Read CHAPTER II of Learning to Fly A Practical Manual for Beginners , free online book, by Claude Grahame-White Harry Harper, on


As aviation passed from its earliest infancy, and a number of men began to fly, the temperament of the individual pupil, and the effect of this temperament on his progress as an aviator, began to reveal itself. And temperament does play a large part in flying; as it does in any sport in which a man is given control of a highly sensitive apparatus, errors of judgment in the handling of which may lead to disaster. It is not, as a rule, until he has passed through his early stages of tuition, and has begun to handle an aeroplane alone, and is beyond the direct control of his instructor, that the temperament of a pupil really plays its part. Up to this point he is one among many, conforming to certain rules, and obliged to mould himself to the routine of the school. But when he begins to fly by himself, and particularly when he has passed his tests for proficiency, and is embarking, say, on cross-country flights, then this question of temperament begins really to affect his flying.

All men who learn to fly numbering as they do thousands nowadays cannot be endowed specially by nature for their task. There is indeed a wide latitude for temperamental differences always provided that nothing more is required of a man than a certain average of skill. But if a man is to become a first-class pilot, one distinctly above the average, then the question of his temperament, as it influences his flying, is certainly important.

A rough classification of the pupils at a school just a preliminary sorting of types shows as a rule the existence of two clearly-marked temperaments. One is that of the man who is deliberate, whose temperament guards him from doing anything perfunctorily or in a hurry; the other is that of a man a type frequently encountered nowadays who while being quick, keen, and intelligent, mars these good qualities by a temperamental impatience which he finds it difficult or impossible to control, and which makes him irritable and restless at any suggestion of delay.

Now the first of these men need not to be wholly commended, nor the second entirely condemned. A capacity for deliberation, both in study and in practice, is very useful when learning to fly. It will protect a man from many errors, and render his progress sure, though it may be slow. But something more than deliberation is required in the aviator of distinction. There must be the vital spark of enterprise, the temperamental quality which is known as “dash,” the quick action of the mind, in difficulty or peril, that will carry certain men to safety through many dangers. This imaginative power is possessed as a rule, though in ways that differ considerably, by the second type of pupil we have described the restless, impatient man. But in his case this quality is, more often than not, marred by his instability; by the lack of that judgment which is so necessary to counterbalance imagination, but which is, unfortunately, not so often found.

A man who decides to become an aviator, and particularly if he intends to fly professionally, should ask himself quite seriously if his temperament is likely to aid him, or whether perhaps it may not be a danger. This point is certainly one of importance, though it cannot be stated directly or decided in so many words. There is a vital question at least that the novice should ask himself; and this is whether his temperament, whatever its general tendency may be, includes a sufficient leavening of caution. In the navigation of the air caution is indispensable. A pupil must remind himself constantly that, though it appears easy and is indeed easy to learn to handle a machine in flight, no liberties must under any circumstances be taken with the air. Every instant a man is flying he needs to remember the value of caution. In the air one cannot afford to make mistakes.

Naturally there is an ideal temperament for flying; but it is one which, owing to the combination of qualities that are required, is very rarely met with. The man who possesses it is gifted with courage, ambition, “dash,” and with a readiness in an emergency that amounts to intuition. And yet these positive qualities are, in the ideal temperament, allied to, and tempered by, a strong vein of prudence and of caution. The pilot has absolute system, method, and thoroughness in everything he does. The average pupil cannot hope to be so luckily endowed. But he can study his personality, and seek to repress traits that may seem harmful.

There is need in flying for a sound judgment, one that will enable a man to come to a decision quickly and yet accurately. Things happen rapidly in the air. It is one of the grim aspects of flying that, just at a moment when everything appears secure, a sudden disaster may threaten. So it is of vast importance to a pilot, if he has to fly regularly, that he should have an instinctive and dependable judgment; a capacity for deciding quickly and without panic; a capacity, when several ways present themselves of extricating himself from some quandary, of being able to choose the right one, and of not having to think long before doing so. This implies a combination really of judgment and resource. The man of confidence, the man of resource, is well endowed for flying. But he must not be over-confident. The over-confident man is a menace to himself and to others. It is not a proper spirit at all in which to approach aviation. We do not know enough about the navigation of the air to be in the least over-confident. The spirit, rather, should be one of humility a determination to proceed warily, and to make very certain of what limited knowledge we do possess.

Two of the worst traits in an aviator are impatience and irritability. A man who has these temperamental drawbacks in a form which is strongly marked, and who cannot control them, should not think of becoming an aviator. The man who is impatient and irritable finds himself out of harmony with the whole theory of aerial navigation. There is a long list of “don’ts” in flying; in the handling of one’s machine, in the weather one flies in, in all the feats that one should attempt and leave alone. A number of details must be memorised, and must never be forgotten or overlooked, trivial though some of them may seem. The frame of mind of the man who flies must be alert, yet quiet and reposeful; he must be clear-headed, not hot-headed. The man who is in a hurry, who ignores details when he sets out on a flight, is the man who runs risks and is bound sooner or later to pay the penalty. The perils of recklessness in flying are very great. The man who “takes chances,” who thinks he can do something when, as a matter of fact, he has neither sufficient knowledge or experience, runs a very grave and constant risk. It is the thoughtful, considering frame of mind, particularly in a pupil, which is the safe one; but this must not be taken to imply a type of man who lacks power of action. Initiative, and a quick capacity for action, are most necessary in aviation. New problems are being faced continually, and the brain succeeds which is the most active and original.