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The Inner Art of Airmanship

Twelve Flights of Inner Airmanship

There is no way to become a craftsman of the cockpit from just reading words. It's a lifetime of flying, discipline, and grace. It's the difference between someone fighting against gravity, thrashing against crosswinds, rushing the procedures; and someone working with the elements, calmly in control. It's going from young pilot determined oak, to old pilot flowing willow. It's connecting timeless wisdom with modern psychology through the stick and the rudder — and finding what works for you. For only then can flying become an art, an expression of your own self, in harmony with the nature of the machine and the nature of the sky. Our real challenge in flight lies not in the effort to cheat death, but rather in the effort to expand the envelope of life.

Distilling Sam's push-pull, sometimes stern, sometimes zany, from-the-cuff, master-to-student method of flight instruction into words is tricky for me. However the twelve web pages below are a start. Still a bit of a work in progress. But I'm slowly connecting the dots to see what picture emerges.

No one is born a good pilot. We are made. And we can make ourselves better. Here's how:



Start right now
Being a great pilot starts right now. For if not now, then when? No one has a perfect flight, few pilots come even close. But that is just fine. While pretenders worry about not looking good and idly dream of amazing flights, the maestros are memorizing the manuals and doing the job of a prepared pilot. They are slowly making constant corrections. They are enjoying the details. Flight One.

Flying can not be taught
But it can be learned. You are a pilot: it is a state of mind as much as a seat in the cockpit. You will not master the myriad skills without practice. But the good news is you can — in fact you must — practice outside of the cockpit. Visualize flight. Only when ready should you go up in the sky and fly. Flight Two.

Voices in my head
We all have an inner dialogue, the voice in our head that talks to only us. And there are many times we need to think actions through using our inner dialogue. However,  there are times we must somehow quieten the voice, and trust another inner self. Flight Three.

No competition in the sky
It is as Gann titled a book: Fate is the Hunter. You should not worry about the friend to beat, or the government minimum standard to meet; this is a long game of solitaire. You must not stop if you have beaten the other student or have passed a test. The real exam will come when you are alone. Flight Four.

Playing for fun & love
Sam was always laughing at himself, his students and most anything else that caught his eye. He said that flying is the only occupation that has such serious consequences for failure, yet is so much fun. A passion for flight is more powerful than rocket fuel. Flight Five.

Master of the wing, yet always a beginner
The great masters always regard themselves as beginners, with minds open to new experiences, the momentary adventure of life. A close-to-retirement Boeing 777 examiner, who had also instructed in the T-37, F-4, F-15, B-727 & B-737, once told me he still learns something on every flight. If he does, I must. Flight Six.

Up down, left right, yin yang
Seen from the cockpit, flight controls work the same inverted as they do in upright flight. But we must carefully define what up and down mean. In flying we must balance up and down, the technical and the artistic, left and right brain, System 1 and System 2, matter and spirit, Yin and Yang. Flight Seven.

Centered within
The mind of the pilot is centered within you. There can be no reliance on props or tricks when fully flying. Of course we fly the wing, by the book, using crew resource management — but you are pilot-in-command centered in the sky. Flight Eight.

The pilot is nothing special
The process of learning to really fly seems magical, the results superhuman. While soaring above the clouds is living a great dream of mankind, it is what we do. Clouds and mountains are still clouds and mountains. There are no tricks to being a pilot, just fly in the present right now. Nothing special. Flight Nine.

Trust the inner game
Are you gently grooving with gravity or do you have a death grip on the yoke? Can you flare with flair? "It is an action is which certain things are caused to happen and certain things are allowed to happen. Faults arise in trying to cause what should be allowed." Flight Ten.

Flow on a million details
Mindfulness can make every action important, and then what were moments in the zone become an inner art. Matching skills and challenges, you are now flowing in an ocean of air, alive in the river of life. Flight Eleven.

An unending journey of self-discovery
To the winged warrior the stick becomes as a Samurai sword, and the sky becomes a practice. Each flight is new. And the more we fly, the more we discover. What is not needed falls away, and your inner art of airmanship becomes masterful. Flight Twelve.


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To conquer oneself is of all victories the first and best, but to be defeated by oneself is at once the most shameful and worst of all.

— Plato

If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an artless art growing out of the unconscious.

— Daisetsu Suzuki

Great pilots are made not born…. A man may possess good eyesight, sensitive hands, and perfect coordination, but the end result is only fashioned by steady coaching, much practice, and experience.

—   J. E. 'Johnnie' Johnson

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a ‘born’ soccer player. Perhaps you are born with certain skills and talents, but quite frankly it seems impossible to me that one is actually born to be an ace soccer player.

—  Pelé

If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self.

— Napoleon Hill

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world … as in being able to remake ourselves.

— Mahatma Gandhi

There's only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything. I do, and I demand that my players do.

— Vince Lombardi

A colossal swindle of the 'New Age' movement is the notion that gaining a state of effortless being and doing requires no effort. In fact, great conscious effort, discipline, and patience are normally required to enter the 'flow zone' where previously frightening challenges start taking on an aspect of relaxed ease. The venue does not change. Everest does not get smaller and the North Pole does not get warmer. It is we who must transform, and that takes work. If the process was easy, we'd all world champions.

— John Long

Easy is the descent to the Lower World; but, to retrace your steps and to escape to the upper air — this is the task, this the toil.

— The Sibyl to Aeneas, in The Aeneid

Professionalism isn’t an airplane; it’s an attitude.

— Lauran Paine Jr

It is not through space that I must seek my dignity, but through the management of my thought. I shall have no more if I possess worlds.

— Blaise Pascal

Flying isn't just about physical rewards of excitement or beauty. It's also a profound teacher of important internal lessons about life, being human, and what matters most in how we go through our time on this planet…. It teaches us to not give up when the going gets rough, and that we're really a lot stronger that we might have imagined we were. It helps us learn to respect our limitations and build on our strengths. It forces us to be honest with ourselves.

— Lane Wallace

The important thing is to stop lying to yourself. A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize the truth, either in himself or in anyone else.

— Dostoyevsky

Mastery requires endurance. Mastery, a word we don’t use often, is not the equivalent of what we might consider its cognate—perfectionism—an inhuman aim motivated by a concern with how others view us. Mastery is also not the same as success—an event-based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. Mastery is not merely a commitment to a goal, but to a curved-line, constant pursuit.

— Sarah Lewis

Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time.

— Voltaire

He that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.

— Confucius

My Last flight   |   Inner Airmanship   |   Sam

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