They used to call it Airmanship

I’ve been immensely fortunate to have been trained, influenced, bum kicked and helped by some very good people.  Many of you have also been or will be, and while we probably won’t get the chance to pay them back, we can pay it forward.  So this is my attempt to pass on some lessons I have been taught or picked up along the way.

In the old days we called it airmanship.  Maybe that term still has a place in aviation.

Piloting is a mix of art and science

Both aspects are important.  You certainly must have the knowledge, skill, attitude and experience to fly safely, but listen to the whispers.  If it feels wrong, it may well be.

Learn from other people’s mistakes

You won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.  Read LOTS of flight safety material.  It’s out there, you just need to make the time and effort to source and absorb it.

Strive for perfection on the radio

You will actually only fly with a relatively small number of other pilots, but every pilot you come in contact with will form an opinion of you as an aviator.  They will base their opinion on what they see and what they hear.  Your radio calls tell us a lot about you.

Don’t Rush

I have learnt this from bitter experience.  The best chance you will get to miss something, to do it only half right or to do it completely wrong, is when you rush.  Consequently I have a saying that I try to live by - “The later I am, the slower I go.”

I still occasionally fall into the rushing trap, but I try to remember not too.

Currency, complacency and fatigue

These three demons will drag down even the most skilled and experienced aviators.  When I am rusty on a given aircraft type or in a given type of operation; when I am giving the task less than my full respect, effort and concentration; and when I am tired, that is when I see my performance slipping.

Who knows whether or not this may be the day we are required to demonstrate just how good we are (or are not).   Do the little things well, cos shift happens.

Type ratings

There are few quicker ways to embarrass yourself, maybe become famous or perhaps even a statistic, than ignorance.  Aircraft are not all built equal, they vary enormously, in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways.  Invest in quality type rating training.  Yes it costs, but the aircraft you are flying belongs to someone, and they won’t want it bent.

In a commercial environment the aircraft is a means of generating a profit, a money printing machine if you like.  The owner is not giving you the aircraft to fly because they know you like flying or need the experience.  Quite reasonably they want to make a return on their investment, and if you break it because you really don’t know what you are doing, it will not be career enhancing.

Near enough is not good enough

It just isn’t.  Nearly having enough fuel to get to your destination with reasonable reserves; nearly stopping before the end of the runway; nearly avoiding the edge of controlled airspace, will make you famous very quickly.

I once read a poster on the wall of an airline training centre that said something like “An amateur trains until they get it right; a professional trains until they don’t get it wrong.”

Don’t push on into bad weather

It often gets worse, and then you may really have to dig deep into that bag of skill (or luck!)

I used to think the Darwin theory would eventually rid the gene pool of those silly enough to scud run (pressing on VFR into deteriorating weather).  But history is proving me wrong.  We still seem to be finding those who will press on - to their detriment.  I have, but now I don’t (I sure hope the future doesn’t make a fool of me).

The first turn back or diversion I made was hard, the second a little easier, and the subsequent diversions become progressively less of a big deal.

Instructors, this one is for you.  Deliberately take your students into less than ideal weather and guide them through real diversion experiences.  By all means make sure the conditions are well within your own personal limits, your student’s attention will have been gained long before yours.  You absolutely don’t want your student’s first diversion decision to be long after their ‘training is complete’.

Pressure from others is all in your own mind

In nearly thirty five years of military, professional, commercial and recreational flying, I have NEVER been rung by a manager asking why I was late away, or did or didn’t do something.

Don’t worry about what you imagine others might think.  Be your own person.  Set conservative standards and stick to them.  Aspire to a conservative attitude of prudence.

I know other old pilots will wax lyrical about their ability to fly low or fast or in bad weather.  They got away with it, they were very lucky.  Many, many of their colleagues and buddies were not!

I’ll take luck over ability every time

But only a fool relies on luck.  And all aircraft bite fools.

If you break it Fess Up!

I hate breaking things, but it happens.  If you overspeed it, or overtemp it, or overstress it, FESS UP.  You aren’t the first and won’t be the last.  You will get over it.

But if you don’t fess up, and they find out, or worse it breaks big time on someone else, you will quite reasonably wear the loathing and derision of those around you.  And it is almost impossible to recover from.


For most of us this is not a natural characteristic, it certainly isn’t for me.  But the longer I spend around flying the more important I believe humility is.

No matter how good we think we are, or may even be, we ALL have bad days.  We miss stuff, we guess wrong, or we just muck it up.  And you will never know when one of these times will visit itself upon you.

And finally, the famous three “most useless things in aviation”

Runway behind you;

Air above you;  and,

Fuel in the tank back on the ground.

Take care up there.