The Inner Art of Airmanship

Master Pilots in Their Own Words:

Captain John Wiley

Many have written about this and I believe there can be little doubt that there are aerial artists. Having done some painting, I was surprised to find how much science and how many disciplines are involved in putting paint on canvas. It is more than just slopping color onto a surface. The really good painters are also very disciplined and learned. And, in many cases, they continually seek to improve their efforts. They are not satisfied with maintaining a skill. They want to enhance and broaden it.

From this, it is easy to see from walking into any art show, there is a wide range of people passing themselves off as artists when in fact, they are dilettantes, dabblers and impostors. They can talk all day about art but are unable to demonstrate mastery. From that, they seek to obscure their inabilities in new babble. Thus we get people smearing chocolate on themselves and calling it “art”.

In the aviation community, I believe there are three groups, much like any other community. There are the hackers who do it for various reasons, who are mostly competent and can demonstrate some skill. Like any bell curve, this group is a minority. The second group is the largest. The ones who want to improve and who have more than basic skills, but like the local artist and Leonardo, there is a huge chasm between the talents and abilities. The final group, smaller than the hacker’s group, is made up of the aerial artists. They are able to blend science, ability, discipline, skill, and a myriad of other components into a work of art. Those who see them perform know they have been in the presence of greatness. The hackers are intimidated. The second group is inspired and awed. The artists view it with astonishment and wonderment, knowing the effort it takes to excel.


John was a UASF pilot in Vietnam and retired from US Airways as a 19,000 hour check airman typed in the A-320, B-707, B-727, B-737, B-757, B767, CE-500, DC-9 and Lear Jet. He wrote this for Inner Art of Airmanship in 2002.