The Inner Art of Airmanship

Mindset Two: Centered Within

The mind of the pilot is centered within you. There can be no reliance on props or tricks when fully flying. Of course we fly the wing, by the book, using crew resource management — but you are pilot-in-command centered in the sky.

When you decide to go flying, make flying the center of the world. It’s been joked that pilots are guys who talk about women when they are flying, and talk about flying when they are with women. That may be true for some. But not for pilots who wish to master inner airmanship. We must focus on flying when flying. There is so much to take notice of, thinking about other stuff can only get in the way. Just as seamanship infers an intimate appreciation of surface wave action, winds, tides,  currents and sea movement; so airmanship requires an intimate appreciation of atmospheric waves, winds aloft, shears, eddies, lapse rates, and much more. We must allow ourselves to immerse into our airborne environment. We must put aside other things when we wish to really fly. (And when I’m on the ground with my wonderful wife, then I put aside flying and focus on her.)

We've known what attention is for a long time. The founding father of American psychology, William James, had this to say about it:

Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought … It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatter-brained state. (James, 1890.)

When you are flying, cut through everything else and focus on the flying. We sanctify each moment with the quality of our attention. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those nerds who talks only about the systems manual. On airline overnights I do enjoy going out sometimes. As an example, I remember shortly after 9/11 being on the Caribbean island of Saint Maartin, where possibly I purchased one or two (or five?) rounds of Goldschlager liquor shots to wash down the beer. This later caused my first officer to throw-up on a lap dancer. I have lots of great times on trips without thinking about flying. But the next day, when it’s time to go flying, I give the checklist quality attention. In the sea of air, within the up and down and left and right, I center.

I thought the expression 'green at the gills' was just some old goofy saying. But the poor first officer actually looked a sad shade of green, his complexion matching some of the turquoise greens of the Caribbean Sea. The jumpseater in the cockpit wanted to talk about the big party last night, and was searching for topless ladies sunning themselves on the beach. The view of the rocky island from the Maho beach end of the runway was spectacular. But this was the time to center. This is the time to focus. A mistake here will lead to disaster. So I discuss our method for setting max power at brake release, brief the departure past the steeply rising terrain, review engine-out procedures around said terrain, note options regards emergency return to airport at max gross weight, remember the non-radar ATC departure procedures, and a few other items. I am prepared for flight. No one else can do this for me but me. It’s the quiet calm of the professional who is preparing for battle. I’m expecting a peaceful look at the beautiful blues of Simpson Bay. But ready nonetheless for an engine to explode and all hell to break loose.

This should not be hard. When eating breakfast, taste every oat. When paying taxes, every penny counts. When flying, just be flying. I would do a preflight, and then Sam would ask me what the oil level was and what color was that oil. Did I open my eyes? Did I notice? Did I center on the moment and focus on the preflight? He said pilots rarely get their head bitten off by a sudden tiger, but rather pilots most often get nibbled to death by ducks. If you can notice the first couple of ducks — the slight increase in oil temperature, the shifting winds aloft, the hurried preflight — then you are in control, not fate or luck or demons. Airline pilots practice for the tigers, the engine failure right at rotation, the landing in 600 foot visibility, but more accidents are ducks nibbling away at the safety margin. Check the weather. Check the plane. Have your mind ready to notice the ducks.

Paul Strachan, the head of Air Canada’s pilots' union, highlighted the duck problem this way:

It almost never happens in real life like it happens in a simulator. It’s almost never textbook. You practise it one way and when something finally does happen, it’s always way more nebulous and insidious. (Sorensen, 2011).

We can not prepare for every problem in advance. But we can study the habits of people that survive these nebulous and insidious attacks, and learn from them.

Psychologist Al Siebert has studied the personality and mental traits of survivors, including people that manage to avoid getting in accidents. He stresses the importance of paying attention to what is really happening right now, and being open to creating mental models that reflect todays reality rather than yesterdays weather or our memories of averages or textbooks or whatever. The survivor does not, “impose pre-existing patterns on new information, but rather allows new information to reshape [his mental models]. The person who has the best chance of handling a situation well is usually the one with the best … mental pictures or images of what is occuring outside of the body" (Siebert, 1993).

Researchers working with motivated experienced airline pilots in simulators at NASA’s Ames Research Center have seen what happens when we don’t allow new information to reshape our mental models. In testing new head-up displays (HUDs) the pilots flew 31 increasingly difficult approaches, both with and without the HUD. What the pilots were not told was on some runs there was a chance that right before the flare, a huge DC-10 would pull out onto the threshold of the landing runway. This photograph shows the simulator pilot’s forward visual scene at an altitude of 72 feet and 131 knots:

from Haines (1991) figure 17-1

(Simulated view, from Haines (1991) figure 17-1).

Two of the pilots never saw the DC-10! They were so intent on lookind at the glowing green HUD they would have crashed right into the jumbo jet. During the experimental debrief, one of the pilots was shown the simulator videotape and reported, “if I didn’t see it [now], I wouldn’t believe it. I honestly didn’t see anything on that runway” (Haines, 1991). We must focus on flying on flying, not thinking about grocey lists, but we must open our mind’s eye to allow ourselves to see todays reality.

A classic case study here is the 1972 crash of Eastern Airlines flight 401 (NTSB, 1973). It was the first crash of a wide-body aircraft (a four-month-old L-1011), and at the time it was the deadliest aviation accident in the United States. A single green landing gear down indicator did not light up due to a burned out light bulb. The crew of three became so focused on working the problem of the landing gear down indicator that when the autopilot (holding 2000 feet altitude over the Florida Everglades) was accidental knocked off, no one noticed the altimeters showing a gentle descent. No one noticed the altitude warning C-chord chime when the assigned altitude was exceeded. Minutes later, but only seconds before impact, the captain exclaimed “Hey — what’s happening here?” It was too late. In crewed cockpits we learnt that someone has to be focused on flying the plane while others troubleshoot a problem. For single pilots, we learned that you can not allow yourself to become distracted away from flying for too long. Psychologists call this phenomenon of not noticing stuff outside a too-tight mental focus inattentional blindness. As pilots, we must actively manage our awareness to not allow blindness in the cockpit.

While we don’t yet understand every neuro pathway in the long chain (actually chains, as the river of information splits into several streams) along the way from eyeball to central consciousness, even Psychology 101 students are taught about bottom up and top down processing. The input from the eyes is called bottom up, neurons reacting solely to new signals coming in. And since we choose what to pay attention to, there is a top down element from consciousness that signals to the unconscious what is considered to be important, what signals to process in the streams. Mindfulness is a complex associative function, realized by expectant interactive networks. You must focus (top down) but you must allow a novel reality (like the DC-10 or the unwinding altimeter) to come in (bottom up). Folks that meditate are better at this complex neurological dance. But we can all learn. Mindfulness definitions often include the words nonjudgemental, open, accepting and curious. All of these attitudes are important in the cockpit.

The way to get better at focusing on the right now right here is to let everything else fall away, and make the total effort to be present in what you are doing. At my current airline, each plane has a different name painted on the nose and there are several paint schemes on the tails. It is amazing, when you are just doing the motions of a preflight, when maybe your mind is elsewhere, that you can check for doors and leaks and brake condition and tire tread wear and on and on — but have no idea of the name of the plane or the paint scheme. Must notice more. Must be more mindful. Must center on the moment.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, is a scientist, educator, writer, and meditation teacher who has carefully studied this issue. His definition of minfulness is, well, pretty definitive: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, as if your life depended on it.” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994.) I think landing a plane forces mindfulness on us. The tricky part is learning how to enter this mindset in the rest of our flying.

Reno P-40 warbird pilot John-Curtiss Paul (yep, named after the plane) described his mental state in the cockpit this way:

It’s where I am the most serious at any given time in my life. Every time. All the jokes go out the window and you focus on your environment. There’s something incredibly rewarding about having that total focus, and achieving that is an incredible feeling. (Scribner, 2014.)

He uses the wonderful phrase careful eagerness when looking forward to going out and use all his facilities to do everything correctly. And he is not expecting an easy no-problems flight, but knows that, “the times I’ve had things go wrong, those are probably the most rewarding experiences. Handling it appropriately is a pretty neat feeling.”

Famous British war hero and test pilot Eric 'Winkle' Brown flew 487 different types of aircraft, more than any other pilot, ever. He had 2407 carrier traps, survived 11 crashes, and is one of the most decorated pilots in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. In a 2013 BBC interview he said, “I was always meticulous in my preparation.” He noted that while other pilots would say kick your tyres, light your fires, and the last one off’s a sissy; “I was not of that school at all.” (Tracey & Ailes, 2013.)

Sam liked that word, meticulous. He also liked the quote from Laozi, now over 2500 years old, that “the master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.” We can practice much, we can hope for much, but we should give ourselves up to what is today, now.

Various experts place the blame for 70% to 80% of aviation accidents on pilot error. Rather than the wing falling off, the pilot drives the plane into the hill five miles short of the runway. But since visionaries like RAF pilot turned aviation human factors scientist David Beaty noticed this years ago during WWII, the percentage has stayed about the same. We have had huge leaps of understand in ergonomics, human factors, and crew resource management (CRM) but still accidents happen. Why?

When a great safety device is invented and added to, say, automobiles, great declines in accident rates are predicted. And for a while accidents involving whatever failure mode involved do indeed go down. Unfortunately, soon after that the total accident rate creeps up again. This is based on a zoological concept known as the risk compensation effect. It is thought that the driver, now feeling safer, starts to rely on the device and ends up driving with about the same risk. Anti-lock brakes (ABS, first invented for airplanes) are great but now I can drive a little faster in the rain. All-wheel-drive is awesome, because now I can still drive to the movies when it is snowing an inch an hour. The most effective way to reduce the real accident record is to educate the driver in real risk management. And for the driver to put the education into practice everyday.

We can not rely on the stall warning system. The autopilot should not be a crutch. CRM will not help out if nobody in the cockpit can hand fly the crippled airplane home. When you strap an airplane on, you assume the duties and responsibilities of the pilot in command. Be ready. This is the time to let the wind noise blow outside, and for quiet calm to reign inside.

You are one with the aircraft. Which sounds so much like a cliché that I hesitate to even write it down. But it is true and it is amazing. Neil Williams, RAF test pilot and winner of many international aerobatic competations, wrote in his textbook Aerobatics:

The pilots reacton is that he is an integral part of the aeroplane; but now he must consider this in a different sense, that is, that the aeroplane is now an extension of himself. It is now not going to be a question of moving the controls and the aeroplane does his bidding; he and his aircraft must operate as one integral combination.

This isn’t some modern new-age mumbo-jumbo. Flight Lieutenant William Walker, RAF, asked in a BBC interview to recall being in the Battle of Briton, said, “The Spitfire was a beautiful plane to fly. When you were sitting in it you really were part of the plane.” This was a serious young man fighting for his life — indeed the immediate survival of his county — not some languid cross-legged self-proclaimed guru.

Wiley Post was the first pilot to fly solo around the world, was a test pilot for early pressure suits, discovered the jet stream, and worked on early autopilots. An engineering methodical mechanical pilot legend. And apparently was deeply in touch with the inner art of airmanship:

I tried my best to keep my mind a total blank. I do not mean that I paid no attention to the business of handling the ship, I mean that I did it automatically, without mental effort, letting my actions be wholly controlled by my subconscious mind. (Post and Gatty, 1931).

Wiley’s friend J. H. Conger once said about him, “he didn’t just fly an airplane, he put it on.” (Mohler and Johnson, 1971). Many pilots that perfom at high levels get this connection. NASA test pilot Edward T. Schneider, who flew research variants of the F-8, F-14, F-15, F-18, F-104 and SR-71 as well as 80 other aircraft types, said in an interview:

When I’m in the airplane and I’m on and I know why I’m having a good day, a really good day … I’m literally one with that airplane, I have the feeling that I can do anything with that airplane that physics says you can do … that’s more than just operating, that’s getting in there and joining with it. (Schneider, 1998).

Joining with a machine then performing at the outer limits, what a wonderful aerial world we can enjoy. Indy car racer Johnny Parsons knows the sensation:

And that’s what it’s all about. Trying to get the car to feel like a part of your body. An extension. I get my mind into part of the machinery. And get it to be — like the tires are made of rubber, sure, but when things are right, you can feel the tires in your nerve ends. And when you take a car down into the corner as deep as it'll go and you know it’s on the ragged edge, it’s just like a shot in the arm. It’s such a gratifying feeling that you’ve taken a piece of machinery and kind of glued yourself to it. (Berger & Bortstein, 1977).

Former USAF fighter pilot turned aerobatic champion Mike Mangold now flies in the Red Bull Air Races. He says of flying at the limits, “you’re really alive, but you’re also pretty doggone focused down there.” Dick Rutan, fighter pilot, test pilot and first person to fly around the world without refueling, says:

All flying machines have a unique characteristic in that they almost always try to give prior warning that something is amiss, and a pilot who ignores that subtle hint would do so at his own peril. (Rutan, 2011).

You can glue yourself to an airplane. It takes time, but with lots of study and practice and getting close and letting go, you and the airplane start to blend and then it is time to really fly. One with the wing. This may all sound sentimentally silly and emotionally weak, but let me share what former US Marine aircraft mechanic Story Musgrave thinks about the T-38 supersonic trainer. For those that do not know him, this legendary five-time astronaut who fixed the Hubble space telescope has degrees in mathematics, medicine, chemistry, physiology and literature. He has flown 18,000 hours in something like 160 types of aircraft, including 8,000 hours in the Northrop T-38:

I have kissed this airplane. I know they are not sentient beings, but listen to the emotions of your mind and body. Communication with machines should not only be in abstract terms….  Emotional relationships with inanimate objects is understandable to me, I place my life under its metal skin.

Another master pilot — one who was awarded the Flight Safety Foundation Admiral Luis de Florez Flight Safety Award — is Warren VanderBurgh. He was the driving force behind the Advanced Aircraft Maneuvering Program (AAMP) researched and developed at American Airlines. The AAMP takes acrobatic and air combat maneuvering knowledge and applies it to air transport aircraft experiencing upsets away from normal attitudes and airspeeds. It’s traditional stick and rudder meets fighter pilot aerodynamics meets heavy airliners. It’s a great course. (If you’ve not had the pleasure, maybe a day of professional upset training and aerobatics should be in your future.)

Towards the end of the course captain VanderBurgh talks about automation dependency. While it is appropriate during uneventful cruise flight to have the FMS commanding the autopilot (indeed it is required in RVSM airspace) while the pilots are eating dinner, when close to the ground or handing any abnormality one pilot should very much be 'flying the plane.' It is banged into the heads of professional pilots. Fly The Plane. Sam said it a lot. Fly The Plane. One pilot works the problem, talks to ATC, talks to the passengers, whatever. And one pilot flies the plane. If you are alone, fly the plane first, and work the problem in manageable time bites.

Failure to follow this cardinal rule leads to accidents like the wide-body L-1011 that crashed into the Florida Everglades killing one hundred and one people. The green nosegear light in the cockpit did not come on as they prepraed to land at Miami International. All three cockpit crewmembers — including the 29,700 hour captain and 15,700 hour flight engineer — worked the problem hard, but worked it so hard that all attention was focused on the burnt-out landing-gear light while the autopilot was left alone to slowly descend them down into the ground. The gear was fine. And if hadn’t been down, it could have been extended manually. No one was watching the ship. You must stay centered in the cockpit. You must, whatever happens, fly the plane first.

L1011 3 green

One lightbulb burnt out. 101 people died.

Right after takeoff is not the time to turn on the autopilot and take your hands off the controls and think about what’s on television tonight. On an approach you should intimately know what the  flight path is relative to the power setting and the position of the flight controls. When automation takes an unexpected turn, instead of looking at the FMS and saying, “what’s it doing now,” click off the autothrottles. Click off the autopilot. Then as you safely put the plane back into the desired flight path, say, “why did it do that.” Stay centered. Fly the plane first.

Captain Vanderburgh tells his airline pilot students that, “the pilot flying should remain as one with the aircraft in any low altitude maneuvering environment.” He gets some snickers and groans from the pilot audience when he says 'as one,' but I think he is right. Being one with the plane is not sitting cross-legged in the flight deck reciting chants — it is hands on the pulse of the aircraft. Flying the plane first.

I’ve quoted a lot of expert pilots here, but it is important to note that the aircraft can’t read your resume. It just knows what you do. The good news is that a five-hour fifteen year-old glider student can fly a better approach than her 15,000 hour fifty year-old instructor. The bad news is that even the best can lose situational awareness. Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen Van Zanten was KLM’s chief 747 instructor pilot, a well-known well-respected safety advocate and expert. He was often asked to speak at international safety meetings. His handsome face was seen on KLM’s advertisements in popular magazines.

KLM magazine

Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen Van Zanten in a KLM magazine.

When KLM executives first got word of a deadly B-747 crash in the Canary Islands involving one of their jets, they tried to contact van Zanten in hopes of sending him to Tenerife to aid the investigation team. They could not reach him. For the hands pushing on the four throttles that sealed the fate of almost 600 people in the worst aviation accident in human history were Jacob’s. He was on the cover of KLM’s inflight magazine that month, but the big airliner didn’t care. Copies of the magazine were found blowing around in the wreckage. Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen Van Zanten made a couple of human mistakes, acted a little too fast, and paid for them with his life. Care not about hours in the logbook, but care about today’s flight right now.

Tim Gallway, who wrote many classics like The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner Game of Golf and The Inner Game of Work says that:

If there is one thing that excellence in sports and excellence in work/life have in common, it can be summed up in a single phrase: focutrs of attention. Focus is the quintessential component of superior performance in every activity, no matter what the level of skill or age of the performer. (Green, 2003).

Sam told me that the mind can not be distracted without its own complicity. You are there when it bounces around, and away. When I said I had tried to focus fully on flying, and that it was hard, that it only worked for a short while, Sam asked where the oil temperature needle normally lies after take-off. I did not know. He asked where the horizon cuts the windshield in cruise. I could not express it. The tennis pro repeats the phrase that you have to keep your eye on the ball. The master tennis instructor asks you to notice the seam of the ball every time it comes flying over the net. Sam had me tell him exactly where the horizon was. It is a little different with changing weight and balance and power. Notice the big changes with climb or descent, notice the small changes with fuel burn or changes in humidity.

Another way to find focus is the fly as though an FAA inspector (or your spouse, or your grandkid) is sitting in the seat behind you. If you'd really focus on flying then, why not now? Airline pilots that fly like this have no problems when check airmen or company presidents or whoever really are in the jumpseat. Unfortunately the presence (imagined or not) of people on the airplane can also be bad. We  have to guard against the passenger who is influencing our judgment away from safety. The girlfriend will not be impressed when you crash the plane doing unplanned unapproved aerobatics over her house. The editor-in-chief of Flying magazine carefully analyzed accident rates and found that while most small airplane flights are solo, when an accident is fatal an average of 1.6 people are killed. He wrote, “It looks like the presence of a passenger may make pilots change their behavior” (McClellan, 2010). Pressure on the pilots to land in poor weather possibly caused the death of Polish President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others on a VIP Tu-154. However hard, we must let outside influences fall away and always follow safe flying procedures. Sam said of friends on the flightdeck, “when alone act as you would with company; when receiving guests, maintain the same demeaner as when alone.” Center yourself on flying.

What else helps in finding the center? First try to remove all the things that can pull you away. All the conscious activity at higher and inner brain levels depends intimately on physiological influences such as emotional arousal, mood, fatigue, stress, and the effects of foods, stimulants, and intoxicants. Get some sleep. Sam said it is hard to soar with the eagles if you partied with the owls. If you are experiencing stress, try to mentally lay it aside while you fly. It will be there waiting on the ground when you land. Eat right, carry snacks.

World gliding champion Brian Speckley once noted:

Unless you can relax you can’t make the right decisions. I noticed over the years that most of the guys who won didn’t get upset about anything and they were mostly fairly relaxed. I thought this obviously is very important. I put a lot of effort into being relaxed.

It is clear that emotional states such as fear, anger or extreme elation make it more difficult to think clearly and creatively, to find a calm center. Lay them down, disconnect them if you can, as there is no room in the cockpit for them. Cry later. Enjoy the peace and power of flight without being scared or high or mad as hell. If you can’t keep them out the cockpit, then take care of these problems on the ground. The flying can wait. I remember getting the “you’re hired” phone call from the head of pilot recruitment at a fast-growing airline. Can you start next month? It was my dream job, somehow they picked me while having 10,000 active applications on file. I was grinning from ear-to-ear. I was literally unable to stop myself from dancing. But I had just driven to work at American Eagle, and had to go fly a 50-seat regional jet from Chicago to somewhere in Oklahoma (I think, I can’t remember much about that trip, it’s all an ecstatic blur). I had to do my best to forget the dream job, and all the changes about to happen in my life, and center on flying. It was hard. I was not as safe as I should have been. If the external forces are too strong, you will not be able to center and experience the inner art of airmanship.

I did learn from this experience. Years later, when a trusted doctor quietly told my wife and I that there was a 90% chance that her pregnancy would end in the next week, I called the airline and said I’m not coming into work for a while. I can focus and center in the cockpit pretty good, but sometimes the only choice is to stay on the ground.

Another aspect of being centered in the cockpit is the ability to let go of your errors. We can not be here now doing the right thing if we are thinking about the mistake from five minutes ago. No flight is perfect, and we learn from our mistakes, but there are times we must let it go. Some sports psychologists teach athletes to 'park it' somewhere and get back in the game. Wipe it off onto the bat and swing again. As pilots we must remember this during checkrides. It is done. Park it. Let it go. Move on.

It is a lot of work to perform at checkride intensity levels all the time. It can not be sustained. And forcing effort will wear anybody out. False effort. Lots of trying. But doing is easy. You are centered in the cockpit, and so you do the checklist. You just do it. Wu-wei is the Taoist word for the power of positive not-thinking. Wu-wei is the way of water, or for us maybe it is the way of the wind. It is not the absence of action, but the absence of false outside directed action. Another idea I’ve learnt is Wabi, which means spare, simple and functional. It connotes a transcendence of fad and fashion. The sprit of wabi flows though all the Zen arts and all the best cockpits. There is enough to do in a cockpit that we don’t need to do anything else, so stay centered, fly the plane. Wu-wei and wabi will soon follow.

Sam wrote me one winter that you can’t separate focus from doing your best. Long term or short term, a strong focus is indelibly woven into what it means to face and conquer adversity, to overcome setbacks. Focus helps you discover the problems, and find the solutions. Focus is what drives delibrative practice, the kind of practice that works on hard areas that need improvement rather than just practicing what is already good.

The image Zen teachers like here is the mirror. You should not be distorting the image of the world, adding your own motions. But silently, instantly, and completely reflecting the world. Center yourself in the cockpit, in the universe. Then reflect in your actions any change in the weather, or any mechanical malfunction. You do not have to dwell on fears or consequences for your ego. Whether you are ten feet off your altitude or you have to shut down an engine, you reflect the center of the situation and move with right action. And don’t let worrying about what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.

Let the old mistakes go, don’t dream of the next neat airplane, but instead fly now. We live at a tiny bright sliver, a shiny moving target squeezed between two eternities, the past and the future. Center here. With all the up and down, left and right, yin and yang, ocean of air, world of thoughts — you are flowing like the wind, pilot-in-command, centered. Flying the plane.

A guy at the airport shared his favorite Sam memory with me as we talked about centering in the cockpit. He remembered that Sam said some of the thrill and the contentment of being a pilot was being safe in an unsafe place.

Circumstances in the atmosphere combine to kill the wishful or the distracted.

William Langwiesche

Yesterday is ashes, tomorrow wood. Only today does the fire burn brightly.

Eskimo proverb

A lot of people thought I was praying, but actually I was trying to get focused. Maybe that’s what prayer is.

Greg Louganis

There is no limit to my sight — my skull is one great eye, seeing everywhere at once.

Charles Lindbergh

You are not against nature, you have to fly with nature.

Uli Schwenik

Man masters nature not by force, but by understanding.

Jacob Bronowski

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.

William Arthur Ward

Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.

Michel de Montaigne

Life is what happens to us while we are planning other things.

John Lennon

When you’re in a high performance airplane, you really have to — despite what might be happening in your personal life or things with your job, or things on the ground — you really have to focus on what you’re doing right now.

Scott Kelly

Concentration is an ability to live only in each moment, not one second in the past, not one second in the future.

Chris Evert

Time flies like an arrow, so waste no energy on trivial matters. Be attentive! Be attentive!

Master Daito Kokushi

When I’m in the arena I’m totally committed. Totally committed to the dance. To perfection. To excellence.

Sean D. Tucker

Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.

Shunryu Suzuki

Pilots must understand and command automation, not become over-reliant on it. The pilot must always be the boss.

Christopher A. Hart

Things don’t change, you change your way of looking.

Carlos Castaneda

It is not that something different is seen, but that one sees differently. It is as though the spatial act of seeing were changed by a new dimension.

Carl Jung

Be a calm beholder of what is happening around you.

Bruce Lee

Calmness, gentleness, silence, self-restraint, and purity: these are the diciplines of the mind.


Learn to control your emotions, or they will control you.

Edgar Martinez

Every place has its dangers. You need to stay calm: That’s the game.

Grant ‘twiggy' Baker

True freedom is the freedom from your own self-imposed limitations. It’s the ability to accept situations as they are.

Lori Deschen

A problem is a chance for you to do your best.

Duke Ellington

A thousand clouds among a myriad streams and in their midst a person at ease. By day he wanders through the dark green hills, at night goes home to sleep beneath the cliffs. Swiftly the changing seasons pass him by, tranquil, undefiled, no earthly ties. Such pleasures! — and on what do they rely? On a quiet calm, like autumn river water.


Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.


Whatever happens, never forget that you are the pilot. When anything starts to go wrong, use good airmanship and never, never give up until you are at a standstill on the ground again.

Per Holmberg

People always ask, 'Were you afraid?' I’ve been up four times, and each time I went, I was a little more aware of what I was risking. But that’s before the launch. Once I’m strapped in, it’s total peace, a piece of cake. It’s just like being in the simulator. You know what’s going to come.

Bob Cabana

Mental preparation for air show flying is really about focus. There are a ton of distractions that can be harmful to your performance.

Mike Goulian

Think of Zen, of the Void, of Good and Evil, and you are bound hand and foot. Think only and entirely and completely of what you are doing at the moment and you are free as a bird.

R. H. Blyth

You completely ignore everything and just concentrate. You forget about the whole world and become part of the car and the track. It’s a very special feeling — you’re completely out of this world. There is nothing like it.

Jochen Rindt

Creativity is a spiritual action in which a person forgets about himself, moves outside of himself in the creative act, absorbed by his task.

Nikolai Berdyaev

Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

Albert Einstein

If I can slow it down in my mind, things will be fine.

Aaron Rodgers

you’ll find that success and attention to details, the smallest details, usually go hand in hand.

John Wooden

When the spacecraft speaks to you, you'd better listen.

Sy Liebergot

We use checklists not because we’re afraid we’'' forget or overlook. We use them because they form the backbone of precision — precision that means we take a task that we've done a thousand times and treat it like we’re doing it for the first time.

John M. Allen

you’ve got to know your limits and the airplane’s limits.

Buzz Aldrin

Like most astronauts, I’m pretty sure that I can deal with what life throws at me because I’ve thought about what to do if things go wrong, as well as right. That’s the power of negative thinking.

Chris Hadfield

A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned.

John Millington Synge

We were always in control…. They thought we were insane. But that wasn’t it at all. Of course, we were always very afraid. The one who’s not afraid is crazy, he’s a dead man. But we never panicked.

Anselme Baud

Each of us literally chooses, by way of atending to things, what sort of universe he shall appear to himself to inhabit.

William James

This is what intelligence is; paying attention to the right things.

Edward T. Hall

To concentrate your mind on something is not the true purpose of Zen. The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes.

Shunryu Suzuki

You must learn to be still in the midst of activity and to be vibrantly alive in repose.

Indira Gandhi

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Do all that you can, with all that you have, in the time that you have, in the place where you are.

Nkosi Johnson

you’re really at one with the airplane. It gives me an extraordinary sense of peace and contentment and a feeling that all is right with the world. It has a real centering effect.

Treat Williams

What we do upon some great occasion will probably depend on what we already are. What we are will be the result of previous years of self-discipline.

Henry Parry Liddon

We hold our fire, trying to sort bandits from friendlies. Finally, a bandit reveals himself by firing at me. My flight lead returns fire. A sparkling flash in the night sky and we know his missile hit the mark. With technique and training transcended, Situational Awareness blossoms and correct action is attained.

Mark J. Williams

When you’re riding, only the race in which you’re riding is important.

Bill Shoemaker

The enemy is lack of awareness, lack of presence.

Traleg Rinpoche

There is ecstasy in paying attention.

Anne Lamott

you’ve got to expect things are going to go wrong. And we always need to prepare ourselves for handling the unexpected.

Neil Armstrong

As a pilot you are always thinking 'What’s the next thing that’s going to kill me?'

Chris Hadfield

Winning is the science of being totally prepared.

George Allen

When I look fast, I’m not smooth and I’m going slowly. And when I look slow, I am smooth and going fast.

Alain Prost

Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast.

Miyamoto Musashi

Keep the time, observe the hours of the universe. What are three score years and ten hurriedly and coarsely lived compared to moments of divine leisure in which your life is coincident with the life of the universe?

Henry David Thoreau

I am in the present. I cannot know what tomorrow will bring forth. I can know only what the truth is for me today. That is what I am called upon to serve, and I serve it in all lucidity.

Igor Stravinsky

If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold onto.

Tao Te Ching

The heart of seamanship is safety consciousness. It begins by going beyond safety 'information' to a due diligence in respects, on the part of all hands, to make a vessel seaworthy before she goes to sea…. The great boathandler who uses the minimum of power to get the job done and keeps his options open as much as possible adds measurable to the safety of the vessel.

Captain Jay Bolton

The fool wanders, a wise man travels.

Thomas Fuller

You can fly an airplane by the numbers, pushing and pulling at the appropriate time, which will very definitely get you into the air and where you are going. Or you can become a real pilot and develop a feel for the airplane which makes you part of it. Those who seem one with the airplane do so primarily because their senses are connected to it. They are feeling and hearing it, as well as seeing it.

Budd Davisson

A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.

Alistair Cooke

A pilot who has aspirations in gliding absolutely must give his sport first place in his existence.

Leo & Ricky Brigliadori

Only those who interpret gliding as a religion, and not as a simple sport, will be able to be successful in this discipline.

Alex Bruttini

Mental bearing, not skill, is the sign of a matured Samurai. A Samurai therefore should neither be pompous nor arrogant.

Tsukahara Bokuden

He who reigns within himself and rules his passions, desires, and fears is more than a king.

John Milton

You cannot run away from a weakness; you must sometimes fight it out or perish. And if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?

Robert Louis Stevenson

Weak minds lead to weak actions. A strong diciplined mind, which anyone can cultivate through daily practice, can achieve miracles. If you want to live life to the fullest, care for your thoughts as you would your most prized possessions. Work hard to remove all inner turbulance. The rewards will be abundant.

Robin Sharma

Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.


You have to be able to center yourself, to let all of your emotions go…. Don’t ever forget that you play with your soul as well as your body.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The hardest part is not getting overly excited or letting emotions get the best of you. It’s all about just taking a deep breath and doing what you know how to do.

Reggie Crist

Zen practice in the midst of activity is superior to that pursued within tranquility.


When you get in an airplane … you go into a different mental state. You close out the rest of the world. What you feel is the immediate flight, the immediate maneuver. And you have total concentration, which is the key to all this flying.

Roy 'Butch' Voris

There are three things extremely hard: Steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.

Benjamin Franklin

Inside yourself or outside, you never have to change what you see, only the way you see it.

Thaddeus Golas

Although flying is easy enough, it does require for its safe exposition men of more than average steadiness, both of nerve and of character. It requires the type of man who is indifferent to public opinion, who has the courage to appear to be overcautious, and who has the will to refrain from flying even when greatly desiring to fly.

Gustav Hamel & Charles C. Turner
Flying: Some Practical Experiences, 1914.

Walk the walk. Make it apparent that you are a complete airman, disciplined, skilled and proficient, with a thorough knowledge of yourself, team, aircraft, mission, environment, and risk. Stay situationally aware and use good judgment. Work harder than the rest and set a new standard of excellence, one that is based on good airmanship, not shortcuts. By establishing yourself as a role model, you may advance much faster than by trying to fit in with poor airmanship practices. Be yourself and stay approachable; don’t set yourself up for ridicule with a 'holier than thou' attitude of superiority, even if it’s true. Sometimes good airmanship speaks loudest without words.

Tony Kern
Foundations of Professional Airmanship and Flight Discipline, 2010.

Don’t think you can attain total awareness and whole enlightenment without proper discipline and practice. This is egomania. Appropriate rituals channel your emotions and life energy toward the light. Without the discipline to practice them, you will tumble constantly backward into darkness.

Hua Hu Ching, circa 300 CE.

Prepare well. Do this by hitting the books, talk to others with more experience, and find out where the gotchas are for the kind of flying you’re planned, 'chair fly' your flight profiles, get regular refresher instruction, and avoid complacency. Then once in flight be alert for clues you’ve lost awareness — feeling rushed, confused, missing radio calls, fixation, unsure of your location relative to a fix you need, and switch errors are a few telltale signs of failing to stay ahead of the aircraft.

Charlie Precourt
F-15 fighter and test pilot, four-time Space Shuttle astronaut, EAA Safety Committee Chairman, 2015.

We think of all the what ifs, we think of getting into the maneuvers, getting out of the maneuvers, we talk about each individual person’s role on that flight. We talk about risk … and we talk about ways that we take the risk and minimize it to the lowest level possible so that we go out and execute the test safely.

Craig Bomben
Chief test pilot and vice president of flight operations, Boeing Aircraft, 2015.

You can not be too careful operating an airplane. Whether it’s a [Zivko Edge 540], a Cessna 152 or a 747. If you’re the pilot of it, you are the commander of it, so you have got to make your best decision that you can in the available time. And you can’t be too careful.

Prepare before you go flying. Think about it carefully. Don’t allow people to force you into things you don’t want to do. Remember you’re the captain of the airplane, whatever it may be.

Steve Jones
Aerobatics champion, Red Bull racer and British Airways 747 captain, 2014.