80 Year old advice is still valid

While reading Macarthur Job’s book “Into Oblivion: the Southern Cloud enigma” (as mentioned in my previous blog entry) I encountered over some sagely aviation advice that was written in 1930 that still rings true today.

The book has a set of appendices that contain documents & articles written around 1930 including an article on “Blind Flying” written by Travis W. Shortridge, the captain of the Southern Cloud at the time it disappeared. At the end of his article, Shortridge made the following observation:

The success or otherwise of ‘the airway’ is in the hands of the people who do the work – the pilots. In their hands rests everything. No man can be born a fully-trained pilot; no pilot can ever be fully trained. All pilots should ever be learning, ever striving to increase their own efficiency. Efficiency begets confidence, and thus safety. So aim at being safe.

He then also discussed airmanship and how there is much more to flying than just the actual stick & rudder work:

Somehow ‘airmanship’, which is not just flying, but is everything flying means, is a very neglected subject … If only young pilots would forget that a ‘joy stick’ is in many ways only a secondary consideration, that ‘circuits and landings’ do not make a pilot, that they never will learn all that the air can teach them, and that advice from old hands should never be disregarded – well, lots of young pilots would still be pilots!

No matter what you are flying, Shortridge’s words apply to anyone who leaves the surface of our planet to experience the freedom of the air and beyond. It’s amazing to consider that after over 80 years, these comments still ring true in today’s aviation environment. Despite all our technological advancements and improvements in the way we train pilots, we continue to return to problems that have their root cause in the human aspects of attitude, ego and awareness.

There are indications that insurance companies, training organisations and government aviation regulators are starting to realise that beyond practical test standards and raw figures of accumulated hours there lies the core attitudes and mental processes of the pilots themselves. We are hearing the phrase “you can’t legislate professionalism” and encountering questionnaires & surveys to assess a pilot’s personality & approach to problem solving. Certainly these may be steps towards finally addressing the common issues that no amount of technology can resolve but I still cannot help but wonder whether we’ll be making comments like Shortridge’s in another 80 years?

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