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.
It is a common myth in just about any activity that the final level of performance is largely determined by a person’s talent. “He’s a natural”, the well-meaning grade school teacher mummers. But it is not true. While being seven feet tall sure helps in basketball, there are tens of thousands of tall guys not playing in the NBA. It takes more than raw talent or physique. For most things, most of the time, what determines the quality of our final performance is the quality and quantity of our prior efforts. Genetics certianly predispose us to enjoy and excel in certain activities, but none of us choose our parents. The only thing we can do, the only influence we have, is the type of preparation we practice (Mosing et al., 2014).
A detailed study of elite mountain climbers that had all conquered Mount Everest discovered what the climbers themselves felt separated them from all the other climbers who never made it to the summit. It was not talent or strength or fitness or technical expertise or desire. It was having the proper mindset and focus (Burke & Orlick, 2003). You must have some minimum abilities, granted, but what separates the elite from the average in almost any field is the application of inner skills.
Ed Hommer, first bilateral amputee to be an airline pilot and the first to climb the highest mountain in North America. When we flew together, the passengers had no idea he had two prosthetic legs.
Many people have reached the summit of Everest despite not looking like Nordic mountain magazine models. It’s been climbed by people with varying physical disabilities, including having no legs. A wonderful friend of mine, Ed, who I used to fly with at American Eagle, lost both of his legs to frostbite after an Alaskan plane crash. Yet a decade or so later he got a mere 3000 feet from the ultimate peak, climbing up Everest on two prostatic legs. He didn’t let his disadvantages define him. Sure, he was a double amputee. But he was also rode bikes, was an airline captain and a high-altitude mountaineer. Ed certainly wasn’t the first pilot without legs. In December 1931 Douglas 'Dogsbody' Bader lost both legs after a crash attempting some aerbatics. He was medically retired from the RAF. After the start of WWII, Bader returned to the RAF as a pilot. He qualified for and flew Hurricanes and Spitfires. He was credited with 22 aerial victories, and many other shared and probable kills. All without legs. As he said, “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense … never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.”
Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, No. 242 Squadron, on his Hawker Hurricane, September 1940.
Douglas Bader and Ed Hommer flew airplanes better than lots of people with both legs. Because being a good pilot isn’t about the legs. It’s something inside. I know from spending time with him on many trips, that Ed acheived excellence in his very physical arena by constantly practicing climbing at every opportunity, and certainly he had determined mindset and focus. And they are not alone.
Betty Skelton was an extraordinary pilot often called ‘the First Lady of Firsts’. She held many aviation records, and was an aerobatic champion several years in a row. Her Pitts biplane now hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. Asked about her special skills in 1999, she said, “It was an effort that took many, many thousands of hours to perfect, and it, in its own self, was an art.” It wasn’t talent. It wasn’t luck. It wasn’t natural. It was practice.
Neil Williams was an RAF test pilot, the captain of the British Aerobatic Team for over a decade, a renowned airshow pilot, the British Aerobatic Champion an amazing eleven times, the Coupé Champion in France, and author of the classic flying book Aerobatics. He wrote in the second chapter about the superman qualifications required to fly at such an expert level:
Pilots are made, not born. The ‘natural’ pilot is really a myth, boosted by boy’s adventure stories, and later, by the T.V. and film industry.
Neil knew this truth from thousands of hours of flight instruction. But the value of talent vs. training is not just the opinion of a few aviation superstars who may be playing humble. We now have multitudes of scientists who have spent careers carefully studying the problem of acquisition of expertise. In an academic book on human psychology, Cambridge University lecturer Nick Baylis wrote:
There is simply no evidence to support the commonly held belief that some innate lack of talent prevents us from achieving a high level of competence in math or languages, music or science, art or athletics. Yes, genes play a role in our abilities, but even with a lifetimes effort, we’re unlikely to hit the upper limits of our inborn potential. No, we can’t set out to produce works of genius, but we can, in principle, attain nationally competitive proficiency in most any field of endeavor … It is the number of hours of practice that is the primary factor differentiating the levels of attainment. (Baylis, 2004.)
Jason Stephens, CFIG and multi-time winner US National Aerobatic Glider Championships. One of the elite pilots I’ve been lucky enough to fly with. He flys several times almost every day.
In an extensive review of the scientific literature, three psychology professors concluded:
There was no evidence of a ‘fast track’ of high achievers who required less practice than other individuals in order to make an equivalent amount of progress. The most successful players certainly reached particular grade levels at a younger age than the least successful, but the findings were consistent with the explanation that they did so simply because they accumulated the requisite amount of practice more quickly. (Howe, Davidson & Sloboda, 1998.)
The good news here is that it is not some special talent you may or may not have that will determine how good a pilot you will be. You can be a great pilot. But the bad news is that it will take you a while to get really good. A long while. And it’s going to be a lot of work. This effect has been extensively studied and is known in psychology circles as simply the ten-year rule. For violinists it was found that at age 18, in the same music school, the very best young virtuosos had accumulated about 7,500 hours of solitary practice, the ‘good’ performers had an average of 5,300 hours, and the future music teachers (or music reviewers) had ‘just’ 3,400 hours (Ericsson, Krampe & Tesch-Romer, 1993). To be really good at something, it will take thousands of hours of practice. For most people practicing a useful three hours a day this takes 10 years. The child prodigies you may have heard about just started very early and practiced many more hours a day. It takes everybody the same hard-working 10,000 something hours to be able to produce real quality music. Another study (again, one of many looking into this subject) found that the number of months needed to make a measured degree of musical progress was no different for extremely talented young musicians and their average peers (Sloboda et al., 1996). The more gifted players seemed to move ahead faster, but it wasn’t magic, it was because they spent more time every day practicing.
But what about Mozart? Wasn’t the amazing Wolfgang Amadeus an amazing child prodigy? Well, he was playing and composing at very young age, but he had a great teacher in his Dad. Leopold was a royal court musician and an experienced music teacher long before his son was born. In the very year of Wolfgang’s birth he published the influential violin textbook Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule. The baby Mozart watched (and listened) as Dad gave keyboard lessons to his older sister Nannerl, and so jumpstarted his own musical education. Dad worked hard to make his son seem outstanding, as it sealed his reputation as a violin teacher. The boy had few breaks to go play outside or make friends. He was practicing every day. And while Wolfgang was composing at a very young age, the works that are performed now are all from later in his life. The quality lasting work we enjoy now was done after he had put in the required amount of practice to become great.
This kid was in front of me in line at a Mod Pizza in Ahwautukee, Arizona. He’s going to do just fine.
But what about Bobby Fischer, who became an international chess grand master at a record age of 15 and became one of the more famous champions in history? He learnt the rules of chess at age 6, and that same year he read his first book of chess games (Brady, 1973). The next year, as a result of his mother’s interest, Bobby started weekly tutoring with the president of the Brooklyn Chess Club. At age 12, Bobby joined the Manhattan Chess Club and started meeting with chess master Jack Collins several times a week. He then started collecting chess books, and by 1973 he had maybe 400 books and thousands of magazines and journals. We know chess isn’t luck. But even for someone like Bobby Fischer, it isn’t talent either. It’s the ten-year rule of proper practice.
OK, but what about Tiger Woods? Don’t we have video proof he was a childhood expert — TV’s Mike Douglas Show back in 1978. A cute two-and-a-half-year-old boy in an orange cap come on and amazed guests Bob Hope and James Stewart with his golf swing. He was only 980 days old! But once again, while the swing was very cool for a kid, he was not yet an expert. And again, his dad was a full-time teacher who had already logged hundreds of hours of instruction with the junior prodigy. Earl Woods was retired from the army, and home full-time. Long before his son could walk, little Eldrick 'Tiger' Woods would sit in his high chair in the family’s garage watching Earl hit golf balls into a net. For hours. By the time Tiger had grown enough to hold a tiny club, he had already watched Dad swing thousands and thousands of times. He literally started learning golf before he could walk. Real golf lessons began at age four. Ten years later he had completed maybe a quarter of a million golf swings. Somewhere around this point, he became an expert.
The best surgeons are said to have ‘good hands’. There has been a long debate between people who feel surgeons must have been born with that talent, and some people who say they learnt it over time. Victorian Sir Francis Galton proposed that skill acquisition is based on a set of innate biological capacities. But Jasper Halpenny argued in a 1918 paper The Training of the Surgeon that training was key. After a 100 years of research, science now fully supports the training philosophy. An extensive 2013 review published in the International Journal of Surgery concluded that, “Surgical expertise is reached through practice; surgical experts are made, not born”. (Sadideen, Alvand, Saadeddin & Kneebone, 2013).
Surgical ‘good hands’.
And it’s not just hands that can be trained. A professional creative perfumer is someone who creates new perfumes by combining existing scents. A ‘good nose’ seems of course a requirement. But like a surgeon’s ‘good hands’ it turns out the nose (and the brain) can be trained to do extraordinary things. The Jean Carles Method uses sixty odourants and natural extracts to systematically teach techniques for odor memorization and understanding. Most perfumers can end up recognizing about 1,200 single smell components. Twelve hundred! David Apel is a super star perfumer. He has designed fragrances for Elizabeth Taylor, Calvin Klein’s Escape for Men, Hugo by Hugo Boss, Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden, and many more. As a student he used the Jean Carles Method, and has said, “Unless you have an anatomical problem, anyone can train their nose.” (Zweig, 2014).
Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard University wrote a book on seven creative giants of modern times (if you’re wondering, he picked Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham and Gandhi). All are of course very different people who led very different lives. However Gardner was looking for what similarities these disparate personalities had, and he reported:
Without wishing to invest more magic in a numeral than is warranted, I have been struck throughout this study by the operation of the ten-year rule…. Should one begin at age four, like Picasso, one can be a master by the teenage years; composers like Stravinsky and dancers like Graham, who did not begin their creative endeavors until later adolescence, did not hit their stride until their late twenties. (Gardner, 1993).
The ten year rule seems to hold true for most any complex human activity. Studies have shown it to be true for ‘genius’ painters and writers and scientists (Howe, 2004). It takes time and meaningful effort to master anything worthwhile. Those of us who have been flight instructors have seen this in the cockpit. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found a “significant protective effect against the risk of crash involvement” with total flight time (Li, et al., 2003). Professional pilots with between 5000 and 10,000 hours had a 57% lower risk of a crash than those with less than 5000. Possibly reflecting the general 10 year rule, the protective effects of flight time leveled off after 10,000 hours. A simulator study by different researchers compared two similar groups of pilots that did not differ from each other in several tests of various cognitive abilities. It was the more experienced pilots who made better aeronautical decisions in terms of both speed and accuracy (Schriver, Morrow, Wickens & Talleur, 2008).
You should know that the debate and the research over genetics and practice has more recently highlighted the limitations of practice (Macnamara, Hambrick & Oswald, 2014). And while some of us may be genetically inclined to enjoy flying, the only thing we can influence for ourselves is the quality and quantity of our practice.
Astronaut Duane 'Digger' Carey in a NASA T-38.
USAF fighter pilot, test pilot and STS-109 Space Shuttle pilot Duane 'Digger' Carey said he, “wouldn’t consider myself to be a natural pilot; I’ve had to work at it.” Another fighter pilot, Daniel Shipley, was also aware that, “I’m not some incredible pilot by any means. I always had to work hard to get where I am.” When he said that in 2004, he was flying a blue and gold F-18 in the USN Blue Angels team. So don’t worry about talent or being a natural or having ‘the touch’. None of that matters like constantly working at being a good pilot.
In the Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back, wise old Yoda says, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”
Yoda, this is.
Think about that thought. There is no try. You either do something, or you do not. Yoda, the mythical movie teacher of Jedi Knights, called the power that enhances natural physical and mental abilities The Force. While this is fiction, it does feel close to something that has touched humans for generations. Parts of this masterful mystery are known by many names: The Zone, State of Grace, Rapture, Ki, Kensho, Satori, Shakti, Chi, Mana, Mojo, Spirit, Tao Mind, Prajna, Poornatwa, The Third Man, The Secret Power, The Inner Kingdom, Peak Performance State, The Groove, In A White Moment, In The Tunnel, Swimming Downstream, Flow, Deep Play, Fana, Numunous, Cosmic Consciousness, Noosphere, Indr’s Net, and Zen.
Dr. Debbie Crews, a research professor of sport psychology at Arizona State University, says that it is, “brain cells firing in synchronicity.” Robert Pirsig, who wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, put it more academically by saying that “being with it,” “being a natural,” and “taking hold” are all idiomatic expressions for the “absence of subject-object duality”. After writing his seminal book, Pirsig taught himself navigation in a world without GPS, and twice crossed the Atlantic in his small sailboat, Aretê. Many of his insights apply to flying.
Robert M. Pirsig, with his son Chris on their 1968 motorcycle trip.
Whatever the perceived form or name, know that this masterful mystery is part of the human condition. It is not something for a special talented few, rather it is within us all. We can learn to harness the force. The only way to see it is to start doing.
There is no shortage of books on how to fly, and there are plenty of flight instructors for hire. The problems of how to land a plane seems to have been solved. But flying requires us to put the knowledge into action, then to do it again and again. All the detailed information and pretty diagrams in the books do not actually do the flying. We do the flying. Sam would read some way-out-there exotic stuff, but I often caught him studying the Cessna 152 owners’ manual or re-reading Stick and Rudder. No one knows it all, but the virtuoso pilot knows he must know his airplane, and all the rules of the game.
First Edition, 1944.
You can start the journey of Inner Airmanship by reading the basics right now. You do not need to make a promise or a commitment. You do not need a certificate or a course. You do not need a special power or a weird trick. You just need to do what a pilot needs to do, starting with reviewing all the basics. Tom Landry, who coached the Dallas Cowboys football team through 20 consecutive winning seasons, used to say that “setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.” Maybe he learnt something about flying your flightplan during his 30 combat missions as a B-17 pilot over Europe in WWII. He’s right on; it’s easy to set a goal of being a master pilot, but what is really required is an understanding of how to make it happen and the tenacity to stick with it. Partly it’s a plan of when and what to fly, and partly it’s learning flyings Inner Art. It’s easy to pledge to do it right, but the only thing with meaning is to start actually doing it right now. And in fact, a personal pledge that ‘I will do X’ has been shown not to be the best way to get yourself to actually do X.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign constructed several clever psychology experiments that compared the performance of students after making introspective self-talk that was either of the form I will or the form will I. Performance on tasks was better for the will I introspective self-talk groups compared to the I will declarative self-talk groups (Senay, Albarracin & Noguchi, 2010). So making promises or big commitments of aeronautical greatness might not make as much real difference as questioning yourself: Will I do what is required? Will I read the required books? Will I take the time to learn to be at home in the sky? The answer is in your actions.
We looked at Yoda’s “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” There is another famous figure with a famous line to illuminate our aerial path. Hamlet, in Shakespeare’s play of the same name, said “To be or not to be, that is the question.” If we wish to become an excellent pilot, the only answer is To Be. So let’s start being now. No trying, just doing and being.
If there was a pill you could take in the morning to make you a masterful pilot that afternoon you’d have heard about it by now. But there can be no pill, and no catchphrase will ever make you into a true king of the wild blue yonder. No quick weekend seminar at a local Holiday Inn will make all the difference. Think about the most impressive pilots you know. Do think they attended a course that made them really special? No, as Dr. Al Siebert wrote in The Survivor Personality, “Effectiveness, competence, skillfulness, and mastery result from self-motivated, self-managed learning” (Siebert, 1993). The knowledge can’t be uploaded directly to your brain in seconds like learning Kung Fu or how to fly a helicopter in The Matrix movie. You are going to have to study and practice with all your head and heart. You will make mistakes, you will have slumps. But this is normal. This is part of the journey.
Uploading skills, in the movie The Matrix.
In fact, the journey is all we really have and all we really need. The professional pilot can not waste a lot of time dreaming, instead she does the work everyday. For we are not idle dreamers of flight, we are pilots.
In the fifth century BCE, Telamon of Arcadia said that it is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life. It is easy to see that being The Times restaurant critic does not make you cook breakfast any better. And as pilots, our first duty is not to study the history of the dream of flight — but to go out and fly. The fantasy of leather-jacketed supreme airborne perfection will fade as we concentrate on the everyday tasks of being a real pilot.
Sam told me that, “enlightenment is an accident, but some activities make you accident-prone.” Michael Jordan at his best would still throw thousands of balls a week into a basket. Bruce Lee worked out every day. And so must we as pilots. Read about weather, and about electrical systems, and accident reports, and human nature. Can you tell me right now what you would do when an engine quits? At 300 feet during climbout? In bad weather? Could you know more? Do you want to know more? When it happens, it will be too late to read, research, reason, and review. There will only be action. You can start preparing now.
When you are flying, pay attention to what you are doing. Really pay attention. With every fiber pay attention. Arrive early to review the flight plan and the weather. Take the time to do a detailed preflight. Hold altitude exactly, while being as smooth as a gentle breeze. Feel the airplane. Know where you are and what the alternates are, if an engine quits, if the weather changes, whatever. And when the flight is over, take the time to mentally replay the flight and your actions.
Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you. The military can produce a ready-to-fight-to-the-death fighter pilot in something like 300 hours. You can be sure that the real warrior pilot has thought about every one of those hours. Paid attention to every minute. Really experienced every flight.
While flying is new, the techniques of the master sportsman are timeless. The ancient Greeks loved to express the elements of excellence in human form through sports. We are all familiar with the classic values of strength, speed, agility; and thousands of years later we still see these ideals in Olympic athletes. For the Greeks, athletic contests were offerings to the Gods. Sports were surrounded by ceremony and celebrated in poetry. Within this sacred context, sport was a container in which aggressive passions were channeled and transformed and an arena in which virtues were cultivated and displayed.
Discobulus of Myron, circa 460-450 BC.
Sam reminded me that the Greek ideal not only valued strength, speed, agility, but that there were other important elements of classic excellence — proportion, balance, rhythm, and harmonious movement. The Greeks had a word for this state of human ideal, this state of mastery: Arete. Sam showed me it can be achieved in the cockpit. They knew of Eudaimonia, a meaningful kind of happiness that came from striving to meet one’s full potential. You just have to start down the road towards mastery.
The secrets to performance have not actually been secrets for centuries. In 1594, writing in the book The Seamans Secrets, John Davies said, “it is not possible that any man can be a good and sufficient Pilot or skillful Sailor, but by painful and diligent practice.” What is new since the 1500’s is it that there has been rigorous research about the type of training that produces expert performance. Modern psychologists call this ‘deep practice’.
If it was enough to just do something a bunch of times to get really good at it, we’d all be better drivers and typists and much more. But doing something every day, like brushing your teeth, is not enough to become truly expert. Most of understand you need to train, to practice, to do exercises, to stretch. All the stuff that most of us don’t do. I type on a QWERTY keyboard every day, but I’ll only get significantly faster if I used the software training program that I bought to learn touch typing years ago. It’s not just hours spent doing something, it’s hours spent really learning something. This we know intuitively. But there’s more. To move from good to great, you have to keep learning, keep training. It’s more than the exercises you did to learn the skill. It is deep practice. Geoff Colvin, author of the book Why Talent is Overrated, writes that:
Deliberate practice is … not what most of us do when we think we’re practicing golf or the oboe of any of our other interests. Deliberate practice is hard. It hurts. But it works. More if it equals better preformance. Tons of it equals great performance. (Colvin, 2008).
The chair of psychology at UCLA, Robert Bjork, has described deliberate practice as a learning sweet spot, “There’s an optimal gap between what you know and what you’re trying to do. When you find that sweet spot, learning takes off.” (Coyle, 2009).
How do you best move toward mastery? George Leonard wrote, “to put it simply, you practice diligently, but you practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself” (Leonard, 1991). It’s not the number of hours you have in your logbook that matter. It’s the number of hours you’ve spent deliberatly, diligently, mindully practicing flying and airmanship that count. Even researchers that aren’t convinced that anybody can achieve greatnes, that inate talent makes a difference, have found that delierate practice is necessary to unlock talent. A 2011 paper found that to reach the master level of chess performance a minimum requirement is 3,000 hours of deliberate practice (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011). They contend cognitive ability, season of birth and other factors make a differance, but agree that without lots of deliberate practice none of those talents or accidents of birth matter.
The artist uses brush and paint, knowledge of light and texture, combined with love and practice to create a painting. The master pilot uses systems knowledge and flight theory, computers and checklists, wind and the subtle feel of the stick to create a safe flight. The Zen student sits meditation and ponders koans from the master. The Zen master cuts through all the crap and brings right mind, right action to every aspect of life. The master pilot sits in the cockpit, and ponders the flight plan. You must reduce the clutter of information overload to do the right thing when it is required. This is the start of your inner art of airmanship.
Inverted nine-ship formation aerobatics.
When you see what is possible on the flight deck it is amazing. Truly humbling. I hope you get to fly with someone who seems to just sit in the seat calmly letting the airplane fly straight and level, smooth and precise, while he or she is in actual control at all times.
Airwork and headwork shine blindingly bright. The skygod in the left seat is not superhuman. What looks absolutely spot-on perfect is really just better than you are ever used to seeing. The master pilot sees the errors you do not, feels some subtle shift, sees the altitude off by two feet and gently corrects with control pressures. These pilots are the product of perfect practice.
If it seems that you your efforts are puny, if it seems that years of attention to detail are not producing magic results, remember that this is not magic. This is work. This is art. This is hard. Maybe you are raising your expectations faster than is warrented. But one day a power in proportion to all your efforts will flood the cockpit. Psychologists have known for a while that effortful practice changes the brain so much that, “the expert performer is able to circumvent potential limits on basic elements of serial reactions” (Ericsson & Charness, 1994). You will join the wind and the sun in the sky. You are faster than most people can see. Your outer and inner senses are joined, the self is opened, your life discloses an intrinsic richness and joy in being. Or maybe no such thing will ever happen. Either way, you are becoming a safer, more professional pilot.
Basketball coach John Wooden was named by ESPN as the Greatest Coach of the 20th Century. He achieved what is maybe the greatest championship records in all of team sports: the UCLA team won the NCAA basketball championship in 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974 and 1975. That’s 10 times in 12 seasons. Truly incredible. In eight of those seasons they were undefeated, once generating an amazing 88-game winning streak. This almost unbelievable record was not due to excessive funding or facilities, was not due to just one star player. The only common linking factor in this string of college games is John Wooden, the coach who demanded full preparation and full effort from his players. In the book Wooden he wrote:
Many athletes have tremendous God-given gifts, but they don’t focus on the development of those gifts. Who are these individuals? you’ve never heard of them — and you never will. It’s true is sports and it’s true everywhere in life. Hard work is the difference. Very hard work.
He has also said that:
You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.
Again we see it’s not special talent. It’s not impossible. It just takes work.
You might not be able to see the possibilities now, but they are there nevertheless. Outcomes in the cockpit and in your mind and soul that seem like dreams are waiting for you to do the work. Don’t think that you’re not good enough. Don’t believe what others say are your limits. Don’t believe what the negative voice in your head repeats. Be ready to be surprised. Be ready for fun and excellence. Be ready for a long inner journey. Bruce Ousland, the first person to conquer both the North and South Poles, solo and without support teams, once said, “only by pushing beyond our limits can we really learn something new about ourselves.”
And if you don’t want to do the work, if you don’t want to touch aeronautical excellence, why are you wasting your life away in a noisy cramped cockpit? You have to want this. We only really accept inner responsibility for something when we think we have chosen to perform it without strong outside pressure. You decide for yourself that you want to start the journey towards mastery. The good news is you can obtain excellence. The bad news is it will take a whole heap of work!
Captain Roy 'Butch' Voris, USN, in a F9F-5 Panther jet.
Captain Roy 'Butch' Voris flew most everything the US Navy had during his twenty-two years of service, from biplanes to jets. He helped Grumman work on the F-14 Tomcat and the Apollo Lunar Module. As a fighter pilot he had eight combat victories and earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses. After WWII he was the founder and original team leader of the US Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team. He said in an interview:
Be the best, or don’t get in the damn airplane to start with.
You can do this. You can start now.
Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.
The future starts today, not tomorrow.
Pope John Paul II
A year from now you will wish you had started today.
Whoever wants to learn to fly must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance: — one cannot fly into flying!
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
The beginning is the most important part of the work.
Do not wait until all the conditions are perfect for you to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.
The person attempting to travel two roads at once will get nowhere.
A knowledge of the path cannot be substituted for putting one foot in front of the other.
M. C. Richards
Mastery in nearly any endeavor is the result of deeply understanding simple ideas.
The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.
Every artist was first an amateur.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.
It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.
In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.
Henry David Thoreau
High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.
The most important key to achieving great success is to decide upon your goal and launch, get started, take action, move.
The key thing is within yourself. If you want to become something, you have to start turning yourself into that thing, step by step, as a demonstration of personal will. That’s what I did when I was nine. I started turning myself into an astronaut.
The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.
I’m not that bright. I’m a reasonable glider pilot because I’ve done a lot of it, not because I’m a clever boy.
Act like the pilot you want to be at all times. With passengers. Without passengers. With your dog. While you make breakfast. While you sleep. Do this long enough, and perhaps one day, you will be that pilot.
For those who approve but do not carry out, who are stirred, but do not change, I can do nothing at all.
Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.
David Starr Jordan
Progress comes to those who train and train; reliance on secret techniques will get you nowhere.
When I was a competative olympic athlete, my mental training was the single greatest differentiating tool.
I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work.
Nobody’s a natural. You work hard to get good and then work to get better.
I love training almost as much as I love skateboarding.
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.
The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.
Taking a new step … is what people fear most.
Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.
Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
One learns by doing a thing; for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.
Actual practice in individual flight presents the best prospects for developing our capacity until it leads to perfected free flight.
Every day you miss playing or practicing is one day longer it takes to be good.
What looks like talent is often careful preparation. What looks like skill is often persistent revision.
I’ve had engine flameouts at extremely high altitudes on special tests, I’ve had canopies blown off suddenly and I’ve had to land on carriers in the black night. The only way to make it is to work at it.
The only secret I have got is damned hard work.
J. M. W. Turner
Spectacular achievements are always preceded by unspectacular preparation.
I try to pull the language into such a sharpness that it jumps off the page. It must look easy, but it takes me forever to get it to look so easy. Of course, there are those critics who say … she’s a natural writer. Those are the ones I want to grab by the throat and wrestle to the floor because it takes me forever to get it to sing. I work at the language.
Genius is mainly an affair of energy.
There is no such thing as natural touch. Touch is something you create by hitting millions of golf balls.
Your time has a limit set to it. Use it, then, to advance your enlightenment; or it will be gone, and never in your power again.
It is not a matter of faith.
It is a matter of practice.
Thich Nhat Hanh
I have no talent. It’s just a question of working, of being willing to put in the time.
Nobody — but nobody — has ever become really proficient at golf without practice, without doing a lot of thinking and then hitting a lot of shots. It isn’t so much a lack of talent; it’s a lack of being able to repeat good shots consistently that frustrates most players. And the only answer to that is practice.
One day of practice is like one day of clean living. It doesn’t do you any good.
I want to be the best, so I go out and do the work.
The air show environment is very scary when you’re not prepared. I fly three times every day…. I practice every maneuver thousands of times before I make it a part of my performance.
Sean D. Tucker
We don’t like surprises in this business because surprises kill people.
Never practice without a thought in mind.
You have to train your mind like you train your body.
I don’t feel like I was gifted or had natural ability. I just worked my butt off and I was passionate and dedicated.
I wasn’t naturally gifted in terms of size or speed; everything I did in hockey I worked for.
In all cases we must invest our total identity into the activity if we are to find the magic it may hold for us. If we are to reach the delight that comes with the joyful exercise of well-developed skills, we must practice, we must work, we must occasionally fail, and we must endure times of complete frustration. Unless we wish to be mere dilettantes, this is the price we have to pay. Those who do find themselves pay willingly.
If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
Complete mastery is impossible without precision.
In my business you can’t have too much detail in preparation…. Don’t leave it to chance if you Don’t have to. If you want to win at something then put the time in beforehand so that when it really happens, you’re confident. you’re not scared of it, you’re not worried about it, you’re just ready. Probably the biggest indicator of readiness for space flight was that the overriding emotion on launch is not one of fear or nervousness, it’s one of relief. Because finally, after all that preparation … you finally are actually going.
Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.
Theodore I. Rubin
We should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties, only by our failure to grow anything beautiful from them.
Alain de Botton
In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport. You must also be prepared to work hard and be willing to accept constructive criticism. Without a total 100% dedication, you won’t be able to do this.
The effortless absorption experienced by the practiced artist at work on a difficult project always is premised upon earlier mastery of a complex body of skills.
My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.
The best way to find contentment is to give something your all.
However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you, if you do not act upon them?
To know what we do not know is the beginning of wisdom.
Maha Sthavira Sangarakshita
Aviation is not only my life, it taught me how to live. It taught me about life and death, good and evil, victory and defeat, and most importantly, being prepared.
Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.
What I call the aerial instinct — the drive to transcend our present condition — is the defining characteristic of a human being.
Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.
Consistency of practice is the mark of the master.
If you want to be successful, find out what the price is and then pay it.
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer too much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
The time is always right to do what is right.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes. Therefore give yourself fully to your endeavors. Decide to construct your character through excellent actions and determine to pay the price of a worthy goal. The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths. Remain steadfast … and one day you will build something that endures; something worthy of your potential.
If you don’t get what you want, it’s a sign either that you did not seriously want it, or that you tried to bargain over the price.
I want people to remember me not just for specific great performances, but because of the grit and determination it took to get there.
Being solo voluntarily or not can be good because you reach levels inside that you didn’t know existed. You get a deeper dialogue with yourself and nature when you don’t have anyone else to lean on.
The Art of Peace begins with you. Work on yourself and your appointed task in the Art of Peace. Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow. You are here for no other purpose than to realize your inner divinity and manifest your innate enlightenment. Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that you encounter.
As yesterday is history, and tomorrow may never come, I have resolved from this day on, I will do all the business I can honestly, have all the fun I can reasonably, do all the good I can willingly, and save my digestion by thinking pleasantly.
Robert Louis Stevenson
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting over lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
According to a very liberal 1835 translation of John Anster’s Faust
Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
St. Francis of Assisi
The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.
No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined. One of the widest gaps in human experience is the gap between what we say we want to be and our willingness to discipline ourselves to get there.
Harry Emerson Fosdick
You cannot grasp the hands of the great cosmic clock and force time either backward or foreward; the only portion of time that is yours to captain is the present moment.
Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second. Give your dreams all you’ve got and you’ll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.
You have to be flexible enough to follow when you learn. Practice what you have learned repeatedly, and then your mind will become pure.
Too many players never learn the difference between beating balls and practicing productively. You see guys hitting balls until their hands bleed, and all the time they are making the same mistakes, over and over and over again. Eventually they groove their errors to the point where they limit their scoring ability; they get stuck at a certain level.
I never beat balls just for the sake of beating balls. There was always a specific objective, and also a strategy for attaining it, that I had carefully thought out before I got to the practice tee.
When a person trains once, nothing happens. When a person forces himself to do a thing a hundred or a thousand times, then he certainly has developed in more ways than physical. Is it raining? That doesn’t matter. Am I tired? That doesn’t matter either. Then will power will be no problem.
You can map out a fight plan or a life plan, but when the action starts, it may not go the way you planned, and you’re down to your reflexes — which means your training. That’s where your roadwork shows. If you cheated on that in the dark of morning — well, you’re getting found out now, under the bright lights.
Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay its price.
Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s the determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal — a commitment to excellence — that will enable you to attain the success you seek.
If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.
Thomas J. Watson
If you really want to achieve something in your life, whatever you do to achieve the goal is not a sacrifice. It is something you have to do.
It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?
Henry David Thoreau