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Quotations on flyingQuotations on flying

The magic of flying has inspired generations. These 35 quotes distill wit and wisdom from more than a century of powered flight—on flying as well as life.

It isn’t often that a writer of superlative skills knows enough about flying to write well about it.
— Samuel Hynes, A Teller of Tales Tells His Own, in The New York Times, 7 September 1997.

Anyone can do the job when things are going right. In this business we play for keeps.
— Ernest K. Gann 

Orville Wright's first flight. Photo by John T. Daniels
The iconic image of Orville Wright's first flight with Wilbur running alongside the right wing as the craft broke earth's gravity near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, almost didn't happen. Coast Guardsman John T. Daniels was thrust into the limelight when he was tasked with operating Wilbur's boxy Korona-V glass-plate camera to document the Wright brothers flight into history Dec. 17, 1903. Photo by John T. Daniels.

It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.
— Wilbur Wright

What is chiefly needed is skill rather than machinery.
— Wilbur Wright, letter to Octave Chanute, 13 May 1900

Betty Skelton in the cockpit of the Pitts S-1C Little Stinker.. Smithsonian Institute:
Betty Skelton in the cockpit of the Pitts S-1C Little Stinker.. Smithsonian Institute:

Man is not as good as a black box for certain specific things. However he is more flexible and reliable. He is easily maintained and can be manufactured by relatively unskilled labour.
— Wing Commander H. P. Ruffell Smith, RAF, 1949

The way I see it, you can either work for a living or you can fly airplanes. Me, I’d rather fly.
— Len Morgan

He moves not through distance, but through the ranges of satisfaction that come from hauling himself up into the air with complete and utter control; from knowing himself and knowing his airplane so well that he can come somewhere close to touching, in his own special and solitary way, that thing that is called perfection.
— Richard Bach, A Gift of Wings

Charles Lindbergh, with Spirit of St. Louis in background. Restored by Crisco 1492 from File:Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of Saint Louis.tif (removed dust, scratches, including black spots on the wings which may or may not have been there in the original).
Charles Lindbergh, with Spirit of St. Louis in background. Restored by Crisco 1492 from File:Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of Saint Louis.tif (removed dust, scratches, including black spots on the wings which may or may not have been there in the original).

Accuracy means something to me. It’s vital to my sense of values. I’ve learned not to trust people who are inaccurate. Every aviator knows that if mechanics are inaccurate, aircraft crash. If pilots are inaccurate, they get lost—sometimes killed. In my profession life itself depends on accuracy.
— Charles A. Lindbergh, ‘The Spirit of St. Louis,’ 1953

An airplane might disappoint any pilot but it’ll never surprise a good one.
— Len Morgan

From a safety standpoint, in our view one of the things that we do in the basic design is the pilot always has the ultimate authority of control. There’s no computer on the airplane that he cannot override or turn off if the ultimate comes. In terms of any of our features, we don’t inhibit that totally. We make it difficult, but if something in the box should behave inappropriately, the pilot can say ‘This is wrong’ and he can override it. That’s a fundamental difference in philosophy that we have versus some of the competition.
— John Cashman, Chief Test Pilot Boeing 777

A pilot who says he has never been frightened in an airplane is, I’m afraid, lying.
— Louise Thaden

I’ve never seen an airplane yet that can read the type ratings on your pilot’s license.
— Chuck Boedecker

Legacy 500
Legacy 500

The best safety device is the pilot, who, deep down, regardless of the aircraft, retains a sense of fallibility and vulnerability. No system can ever substitute for that.
— Arnold Reiner, retired airline captain and a former director of flight safety at Pan Am, end of Pilots on Autopilot op-ed, the New York Times, 16 December 2009

Get rid at the outset of the idea that the airplane is only an air-going sort of automobile. It isn’t. It may sound like one and smell like one, and it may have been interior decorated to look like one; but the difference is—it goes on wings.
— Wolfgang Langewiesche, first words of Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying, 1944

By U.S. Air Force photo - Air Force Link, Public Domain,
By U.S. Air Force photo - Air Force Link, Public Domain,

I was always afraid of dying. Always. It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment, and kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit.
— General Chuck Yeager, ‘Yeager, An Autobiography.

Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.
— Franklin P. Jones

Prepare for the unknown, unexpected and inconceivable … after 50 years of flying I’m still learning every time I fly.
— Gene Cernan

Sikorsky Skycrane
Sikorsky Skycrane

I could be president of Sikorsky for six months before they found me out, but the president would only have my job for six seconds before he’d kill himself.
— Walter R. ‘Dick’ Faull, test pilot

Keep the aeroplane in such an attitude that the air pressure is always directly in the pilot’s face.
— Horatio C. Barber, 1916

When a flight is proceeding incredibly well, something was forgotten.
— Robert Livingston, Flying The Aeronca>

Never fly the ‘A’ model of anything.
— Ed Thompson

You’ve got to expect things are going to go wrong. And we always need to prepare ourselves for handling the unexpected.
— Neil Armstrong, 2005

By NASA - Great Images in NASA Description, Public Domain,
By NASA - Great Images in NASA Description, Public Domain,

Though I Fly Through the Valley of Death I Shall Fear No Evil For I am 80,000 feet and Climbing.
— sign over the entrance to the SR-71 operating location on Kadena AB Okinawa

Better to hit the far fence at 10 knots than the close fence at VRef.
— Captain Rick Davies, Chief Pilot, Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (Queensland Section), advice given to new captains

Never fly in the same cockpit with someone braver than you.
— Richard Herman Jr, Firebreak.

Wright Type A Airplane - Orville Wright at Ft. Myer, Va. - Sept. 9, 1908
Wright Type A Airplane - Orville Wright at Ft. Myer, Va. - Sept. 9, 1908

Learning the secret of flight from a bird was a good deal like learning the secret of magic from a magician. After you know what to look for you see things that you did not notice when you did not know exactly what to look for.
— Orville Wright

I saw for the first time the earth’s shape. I could easily see the shores of continents, islands, great rivers, folds of the terrain, large bodies of water. The horizon is dark blue, smoothly turning to black… the feelings which filled me I can express with one word—joy.
— Yuri A. Gagarin

Remember, you fly an airplane with your head, not your hands and feet.
— Bevo Howard

For all professional pilots there exists a kind of guild, without charter and without by-laws. It demands no requirements for inclusion save an understanding of the wind, the compass, the rudder, and fair fellowship.
— Beryl Markham, West With the Night, 1942

The Cub is the safest airplane in the world; it can just barely kill you.
— attributed to Max Stanley, Northrop test pilot

What kind of man would live where there is no daring? I don’t believe in taking foolish chances, but nothing can be accomplished without taking any chance at all.
— Charles A. Lindbergh, at a news conference after his trans-Atlantic flight.

For the first time I was flying by jet propulsion. No engine vibrations. No torque and no lashing sound of the propeller. Accompanied by a whistling sound, my jet shot through the air. Later when asked what it felt like, I said, ‘It felt as though angels were pushing.’
— Generalleutnant Adolf Galland, on his first flight in a jet, the Messerschmitt 262, May 1943

When the weight of the paper equals the weight of the airplane, only then you can go flying.
— attributed to Donald Douglas (Mr. DC-n)

Captain: Got any ideas?
F/O: Actually not.
Captain Chesley B ‘Sully’ Sullenberger III and F/O Jeff Skiles, flying an unpowered Airbus A320 over New York after suffering a bird strike that disabled both engines. They glided perfectly into the Hudson river with no loss of life. US Airways flight 1549, 15 January 2009.

By Frederick J. Phillips - Own work, CC BY 2.0 de,
Bob Hoover
Bob Hoover

I don’t think I possess any skill that anyone else doesn’t have. I’ve just had perhaps more of an opportunity, more of an exposure, and been fortunate to survive a lot of situations that many other weren’t so lucky to make it. It’s not how close can you get to the ground, but how precise can you fly the airplane. If you feel so careless with your life that you want to be the world’s lowest flying aviator you might do it for a while. But there are a great many former friends of mine who are no longer with us simply because they cut their margins too close.
— Bob Hoover

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.
Topics: Pilots, Aviation Industry

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