Mary McGee Wood - Assessment and Feedback - Training and Consultancy

Aviation quotes

The best collection of aviation quotes I've found on-line is maintained by Dave English: I recommend it highly if you can afford to lose many hours of sleep. I've avoided duplicating anything from there unless it really, really spoke to me. Which makes this very personal little collection even more idiosyncratic than it would have been anyway.

Obsession

Most pilots will tell you that flying is compulsive, addictive, and makes everything else in life anaemic. They're right.

One could fill a web page just with quotes like this one.

"As soon as we left the ground I knew I myself had to fly!"

Amelia Earhart, 1920

Richard Bach is probably the richest source for inspirational flying quotes of our time; any collection is heavily laced with great lines from his writing. This is one of the less often quoted.

Flying [as opposed to aviation] is overcoming, not the distance from here to Nantucket, but the distance from here to perfection.

Richard Bach

Widely quoted, and written inside the cover of my logbook.

Pilots track their lives by the number of hours in the air, as if any other kind of time isn't worth noting.

Michael Parfit, 2000

And, in a nutshell:

Driving is for people who can't fly.

Anon, ?

First solos

I soaked up quotes on first solo flights as I got closer to my own. So much agreement about intensity and exhilaration.

When it happened - late, after a long hard afternoon in the circuit, with the airfield about to close - I was only aware that the aeroplane was ridiculously light and bouncy in the air (my (excellent) instructor was not a large man: how could his weight make that much difference?), and that the cockpit was big and cold and draughty.

Only many hours later did it start to sink in that I'd achieved a definitive, life-changing accomplishment.

No matter how much training you've had, your first solo is far different from all other flights. You are completely independent, hopelessly beyond help, entirely responsible, and terribly alone in space.

Charles A. Lindbergh, 1923

This was the moment I had been waiting for; a milestone in every pilot's career and, like all those who had gone before me, and those who would follow, I knew it was one to remember forever. I sat quite still savouring to the full this moment that could only occur once in a lifetime...

I reached out my gloved hand and gave the engine full-throttle and, as the Moth taxied swiftly forward gaining speed and the tail rose, eased the control column gently back and with only my light weight aboard, was airborne after a very short run. I was conscious of a great surge of joy and exhilaration that seemed to flood through my whole being like an elixir as the little biplane left the ground and, responding like a live creature, seemed to share my feelings and soared into the sky as joyously as a lark.

Jean Batten, (1929) 1938

He felt swamped by an exhilaration of mind which knew no bounds. He was alone with an aeroplane. And utterly free.

There were no worries, no apprehensions about making it. For most of us, the first solo, like a maiden speech in the House of Commons, is prefaced by nightmares, anxieties and appalling visions of total collapse. Bader knew none of this. He much preferred knowing that the instructor wasn't there... He was conscious of a feeling that, at last, he had come of age.

Laddie Lucas on Douglas Bader, (1929) 1981

The flight lasted just a few minutes, but so many of the details are rich and vivid to me.

The wind was coming from the north not the south, which was unusual for that time of year. And my wheels made a distinct rumbling sound as they rolled across the rural Texas airstrip. I remember the smell of the warm engine oil, and how it drifted into the cockpit as I prepared to take off. There was also the smell of freshly cut grass in the air.

I have a clear recollection of how my body felt - this heightened sense of alertness - as I taxied to the end of the runway, went through my checklist, and got ready to go. And I recall the moment the plane lifted into the air and, just three minutes later, how I would need to return to the runway, intensely focused on the tasks in hand.

All these memories are with me still.

A pilot can take off and land thousands of times in his life, and so much of it feels like a speeding blur. But almost always, there is a particular flight that challenges a pilot or teaches or changes him, and every sensory moment of that experience remains in his head forever.

Chesley Sullenberger, (1967) 2009

Song lyrics

Two superb song lyrics written by rock musicians who are pilots, and a few written by fine musicians who clearly are not pilots but still write great songs.

Pink Floyd, Learning to Fly (1987)

This was my theme song for overcoming fear in any situation for many years before I began learning to fly myself. Only then did I realise just how good it is. Nick Mason is a private pilot, and has captured the journey from terror to glory incomparably.

One really needs to listen to it: the instrumental break between the second and third verses is backed with voices recorded from Mason's band colleague Rick Wright in the run-ups in a flying lesson. I still can't call "Ready for departure" without goosebumps.

Mind you, the day I can call "Ready for departure" without goosebumps will be the day I should stop flying.

Into the distance, a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reel
A fatal attraction is holding me fast
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

Can't keep my eyes from the circling sky
Tongue-tied and twisted just an earthbound misfit, I

Ice is forming on the tips of my wings
Unheeded warnings, I thought I'd thought of everything
No navigator to find my way home
Unladen, empty and turned to stone

A soul in tension, that's learning to fly
Condition grounded but determined to try
Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies
Tongue-tied and twisted just an earthbound misfit, I

Above the planet on a wing and a prayer,
My grubby halo, a vapour trail in the empty air
Across the clouds I see my shadow fly
Out of the corner of my watering eye
A dream unthreatened by the morning light
Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night

There's no sensation to compare with this
Suspended animation, a state of bliss
Can't keep my mind from the circling skies
Tongue-tied and twisted just an earthbound misfit, I

Iron Maiden, Coming Home (2010)

Bruce Dickinson is a commercial airline pilot as well as one of the great front men in rock. I'm not a regular fan of heavy metal, but this is too real to resist.

When I stand before you shining in the early morning sun
When I feel the engines roar and I think of what we've done
Oh the bittersweet reflection as we kiss the earth goodbye
As the waves and echoes of the towns become the ghosts of time

Over borders that divide the earthbound tribes
No creed and no religion just a hundred winged souls
We will ride this thunderbird, silver shadows on the earth
A thousand leagues away, our land of birth

To Albion's land
Coming home when I see the runway lights
In the misty dawn the night is fading fast
Coming home, far away as their vapor trails align
Where I've been tonight, you know I will not stay

Curving on the edge of daylight til it slips into the void
Waited in the long night, dreaming til the sun is born again
Stretched the fingers of my hand, covered countries with my span
Just a lonely satellite, speck of dust and cosmic sand

Over borders that divide the earthbound tribes
Through the dark Atlantic; over mounting stormy waves
We will ride this thunderbird, silver shadows on the earth
A thousand leagues away, our land of birth

To Albion's land
Coming home when I see the runway lights
In the misty dawn the night is fading fast
Coming home, far away as their vapor trails align
Where I've been tonight, you know I will not stay

To Albion's land
Coming home when I see the runway lights
In the misty dawn the night is fading fast
Coming home, far away as their vapor trails align
Where I've been tonight, you know I will not stay
Coming home, far away when I see the runway lights
In the misty dawn the night is fading fast
Coming home, far away as their vapor trails align
Where I've been tonight, you know I will not stay

Foo Fighters, Learn to Fly (1999)

Q: "If you could wake up tomorrow, having gained one ability or quality what would it be?"
Dave Grohl: "Learning to fly. I would love to be able to get in a plane and take it from one point to another by myself."

Run and tell all of the angels
This could take all night
Think I need a devil to help me get things right
Hook me up a new revolution
Cause this one is a lie
We sat around laughing and watched the last one die

And I'm looking to the sky to save me
Looking for a sign of life
Looking for something to help me burn out bright

I'm looking for a complication
Looking cause I'm tired of lying
Make my way back home when I learn to fly

I think I'm done nursing patience
It couldn't wait one night
I'd give it all away if you give me one last try
We'll live happily ever trapped if you just save my life
Run and tell the angels that everything is alright...

I'm looking to the sky to save me
Looking for a sign of life
Looking for something to help me burn out bright

I'm looking for a complication
Looking cause I'm tired of trying
Make my way back home when I learn to fly

Fly along with me, I can't quite make it alone
Try to make this life my own

And I'm looking to the sky to save me
Looking for a sign of life
Looking for something to help me burn out bright

I'm looking for a complication
Looking cause I'm tired of trying
Make my way back home when I learn to fly
Make my way back home when I learn to fly

Foo Fighters, Wheels (2009)

Grohl has said that "a song like Wheels would not exist if it weren't for Learn to Fly": ten years later, there is a thematic link here.

I know what you're thinkin'
We were goin' down
I could feel us sinkin'
But then I came around

And everyone I've loved before
Flashed before my eyes
And nothin' mattered anymore
I looked into the sky

Well I wanted something better man
I wished for something new
And I wanted something beautiful
I wished for something true
Been lookin' for a reason man
Something to lose

When the wheels touch ground
And you feel like it's all over
There's another round for you
When the wheels come down

I know your head is spinnin'
Broken hearts will mend
This is our beginning
Comin to an end

Well, you wanted something better man
You wished for something new
Well, you wanted something beautiful
Wished for something true
Been lookin for a reason man
Something to lose

When the wheels come down
When the wheels touch ground
And you feel like it's all over
There's another round for you
When the wheels come down

Tom Petty, Learning to Fly (1991)

A silly jingly pop song by comparison to the Pink Floyd of the same name, but worth including. No way of knowing from this whether he's ever tried to land an aeroplane.

Well, I started out down a dirty road
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up, the world got still

I'm learning to fly but I ain't got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

Well, the good ol' days may not return
And the rocks might melt and the sea may burn

I'm learning to fly but I ain't got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

Well, some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I've started out for God knows where
I guess I'll know when I get there

I'm learning to fly around the clouds
But what goes up must come down

I'm learning to fly but I ain't got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing
I'm learning to fly around the clouds
But what goes up must come down

I'm learning to fly
I'm learning to fly

Marah, Crying on an Airplane (2002)

There should be different words for pilot-flying and commercial-passenger-flying. If you sat in the back seat of someone else's car from Queenstown to Wellington you don't say "I drove", but if I say "I flew" it's assumed I sat in a back seat on a commercial aeroplane. Understandable, I guess; but it would be nice to have a succinct way to make it clear.

I don't collect songs about passenger-flying; but this one is wonderfully evocative. I'll – just – forgive the detail that the clouds don't hide the stars above 33,000 feet amsl. It deserves to be better known.

I've been crying on an airplane
Above the ocean
In the bathroom

I've been crying on an airplane
Near the heavens
In economy

I've been crying on an airplane
Filled with questions
Drinking small wines

I've been crying on an airplane
Because I'm leaving
This is unbearable

I make the firmaments seem darker now than ever
As night clouds hide away the stars
Closing in on me with eyes so red and wild
Staring out the window wishing I was where you are

I've been crying on an airplane
Shaking slightly
Lost in turbulence

I've been crying on an airplane
Because I lost love
And found new love

I've been crying on an airplane
Sleeping travelers
Hear me weeping

I've been crying on an airplane
The duty-free girl
She squeezed my shoulder

I've been crying on an airplane
Racing forward
Like a sad bird

Chris Rea, Ace of Hearts (1988)

This has only one reference to flying, and a muddled one at that, but as a song it's too good to leave out.

Could this be true, could this be me?
the one who kept himself so high and free.
Caught up in the highest game of all
and all my defences tumble and fall.
And only the ace of hearts can save me now.

I wake in early hours and I call your name.
And it's your face I see pressed up against my window pane.
And suddenly I realise
as the tears start to flow like rain from the sky
only the ace of hearts can save me now.

Ace of hearts, tell me what's this game you're playing.
Ace of hearts, it's all down to you, yeah.
I'm lost, lost like a child in a strange dream.
but open your doors and pull me...
pull me...
pull me through...

And I am flying like the wind in the dead of night.
I'm flying so high, searching for them landing lights.
I've never been this way before,
but darling all I need is your love more and more.
Only the ace of hearts can save me now.

I said only the ace of hearts can save me now.
I said only the ace of hearts can save me now.

Anything else

Widely quoted, but included here anyway: perfect.

More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination.

Wilbur Wright, 1905 (?)

Flying with Vincent D'Ath of Abel Tasman Air, Motueka, New Zealand was one of the privileges of a lifetime. Watching the geological eras exposed along the coast unroll from 500 feet amsl, landing on the beach power-really-off, sneaking up crabwise to a dip in a range of hills almost at tree-top height until suddenly the floor of the next valley plummeted away, contouring along the ridgelines so close one could almost touch them, sheer joy — and only possible through his years of passionate experience. Thank you.

It's a good playground, isn't it?

Vincent D'Ath, 2008

John Farley is best known as the chief test pilot on the Harrier. A View from the Hover should be required reading for every pilot: the final chapter, "General Aviation Thoughts", can teach you more of real value than almost anything in the PPL syllabus.

My first flying lesson was in an RAF Piston Provost in December 1955 and my most recent was my last working flight because you can learn something about flying and yourself every time you get airborne.

John Farley, 2008

What made me need to learn to fly was not going up with my dear Uncle Kenny in his Beechcraft Bonanza as a child, but a "scenic" flight out of Ushuaia a few years ago, just two of us and a very young Argentinian pilot in an elderly PA28, out east along the Beagle Channel, quick nip north into the hills and then back, holding the north shore to stay well clear of Chilean air space, and we talked about that a bit. So the first of these two quotes (from the depths of the Cold War) resonated with the second for me, especially this afternoon at 2000 feet over the Humber estuary.

As I patrol the border, and I look for this Iron Curtain that I have heard so much about, I see nothing... The grass is just as green on their side, the same sun beats down on their soil, we seem to share a common breeze. Why, from up here, this road, that railway display no favouritism, they run a constant course across the whole landscape. The river cares not about nationalism as it flows on.

Robert Prest, 1979

I have imagined teaching the aerial view. The best approach would be to apprentice young children as I was apprenticed, to teach them without elaboration simply by flying them to different places, encouraging them to navigate, and to make the translations between maps and the world. Effortlessly they would develop the habit of seeing the world from above, and the more subtle trick while on the ground of understanding the scale and orientation of their surroundings. Flying at its best is a way of thinking. Because of that, once having left the earth's surface, people never again quite return to it.

William Langewiesche, 1998

More links

More collections of aviation quotes. I'm sure there are others out there: these are my current favourites.