose, and being ready to help those in need to name a few.

In a time when where we can have anything we want, we are starving for what we actually need: relationship.

Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which to build a life full of meaning, infused with purpose, and capable of giving hope to those who are hurting.

Are you interested in a relationship with him? Check him out. You might be surprised at what you find.


Photo Credit: CC / BY / SA /

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About Jason B. Ladd

Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.

2 Replies

  1. Elizabeth Ellis

    Jason, your description of flying at night is so much like the way so many of us live our lives disoriented by busyness and missing what truly matters. Thanks, once again, for the reminder that God is the instrument we must trust to achieve the highest point of inner peace and joy. Have a wonderful Christmas….Elizabeth Ellis.

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. I keep learning that lesson over and over. I’m glad it struck a chord.