The original AOPA Flight Training magazine article ‘The Art of Airmanship’ closed with this thought:
In the end, airmanship really is about pride-pride in learning as much as you can about the history and pioneers of aviation, developing your knowledge and skills to the best of your ability, honing your command qualities, and fully accepting the duties and responsibilities that come with exercising the privileges of your certificate.
There’s a lot of reasonable stuff there, but unpacking it I felt the emphasis on pride wasn’t quite right. Pride is a complex secondary emotion. But I couldn’t articulate the details. Then last night, Roland Delhomme, a glider and powered-airplane pilot, wrote this amazing analysis:
“On humility vs pride: I’ve seen a lot of pilots with the wrong kind of pride and exceptionally high stick and rudder skills who met their end over a lack of judgement or a capacity for humility. Let’s be honest; whoever is so dead to themselves and the experience of flight that they lack pride is probably someone who is also without shame or a capacity for it; someone whose moral compass follows its own arbitrary north when convenient, or who is immune to good advice, or having the best summoned of their humanity; in other words, someone who may fly very well, but whose demise won’t surprise those who know them best; the flyer who cuts corners, lets others cut their safety margins, lacks the spine to object or the courage to speak up; someone who has burned out on flying but may be very, very good-or sloppy and unaccountable to reason, unavailable to criticism or lacking the humility to be compelled to improve. Someone who goes through the motions, has become jaded, cynical, and remains in it for the paycheck, the ego boost or the status. A truly healthy form of pride rejects the above, and leads one to set a higher personal standard, and in its highest form, compels one to share and set a better example. Ultimately, a healthy pride calls on us to take leave of a situation we can no longer in good conscience be part of, or it leads us to fight for better; not to hang back and be passive-agressive.
“In the wake of an HQ FAA scandal this week, where we learn (surprise) that controllers are human and vulnerable to fatigue like the rest of us, we run across an FAA that is acting out as a rogue; keeping it’s failings out of sight, holding out, stonewalling-acting like the kind of airman profiled in Colonel Tony Kern’s remarkable book, Darker Shades of Blue, a follow on to Redefining Airmanship and Flight Discipline.
“A B-1 pilot and USAF Academy instructor, Kern’s treatment of airmanship, disciplime and his piercing insights on good pilots gone bad offer scary insights into character, human nature and that quality of humanity so much on display when you meet the greats: humility. I think that there are, and always will be pilots who fly for a living who’d just as soon walk away from it, and some who have come to hate their field, but who display uncommon character and judgement-and I worked with one such pilot, one who had a reputation for being difficult, demanding and standoffish, only to find that it was he who had been unfairly labeled by those who doggedly refused to embrace a standard of safety and care that was rooted in a good kind of pride; one that demanded of him that he not break the trust with his passengers and crew, one that demanded of him that he say ‘no’ when it wasn’t the popular choice-but the right one.
“I have also seen the pilot who has been broken by the system, disillusioned and bereft of passion, deflated and lacking the professional pride to uphold their commitment to their brethren, their passengers and the public; a pilot who’ll go along with a bad decision, whose fight has left them, who meekly does as they’re told and only complains inwardly, building resentment; you cannot count on them to do the right thing, and they are a toxic catalyst for apathy driven situations and the kind of grinding disaffected state of mediocrity that breeds and festers in an organization that has lost hope, direction and espirit de corps.
“I think pride is a double edged sword and that many have a narrow definition of it. I also know that pride drives people to not share their mind on what troubles them, or that prideful competitiveness mixed with immaturity, makes for lethal combination, or that it can be used to goad, to challenge someone into proving themselves; I’ve seen crew scheduling use this to pit pilots against each other, with the schedule bid up for grabs and flying hours on the line. Pride can be an exploitable point of leverage, or the point where you say ‘NO.’ It depends on your definition…
“Humility, on the other hand, can exist at any level, but across the top of the field, pilots I’ve known with 40K hour logbooks and over 50, 60 years in flying tend to posess a kind of zen about them, and they don’t need to prove themselves to anyone but themselves. Their pride prevents them from doing something stupid, and guides them to set a better example, mentor the new kids and share of their experience, not to inflate their egos or polish their status, but out of an appreciation for how lucky they were to survive their own learning moments, and the satisfaction that comes from seeing someone else take wing. There’s false bravado and false pride, and then there’s the quiet confidence that comes from humility-and ability greater than ego.
“Sometimes you find the right mindset in new pilots; they can’t learn enough, they’re coachable, earnest, and know their place in the food chain: the sky doesn’t care what school you attended or what rating you have, what pilot’s watch you wear to impress, but never learned to use; it is a harsh but incredibly blind and fair judge… The fool who equates piloting with masculinity tiptoes past the fact that ladies aren’t ego bound by testosterone; no, they take potshots at the girls as if it somehow gives them a steady hand on the next approach to minimums. I’ve picked up the pieces behind such types; such people are afraid of what they see in the mirror and lack the compass to find their own way.
“When the sky hands out a moment of truth, gender, ego, logbook and rating all go out the window. There is no headstone that reads: “He had a lot of pride” or “Biggest Ego”. Maybe we need epitaphs that score us on how well we were guided by integrity, professionalism and how we faced our challenges.
“In the end, I think character, integrity and humility underpin that more healthy definition of pride and separate it from false pride, and that those who recall how much trust is invested in them are bound by their humanity-and pride, to do the right thing. In the case of the FAA’s scandal, they have been shameless-that is the issue; they were stonewalling NTSB and Capitol Hill, they have abrogated the trust; failed to meet their own charter, by undermining the trust so carefully earned over decades. The issue was not that people get tired, but rather that a mismanaged agency would hide its skeletons with such audacity that they lost the big picture.
“It is not the act of rank and file at FAA but of some, in leadership, who have kept the truth about a NASA study from the flying public and us, who depend on our teammates in ATC, too many of whom are subjects trapped within an organization that operates with a split personality and a hefty dose of raw nerve that comes from political cover. At the top of FAA there is no fear of discovery, no fear of repercussion; those responsible are dead inside, immune to outrage and too stiff necked to change their ways. It’s deadly when it happens in the cockpit, and no less tolerable on the ground.
“Good airmanship demands of us that above all, like the Hippocratic Oath, we do no harm to those below, those who have no say in where our shadow falls or our lesser decisions may land. When we forget that, or accept less from our peers, we are ourselves diminished.
“The art of knowing ourselves and being responsible for our active decisions is rooted in understanding that what we accept by default is as much ours to own up to as that which we choose.
I told you it was good!