Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Be like Bob

The pilot community, by and large, is a very good community of very good folks. The best of those was Bob Hoover; not just as a pilot but as a person. The way he lived his life, the way he stayed humble even though he was the best there ever was, and the way he shared his "secret" of success (which really was just finding something you wanted to do and busting your butt to get better and better at it every day) was a lifelong lesson on grace.

Unfortunately, not everyone is Bob Hoover. There is a sizable percentage out there that will comment negatively on almost any story, especially ones where the pilot admits a mistake or unfortunately isn't around to talk about a mistake that led to an accident. This is not something that is just a pilot thing; it exists in every single field of human endeavor. Nevertheless, since it does sometimes discourage people who would otherwise want to learn to fly and even chases some others away totally, it is something that needs to be addressed.

Different places are better or worse about this. For instance, the online magazine Air Facts tends to have a small number of negative commenters, and those are very quickly put in their place and corrected by a large contingent of commenters who are quite experienced pilots. This seems to have something to do with the make-up of their readership, which in general self-selects for people who want to spend the time reading quality articles that will help them become better pilots.

At the complete opposite of the spectrum are a few places who shall remain nameless, although if you have even a slight interest in flying you've almost certainly come across them. Due to their more popular interest, their forums or comment sections tend to have a lot more amateurs or non-pilots. As the infamous Dunning-Kruger Effect shows, the less you know, the better you think you are, since you're not good enough at it to know how bad you are.

The absolute worst is YouTube. Yes, I have a YouTube channel, but I do not comment on anything on the site. (Except for comments on my own videos, which even then I am unfortunately much slower at replying to than I'd like to be because I am always busy doing something.) I basically gave up after politely explaining the proper way to fly a DME arc to someone who demonstrated it incorrectly. Their intent was good, and they tried hard in the video, but you can't really teach something you don't actually do. I pointed out that their technique was incorrect and got the reply that their brother is a pilot so they know how to do it. Since I try to take my own advice, I don't drop the "I'm a 4000-hour type rated ATP/CFII" line on people unless severely provoked, so I just decided to stop commenting altogether. If you're trying to learn to fly, I highly recommend you don't even bother to look at the comments on flying videos. The great thing about the internet is that anyone can use it to become an expert on anything, given enough time and practice. The terrible thing about the internet is that everyone thinks they're an expert on everything.

In the non-electronic world, there are also people who will act like they're better than you. The pilot community is an exclusive one due to the barriers to entry: the cost, the time it takes for lessons, and the willpower to continue studying for however long it takes to achieve the goal of becoming a pilot does tend to shake out those without motivation. It is not particularly difficult to become a pilot—I've said many times and that almost anyone can (and should!) become a pilot. Nonetheless, 99% of people don't even try.

Unfortunately, there are people who enjoy being in that exclusive club and want to keep it exclusive. Some people think that if others join the club, then that makes them that much less special. Nothing could be further from the truth. A pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled, and flying is a pleasure that few people experience.

The more people who do get that experience, however, the better it is for all of us. A large community is a strong community, so the way to make aviation even better is to welcome even more people into it. There is no reason to look down on any other pilot, and there is especially no such thing as "just" a student pilot or "just" a private pilot or "just" a whatever. We are all pilots, and we should encourage all pilots.

In fact, if you do think you're the Ace of the Base, that means that you have more of a responsibility toward those who are learning or want to learn. The more experience you have, the more you can help mentor new pilots. Every hour in your logbook is an hour that you learned something that you can now teach to someone else.

My response to the question, "How many hours do you have?" has become just, "Hopefully not my last one!" I think Bob Hoover himself would approve of that answer, and I hope we all can learn from his example as not just the best pilot who ever lived, but as one of the finest gentlemen aviation has ever had as well.

Next week, I'll talk about another Bob we can all learn from. This one is not a pilot, and it is definitely not who you might expect. See you next Wednesday!

Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Something Bob Hoover never did

Bob Hoover made the word "amazing" into an understatement. In my last post, I barely scratched the surface of the incredible career he had, from escaping prison camps by stealing enemy planes to being Chuck Yeager's wingman to pouring iced tea upside down, and then some.

But even with a real-life career that sounded like something that a fiction author would have to tone down or condense, there was one big thing that the great Bob Hoover never did:

He never talked trash about other pilots.

No matter what you do, what field you're in, or who you are, there will always be someone better than you at it. Unless you're Michael Jordan, there is someone who is better at basketball than you are. Unless you're Neil Peart, there is someone who is better at drumming than you are. Unless you're Bill Gates, there is someone who's richer than you are.

And yet Bob Hoover, who could legitimately walk into any room and know that he was the best pilot there, and who has been called "the best stick and rudder man who ever lived" by those who would know, never talked down to others, never second-guessed other pilots, and never had the know-it-all attitude so common in other pilots, especially in pilot forums.

Hoover did like to talk about himself, though. (As my wife will tell you, that's not an uncommon trait in pilots.) And he did engage in some trash talk.

What set him apart, however, was how he talked about himself. Instead of trying to impress everyone with his knowledge, as many pilots do, or trying to make himself look good by trashing others (which many others do, although there is some overlap between the two groups), Bob Hoover did yet another thing that almost no other pilot has done:

He talked about himself and talked trash at the same time by always talking about how much work he had to do to get better. Here was the one man who actually had ultimate bragging rights no matter who he was talking to, and yet he did not pretend he was born Superpilot or decide he had ever reached a level where he was as good as he would ever want to be. He could always go out the next day and improve.

In this, he shares traits with Michael Jordan, who was always the first on the practice court and the last off of it; with Neil Peart, who after 30 years of drumming decided to find a drum coach in a completely different style than what he had mastered, tore down his method and rebuilt it from scratch, and even changed from a matched grip to a traditional grip just to find another way to improve; and with Derek Jeter, who when someone would come on the field to practice, Jeter would insist on leaving the field five minutes after they did, no matter how long that took.

In the foreword to productivity guru Tim Ferriss's new book Tools of Titans, Arnold Schwarzenegger says, "The worst thing you can ever do is to think you know enough." Bob Hoover always thought he could know more, rather than—as too many pilots do—think that he knew more than everyone else.

Next week, I'll talk more about what those who do think they know enough can learn from the example set by the great Mr. Hoover. See you next Wednesday!

Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A tribute to Bob Hoover

"Legend" is a word that is overused these days. Adjective inflation has stolen the true meaning of legend and turned it into a watered down compliment. Bob Hoover, however, was a legend among legends. If Michael Jordan had someone to look up to, Bob Hoover would be the guy.

He is probably most famous for pouring iced tea into a glass while doing a roll. You can see him do it here just past the 2:20 mark of this video, which does a good job condensing many the things that made him the real World's Greatest Fighter Pilot:


That video is a trailer for a documentary made about him called Flying the Feathered Edge. It has 5 stars over 79 reviews, which—like many things about him—is a record that few things can match.

In 2013, I wrote a post called "Bob Hoover reveals the secret to learning anything" about how he got as good as he was. Like all of us, he didn't start off already knowing how to fly. He had to learn it just like everyone else. He just happened to learn it better than most of us put together.

He had the right combination of determination that let him not make a setback into the setback, an internal strive for perfection, the ability to look at a failure as a marvelous opportunity to learn from and improve for next time, and a curiosity or thirst for knowledge that made him not just want to know what to do, but the why behind it. Knowing the why creates

In the early 1980s, Tom Wolfe wrote an outstanding book called The Right Stuff. In it, he mentions how fighter pilots would talk about who had the "right stuff". There is no one, set answer as to exactly what that is; it's one of those things that you know it when you see it, but you can't exactly say exactly what that "it" is. Bob Hoover is probably the closest we can ever come to a hard definition of what that "right stuff" is.

Wolfe's book (and the pretty decent movie it was made into) has the story of the day Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. Chuck Yeager is a household name: you ask a random person if they've ever heard "Chuck Yeager" before and they can probably say he was the one who broke the sound barrier. Probably 99% of the world will have no idea what the answer to the question, "Who was Chuck Yeager's wingman when he broke the sound barrier?"

That answer: Bob Hoover. And that's not the only amazing story that almost nobody knows outside of the aviation community:


This picture is of another famous pilot, Harrison Ford, and Bob Hoover. The caption refers to yet another incredible Hoover story. He spent 16 months in a German prison camp during WWII. He escaped by stealing a Nazi fighter—a plane which he obviously had never flown before and with all the controls marked in German—and flying it to the Netherlands! (He tells this story and others in his 1997 autobiography, Forever Flying: Fifty Years of High-flying Adventures, From Barnstorming in Prop Planes to Dogfighting Germans to Testing Supersonic Jets.)

Although he retired from the aerobatics for which he was legendary, his influence still lingers on today. He is in many ways the Michael Jordan of aviation. Both of them had a burning passion and drive to do whatever it took to be the best. Both of them were serious students of their respective fields, constantly pushing themselves to find that next little trick that will make them .1% better. And both of them are still talked about two decades after they left, and are the yardstick against which everyone else is measured.

To me, the lesson he leaves in how he flew and how he lived his life is one of excellence, and that mastery is not a place but a journey. Like him, I know that there is no stopping point on the road to excellence. And like him, I try to get a little bit better every time I fly, and I try to make no hour in the logbook void of some lesson, no matter how small. The fact that he was that good means it is possible to be that good, and he is the standard toward which I will continue to strive each day. If he could do it, it means it can be done. Blue skies, Bob.


Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What does a laser pointer do to pilots?

I've been hit with a laser from the ground a few times. The first time it happened we were going from Washington-Dulles to Fayetteville, North Carolina. We were heading south and just northwest of the Richmond, Virginia airport at around 12,000 feet.

Sitting back in my seat, I saw some bright green light scattering around bottom of the windscreen. Since there's an amusement park (King's Dominion) not too far away, I sat up and looked out the cockpit window thinking it was a fireworks display. To my surprise, I saw this instead:

Still frame from RT YouTube video.
There is a good video of this that unfortunately has embedding disabled so I can't include it as part of this post, but you can watch it on YouTube here.

The video isn't of my experience, as I haven't taken a good video of one myself because my camera is very poor at night and the other times it has happened to me after this were on approach, a time which is way too busy to be playing with a camera. Nonetheless, if I had gotten a picture, it would have looked quite like the one above.

I noticed that many YouTube commenters think that laser pointers don't go high enough to enter a cockpit. Note that the first time it happened to me it was at 12,000 feet. That's way higher than those self-appointed YouTube "experts" claim is possible. Yes, it is quite possible, because it has happened to me, and I am not the only one. Many of my co-workers have their own laser stories.

I honestly don't understand what possesses someone to shine a laser pointer at an aircraft filled with 50 or more people. Maybe they really do think it is harmless and their little laser won't make it up there. Here's your proof that it actually does.


Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Rich, brilliant people

"I didn’t think it was an option... I thought that was something only rich, brilliant people can do. I didn’t even think that would be an opportunity for someone like me."
—Eirlys Willis
This, unfortunately, is what so many people understandably think about flying. They think it's something only other people can do, and they don't realize that they can experience aviation for themselves! This quotation of 17-year-old student Eirlys Willis from a very good recent news story shows how misunderstood general aviation is in the United States. She learned how easy it is, and it has changed her life.
Eirlys Willis. Photo credit: Gary White/The Ledger

Many people think you have to go to the military to learn to fly. You don't. The only thing you have to do to start flying is go to an airport and take a discovery flight. That's it! If you have a driver's license, you don't even need to pass a medical exam to become a sport pilot now. I know it sounds amazing, but the only thing you really have to do to learn to fly is to take flying lessons!

You don't have to fly for a living to have a pilot certificate, either. In fact, a large percentage of pilots don't fly for a living. (Including, for many years, me before aviation got so deeply in my blood I decided to make a career change.) While Willis says she plans on making a career out of it, that's just one of many options:

Willis said she has long been determined to avoid a career that involves sitting in an office cubicle. She also aspires to travel. The discovery of potential aviation jobs perfectly fits those preferences.

"I have all these different opportunities coming right at me, and it just feels like this is something I need to do,” Willis said. "It’s crazy how everything has been here the whole time and I had no idea."
She's not the only one in the story who has started to learn to fly after finding out about the opportunity. Another is Tiffany Carr, who said, "I remember being behind the yoke of a plane was like magic, and I just knew that was what I wanted to do. It was like my happy place."

But wait, there's more! Genesah Duffy is yet another one in the article with the same story to tell. After getting out of the Navy, she took a discovery flight in a Cessna Skyhawk for the first time:

"It was just kind of a rush, surprisingly enough — I’m super-scared of heights. I didn’t think I’d be able to take it, but it’s a totally different feeling once you’re up in the air. It just sparks a light in you."
I see the same surprise when I'm trying to let people know that they can take their ground school at Lorain County Community College. When I talk to visiting classes from local high schools, the class almost sells itself. All I have to do is tell them it exists and the response is often, "Really? I never knew I could do that!" And then I tend to see some of those same people in class the following semester.

Not only can you learn to fly simply because you want to, there are also a ton of resources available to help pay for it! You don't have to be rich—there are tons of scholarships available to you. The competition for them is also lower because, unfortunately, so few people know there's a whole aviation community supporting them and encouraging them to join it!

AOPA, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, offers a large scholarship and also has links to several more. Many of these are designed to pay for the flight training itself, which generally runs around $10,000 or so. If you're looking at going to college for aviation, the University Aviation Association has a scholarship resource center to help you find even more. (And this is on top of the regular college scholarships you can find through normal scholarship sites.)

You don't have to be rich or brilliant to learn to fly. All you have to do is start with a visit to your airport and the skies will open to you! If you're still not sure where to start, leave a comment below and I'll be happy to help.

Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Why all the fuss about Lindbergh?

Charles Lindbergh was not the first to fly across the Atlantic. In 1919, 8 years before Lindbergh, the Navy made the first transatlantic voyage, although with a bunch of stops along the way. This was more a technical feat and a test of technology, and was totally impractical for anything else. A couple of weeks later, the British aviators Alcock and Brown were the first to do it nonstop. An airship crossing followed less than a month after them. By the time Lindbergh's trip rolled around, not only was he not the first to do it, he wasn't even the second, or the third or the fourth or... He was nineteenth.

So what made him a household name? When he landed in Paris, the crowd pulled him out of the plane and he involuntarily crowd-surfed the mass of people, such was the excitement. In the meantime, Alcock and Brown are names recognized only by aviation history buffs. Why the difference between him and his 18 predecessors?

(The number is technically 18, but many of them were merely passengers on the airship R34, and there were six crewmembers on the Navy's flight.)

Like the old real estate adage, the important thing is Location, Location, Location. The first practical transatlantic crossing by Alcock and Brown was from a remote location to another remote location (the coast of Newfoundland to an obscure bog near the Irish coast). Lindbergh's flight, however, connected two of the most famous cities in the world: New York and Paris.

This connection is what elevated him to hero status. The heart of aviation, its essence, is connection. Airplanes connect people. That's what they do. Sure, they are fun to look at, to listen to, and to play with, but at the bottom of it lies the connections that airplanes enable. Even when you're flying alone, you're still making a connection with the air, the elements you're surrounded by, the land you're suspended above, but the most important connection you're making is a connection with yourself. That, I believe, is why aviation touches pilots so deeply and why a first solo is something that changes you inside and makes you a different, slightly improved version of yourself: it enables you to connect to a part of you that you didn't know you had.

Aviation is a human story, and by connecting those humans of two of the largest cities in the world together in one flight, he became a legend in his own time.

For that story to take place is an amazing human story all on its own, and this is the second part of the equation that made him famous. We think of Lindbergh as a historical figure and forget that before Lindbergh was "Lucky Lindy", he was an air mail pilot that no one had ever heard of. In fact, the first places he went to when he was trying to buy an airplane for the flight either wouldn't sell a no-name like him one of their esteemed products or wouldn't let a no-name like him fly it if they did.

His grit and belief in himself is what propelled him from the muddy patch called Lambert Field all the way to Le Bourget even more than N-X-211 did. From a farm in rural Minnesota on the banks of Mississippi to pulling off a flight that well-financed and well-known names couldn't accomplish: his is the quintessential "Boy Makes Good" story. He was the very embodiment of good old American values, which made for great newspaper copy.

Would any of the other people who were working hard to attempt the same thing before he did have been as famous had they pulled it off first? Possibly. They would quite likely have been written about a great deal in the newspapers—which were the Internet and TV combined of their day. That notwithstanding, would they still be famous today like Lindbergh is?

My speculation is no. I say this because, among others, there was another man who was also competing with Lindbergh to make the first New York-Paris flight, and who likely would have beaten Lindy had he not crashed on a test flight and had to repair his aircraft. At the time, he was a national hero in his own right, having been the first (along with the other member of his crew) to fly to the North Pole. His fame, unlike Lindbergh's, does not live on to make him a household name today, and I would bet a large sum of money that if I did not tell you, you would not be thinking of Robert Byrd and Floyd Bennett right now.

I think Lindbergh's place in history has endured not just because of what he did, but because of his down home, good old, aw shucks demeanor and his All-American work ethic. He was the perfect representative of everything America dreamed it could be in the Roaring Twenties, with the stock market collapse and the Great Depression still over two years away. He connected with people just as he enabled connections among people.

All of the above is my opinion only. If you have a different opinion, please feel free to share it in the comments. I would love to hear your ideas on the matter. See you next Wednesday!


Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review: The Spirit of St. Louis

Being in St. Louis seemed like an appropriate time to start reading Charles Lindbergh's The Spirit of St. Louis. It is considered a classic, after all, and since I spent 35 out of 50 days there sitting around in a hotel room, I had some spare time. The only thing I didn't like about it was that I didn't read it sooner.




It is not a short read (the paperback version is almost 600 pages, including pictures) but it is a fast read. I thought that perhaps the only reason it won a Pulitzer Prize was because it came out during Lindberghmania, when he was an outright celebrity. But that actually couldn't have been the case, as he spent over a decade crafting this book, and it wouldn't come out until 1952. In that time, the United States had been through World War II and aviation had matured so quickly that it was no longer an incredible novelty.

This book won its Pulitzer on its own merits and beauty, not because of the name attached. His book We, on the other hand, was slapped together quickly to cash in on his overnight fame. We is not a bad book, but the rushed feeling is evident throughout. It lacks the mastery, the compelling tale of the flight itself, and the lyricism that infuse The Spirit of St. Louis.

The first section of the book goes into the story of what it took just to get the project "off the ground". But it does it in an amazingly simple way. It is not a grand "Look at me" story. Instead, he writes about it in such a simple and direct way that it's almost amazing that everyone in the country wasn't trying to do the same thing. It almost sums up to, "Hey, wouldn't it be neat if I flew across the Atlantic? What do I need to do to get that done? OK, let's do those things and call it a day."

(This spirit is also evident in the early chapters of Richard Branson's excellent book, Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way, which is definitely worth a read as well. The prologue's title, "Screw it, let's do it", would probably have made Lindbergh nod and smile.)

The entire beginning section is like that, and I mean it in the best possible way. To him, the idea is the simplest thing in the world. It never even occurred to him that it could possibly be hard, and so he doesn't make it hard. He doesn't try to think of 1000 ways it won't work, he doesn't draw up some complicated business proposal, and he doesn't do any of the hundred other things every MBA will tell you just has to be done.

Instead, he just goes around to everyone he knows and asks if they have some money to put toward this flight, which he believes in enough that he's willing to put in 20% of the money for it himself. It's charming in how his whole attitude in this section is so matter-of-fact, so "gee willikers" direct that it is almost childlike in its naiveté. He would get eaten alive on Shark Tank.

Yet reading about how he just did it before Nike made "Just do it" a thing is worth more than a stack any the run-of-the-mill self-help books that are so popular nowadays. YouTube is filled with thousands upon thousands of "motivation" videos, authors get rich pounding out cliched "productivity" advice, and self-help gurus live in mansions built by thousand-dollar seminars on how to live your dream. Yet Lindbergh just goes out and does it as if it was the most natural thing in the world. This section alone makes the book worth reading if you're willing to learn by example instead of paying some consultant to tell you how to Get Things Done(tm).

Eventually, he does get to the flight, though. The change from the planning to the execution section is a bit abrupt, but that's because the flight itself took place so suddenly. Before you know it, he's gone from an unknown aviator trying to find a plane to an unknown aviator taking off on a flight that would make him famous around the world. This abruptness is a result of the directness he's had throughout the book: he was at Roosevelt Field, the plane was there too, and the weather broke, so he took off. Like it was the most natural thing in the world to just hop in and do something that no one had ever done solo before.

With that, we get to the section of the book about the flight itself. He breaks it down into 34 chapters: one for each hour of the flight. I was looking forward to these chapters for the technical aspects, but as it turns out (and what was probably an excellent editorial decision for a book that was aimed at more than just a pilot audience), there is very little hard detail on what he was doing as he was doing it. Aviation is a human story, and instead he tells a human story.

The way the arc of the flight itself is written is so well crafted that the chapters themselves have their own stylistic arc to them. Not only do you get to read about the flight, you can almost feel the flight. Not in the "it's noisy and cramped" kind of feel, but the emotional kind of feel. It starts out bright and excited, as he crosses his first big stretch of water on his way to Newfoundland (being a pilot in the Midwest doesn't exactly lend itself to practicing extended overwater flights) while land and its signs of civilization are still passing below him. His eagerness and freshness are still evident, and he still gets amazed at times that he's even doing what he's doing. He is not a Sky God doing what mere mortals cannot: he is a young man seeing things he's never seen before.

After leaving Newfoundland and entering the ocean, the newness wears off and the physical realities of what he's doing set in. As his attention begins to wander, so do the stories. He begins to flash back days past: some of them flying stories, some of them childhood reminiscences, some of them explaining why the airplane is built the way it is. Some of the stories are repurposed material from We, but most of it is new material. We see what turned "Slim" into a guy alone over the endless ocean, heading somewhere he had never been.

As someone interested in aviation psychology and human factors, this book was intensely enjoyable, as Lindbergh was not afraid to admit mistakes or fess up to weaknesses. In the middle, fatigue begins to catch up with him. He hardly slept the night before leaving, as social engagements and being disturbed by visitors kept him from getting much rest. A solitary soul over a thousand-mile stretch of dreary sea, long before radios that would fit efficiently in an airplane, running on no sleep... The stories turn into mini-dreams. He was unwillingly "microsleeping" long before that was even a thing, and by the twelfth hour and continuing on for half a day more, the Spirit of St. Louis becomes a master's thesis on fatigue and all its effects.

Most of us have been up all night for one reason or another. We can relate to what it feels like to be sleepy. However, we usually get a chance to sleep eventually, and we're not flying an airplane that had no autopilot and was not very stable. (This was in large part by design, as Lindbergh thought that by being forced to keep the plane from straying, he would have to stay engaged. This is also why the seat was made of uncomfortable wicker instead of being plush and padded.) We may have had to take an exam after pulling an all-nighter, then could head to bed after class. We did not have to remain vigilant in order to keep from dying.

We all know how fatigue dulls us and makes us feel slow. While these are bad problems to have in an aircraft, possibly one of the most dangerous effects of extreme fatigue is apathy. Not only are we performing poorly, we no longer care that we're performing poorly. For the first 20 hours, Lindbergh keeps a meticulous log of the weather, his heading, the engine parameters, and so on. On the 21st hour, Lindbergh no longer has the energy to care about those things anymore. He just makes a scratch mark for whichever tank he was burning fuel from that hour and calls it enough.

He tries all sorts of things to wake himself up: putting his hand out the window to bring in the cold air, stomping his feet in the cramped confines of his streamlined cockpit, not eating in order to let hunger keep him awake, and many more. At one point he discovers that there are ammonia smelling salts in his small first aid kit. He breaks one open and although they are supposed to revive someone who has fainted, even those do nothing!

He relates how his consciousness seemed to fragment into two separate parts, later to be joined by a third. His body was something he was simply watching from afar as he flew on "manual autopilot". One part of his consciousness simply kept him from dying; the rest was dead wood. During the 22nd hour, he begins hallucinating, thinking he was hearing voices from unseen friendly beings who were riding along with him on the flight:

While I'm staring at the instruments, during an unearthly age of time, both conscious and asleep, the fuselage behind me becomes filled with ghostly presences--vaguely outlined forms, transparent, moving, riding weightless with me in the plane. I feel no surprise at their coming...

These phantoms speak with human voices--friendly, vapor-like shapes, without substance, able to vanish or appear at will, to pass in and out through the walls of the fuselage as though no walls were there...

[These were] familiar voices, conversing and advising on my flight, discussing problems of my navigation, reassuring me, giving me messages of importance unattainable in ordinary life.

As we all know, he managed to make it through these conditions despite his more-than-extreme sleep deprivation. (In fact, this book is an excellent read for psychologists who want to understand the effects of such deprivation because no research lab would be permitted to subject people to those conditions to study them.) Eventually he does reach land. The end of the ocean ordeal means the end of the flight is finally in sight, and his energy level shoots up. The voices disappear once he sights the fishing boats that are a sign that the coastline won't be far ahead.

He has reconnected with the earth as he leaves the endless sea behind. Now he can put the distance into a scale more comprehensible to him. It is just a normal shift on the airmail route now. He has good weather ahead, and finding Paris is no problem. Like the United States, there were beacon lights along important aerial routes in France at the time. He followed it, did a circle around the Eiffel Tower just to celebrate (imagine trying that nowadays!) and then headed for Le Bourget. Which, by the way, he didn't know the location of. It wasn't on the map he had, so he just flew northeast, since that was the general direction it was supposed to be in.

Nighttime made the airport very hard to locate, especially for an out-of-towner. One of the funnier things I've ever read was his worries over whether anyone would be at the airport to help him put the plane in a hangar, since it was so late at night. He honestly thought that no one would expect him there since he was so far ahead of schedule. He can't locate the airport because it's dark, but there's a dark patch among a long line of factory lights that looks like it could be an airport, and it's somewhat close to where he's expecting an airport to be, so that's close enough. He heads for it, and after flying by it a bit to get the feel of it, he lands. Every FAA inspector who just read that had their head explode, but such was life in the Roaring Twenties!

It turns out that it was the right airport, so he guessed right: "The Spirit of St. Louis swings around and stops rolling, resting on the solidness of earth, in the center of Le Bourget." He guessed wrong on the factory lights, though: those lights were actually a massive traffic jam of people trying to see him at the airport! The last line of the book proper paints the scene: "I start to taxi back toward the floodlights and hangars--But the entire field ahead is covered with running figures!"

The book ends there, but there is a 6-page afterword to close it out. He tells how he was pulled out of the plane and carried on the cheering crowd until two French pilots come to his rescue. One of them took Lindy's helmet off and put it onto a reporter that was standing nearby and called out, "There is Lindbergh!" to distract attention away from him so he could make his way out of the crowd. He gives very little space to the long line of speeches and banquets in his honor that would take place for the rest of the year; almost as soon as the flight ends, so does the book. However, We, which came out only a month after the flight while people were dying to buy a Lindbergh book, goes into excruciating detail over his reception both in Europe and the United States.

The writing style is absolutely lush and gorgeous. I had originally planned to have many examples of it throughout this post, but due to this one's already-too-long nature, I'm going to make the excerpts from it next week's post. See you next Wednesday!




Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.