Flying may often require a modicum of depth perception and occasional Jedi-like reflexes and hand-eye coordination, but usually it’s 90 percent mental; the other half is physical. Some mountain-moving strength might be needed in getting the airplane out of the hangar and into starting position, but once in flight, there would have to be ugly turbulence or a brisk crosswind during takeoff or landing for us to get physical. Unless that is, our copilot has frozen up, and we have multiple system failures. Normally, however, on any given flight, we have lots of time to meditate.
The gull sees farthest who flies highest. –Richard Bach
Typically, pilots anticipate and alleviate, plan and plot, estimate and guesstimate, check and crosscheck, brief and debrief. But once at cruise, we often contemplate. Sometimes our minds theorize, hypothesize and philosophize. And it’s during these existential moments that the philosophies of pilots, ballplayers, even (gasp) politicians, can be virtuous words to live by (even if their fuzzy math doesn’t permit the percentages to populate properly). So, what do these 20th and 21st-century prophets have to say about the true meaning of flight?
You can observe a lot by watching. – Yogi Berra
I had to explain to my editor that this article would arrive late. Because, like ancient relics or modern-day petroglyphs chiseled onto the media of our times, these virtuous words to live by took hours, days, even months, to delicately and selectively excavate from the modern-day archeological library: the internet. Such disciplined research certainly shouldn’t be held to a deadline. But now, and finally, thanks to the painstaking and tireless research of this Indiana Jones-like
T &T writer, we can pursue enlightenment vicariously through their pearls of wisdom. Let’s begin with the overriding philosophy of our job as PIC. The one that has been pounded into all of our pilot-y brains since the beginning. Taildragger pilots emphasize it by saying, “Fly it until it’s tied down.” It’s the adage in which we are reminded to aviate, navigate and then communicate – fly the airplane first and to keep flying it until it stops moving.
You do what you can for as long as you can, and when you finally can’t, you do the next best thing. You back up but you don’t give up.
If you’re faced with a forced landing, fly the thing as far into the crash as possible. – Bob Hoover
It ain’t over till it’s over. – Yogi Berra
Of course, what would our philosophical discussion be without acknowledging the monetary component of our passion. When asked how much money flying takes: Why, all of it! –Gordon Baxter
A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore. – Yogi Berra
In previous columns we’ve talked about our pleasure, passion and even love of flying. These next quotes remind us that not all of us had a straight or smooth path into aviation. Some had to transition from another endeavor and struggle or make significant sacrifices in order to pursue the dream of flight. And oftentimes, difficult choices had to be made because in aviation, like life, seldom does a right or a left turn put you in the same place – unless you live on a large cul-de-sac style road as Yogi did.
When you come to a fork in the road, take it. – Yogi Berra
All our dreams can come true – if we have the courage to pursue them. – Walt Disney
Never interupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done. – Amelia Earhart
It’s all a gift. – Dick Karl (oncology surgeon and writer turned jet captain)
The focus and the concentration and the attention to detail that flying takes is a kind of meditation. I find it restful and engaging, and other things slip away. – Harrison Ford
While passionate about flying and our airplanes, we all know (often through harrowing experiences) that piloting isn’t all bubblegum, unicorns and sunshine-lollipops – as demonstrated by the vast proliferation of famous quotes emphasizing these axioms of aviation. The Cub is the safest airplane in the world; it can just barely kill you. – Max Stanley
Airplanes are near perfect; all they lack is the ability to forgive. – Richard Collins
In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. – Yogi Berra
Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect. – Captain A. G. Lamplugh
Instrument flying is an unnatural act, probably punishable by God. – Gordon Baxter
An airplane might disappoint any pilot, but it’ll never surprise a good one. – Len Morgan
Rule books are paper – they will not cushion a sudden meeting of stone and metal. – Ernest K. Gann
We made too many wrong mistakes. – Yogi Berra
He who demands everything that his aircraft can give him is a pilot; he that demands one iota more is a fool. – Len Morgan
There are two kinds of airplanes – those you fly, and those that fly you. – Ernest K. Gann
If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month. – Theodore Roosevelt
There is no such thing as a natural-born pilot. – Chuck Yeager
Nowadays, many think, “the future isn’t what it used to be,” which is certainly true (see “Participation Trophy,” September 2019, T &T). But “if the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” Most of the stories in this column end on a humorous, lesson-learned, educational or emotional note, and this one is no different. So, for many, this ending will seem like, “It’s like déjà vu all over again” (those were three more of Yogi’s). These next two express this author’s position quite well.
Harmony of muscle, mind and mechanism. Flight seems an extension of one’s own body. – Charles A Lindbergh
I am a creature of the sky and that drives both my flying and writing. – Richard Bach
I wish that we could print the quotable things I’ve heard in the cockpit at work. Heck, I wish I could remember half of them. Suffice it to say that before the days of political correctness, when pilots were more likely to release the eloquent philosopher from within, many pearls of wisdom were born during red-eyes, trans-cons and at hotel bars. Which we all know are the true birthplaces of not only existential moments but answers to the world’s problems, political epiphanies and to most child rearing and marital discord issues. Many of the long-flight and bar-born axioms of aviation seem fuzzily to me and not very remember-y. Perhaps this explains why the “90 percent mental; the other half is physical” math is off a bit as well. Apparently, our Jedi-like intuition and mindpowers can be diminished under certain conditions. But don’t quote me on that.