Editor’s note:
To start 2017 we quote below a selection of observations and comments from renowned aviators well-qualified to offer them, for you to think on

The quality of the box matters little. Success depends upon the man who sits in it.
— Baron Manfred von Richthofen

One can get a proper insight into the practice of flying only by actual flying experiments….. the manner in which we have to meet the irregularities of the wind, when soaring in the air, can only be learnt by being in the air itself….. the only way which leads us to a quick development in human flight is a systematic and energetic practice in actual flying experiments.
— Otto Lilienthal, 1896.

There are two ways of learning to ride a fractious horse: one is to get on him and learn by actual practice how each motion and trick may be best met; the other is to sit on a fence and watch the beast a while and then retire to the house and at leisure figure out the best way of overcoming his jumps and kicks. The latter system is the safer, but the former, on the whole, turns out the larger proportion of good riders. It is very much the same thing in learning to ride a flying machine.
— Wilbur Wright, 18 September 1901.

I know him well …. he is apparently without fear, and what he sets out to do he generally accomplishes. This recklessness makes him anything but a good aviator, however, for he lacks entirely the element of caution.
— Wilbur Wright, speaking about Bleriot.

It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.
— Wilbur Wright

In an imperfect world perfection is not instantly available ….  safety for instance cannot be secured by mechanical devices alone. It is primarily a resultant of care and discipline.
— Ivy Lee, 8 December 1913

In the air transport business the human element is everything. That plane in front of the hangar is only as good as the man who flies it, and he is only as good as the people on the ground who work with him.
— W. A. (Pat) Patterson, President United Airlines, 1944.

Accuracy means something to me. It's vital to my sense of values. I've learned not to trust people who are inaccurate. Every aviator knows that if mechanics are inaccurate, aircraft crash. If pilots are inaccurate, they get lost — sometimes killed. In my profession life itself depends on accuracy.
— Charles A. Lindbergh, 1953.

Every flying machine has its own unique characteristics, some good, some not so good. Pilots naturally fly the craft in such a manner as to take advantage of the good, and avoid the areas where it is not so good.
— Neil Armstrong, June 2009.

The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1939.

Do not let yourself be forced into doing anything before you are ready.
— Wilbur Wright

It is hard enough for anyone to map out a course of action and stick to it, particularly in the face of the desires of one's friends; but it is doubly hard for an aviator to stay on the ground waiting for just the right moment to go into the air.
— Glenn Curtiss, 1909.

Hours and hours passed ….. nothing to do but keep the compass on its course and the plane on a level keel …. its very simplicity becomes a danger when your head keeps nodding with weariness and boredom and your eyes everlastingly try to shut out the confusing rows of figures in front of you …. tired of trying to sort them out, you relax for a second ….  your head drops and you sit up with a jerk, Where are you? What are you doing here? Oh yes, you are somewhere in the middle of the North Atlantic, with hungry waves below you like vultures impatiently waiting for the end.
— Amy Johnson

….  It was fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment, and kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit.
— General Chuck Yeager

I've learned that it is what I do not know that I fear, and I strive, outwardly from pride, inwardly from the knowledge that the unknown is what will finally kill me, to know all there is to be known about my airplane.
— Richard Bach, 1963.

You've got to expect things are going to go wrong. And we always need to prepare ourselves for handling the unexpected.
— Neil Armstrong, 2005.

The best safety device is the pilot who, deep down and regardless of the aircraft, retains a sense of fallibility and vulnerability. No system can ever substitute for that.
— Arnold Reiner, former director of flight safety at Pan Am, 16 December 2009.

Mistakes are inevitable in aviation, especially when one is still learning new things. The trick is to not make the mistake that will kill you.
— Stephen Coonts

Experience is that marvellous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.
— Franklin P. Jones

When you're in an airplane, 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, former Navy test pilot.

What is it in fact, this learning to fly? To be precise, it is 'to learn NOT to fly wrong. To learn to become a pilot is to learn not to let oneself fly too slowly. Not to let oneself turn without accelerating. Not to cross the controls. Not to do this, and not to do that .…  
— Henri Mignoet, 1934.

Get rid at the outset of the idea that the airplane is only an air-going sort of automobile. It isn't. It may sound like one and smell like one, and it may have been interior decorated to look like one; but the difference is — it goes on wings.
— Wolfgang Langewiesche, 1944.

Any young boy can nowadays explain human flight  mechanistically: " … and to climb you shove the throttle all the way forward and pull back just a little on the stick… . " One might as well explain music by saying that the further over to the right you hit the piano the higher it will sound. The makings of a flight are not in the levers, wheels, and pedals but in the nervous system of the pilot: physical sensations, bits of textbook, deep-rooted instincts, burnt-child memories of trouble aloft, hangar talk.
— Wolfgang Langewiesche

Nine-tenths confidence and one-tenth common sense equals a successful aviator.
— John B. Moisant, 1917.

I think there is something exhilarating in flying amongst clouds, and always get a feeling of wanting to pit my aeroplane against them, charge at them, climb over them to show them you have them beat, circle round them, and generally play with them; but clouds can on occasion hold their own against the aviator, and many a pilot has found himself emerging from a cloud not on a level keel. Cloud-flying requires practice, even if you have every modern instrument, and unless you keep calm and collected you will get into trouble after you have been inside a really thick one for a few minutes. In the very early days of aviation, 1912 to be correct, I emerged from a cloud upside down, much to my discomfort, as I didn't know how to get right way up again. I found out somehow, or I wouldn't be writing this.
— Charles Rumney Samson, 1931.

The only time an aircraft has too much fuel on board is when it is on fire.
— Anon

Keep thy airspeed up, less the earth come from below and smite thee.
— William Kershner

Don't ever let an airplane take you someplace where your brain hasn't arrived at least a couple of minutes earlier.
— Anon.

They will pressure you into doing things that may be unsafe, so use your good judgment and remember, 'I would rather be laughed at, than cried for.'
— George MacDonald

When a prang seems inevitable, endeavour to strike the softest, cheapest object in the vicinity, as slowly and gently as possible.
— advice given to RAF pilots during WWII

The thing is, helicopters are different from planes. An airplane by its nature wants to fly, and if not interfered with too strongly by unusual events or by a deliberately incompetent pilot, it will fly. A helicopter does not want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and controls working in opposition to each other, and if there is any disturbance in this delicate balance the helicopter stops flying; immediately and disastrously. There is no such thing as a gliding helicopter. This is why being a helicopter pilot is so different from being an airplane pilot, and why in generality, airplane pilots are open, clear-eyed, buoyant extroverts and helicopter pilots are brooding introspective anticipators of trouble. They know if something bad has not happened it is about to.
— Harry Reasoner, 1971.

Don't believe other people, prove it for yourself. Stick to what you have proved believable. Don't be overawed by other more senior people. Don't ignore the feelings in your bones.
— David P. Davies, former Chief Test Pilot CAA

I don't think I possess any skill that anyone else doesn't have. I've just had perhaps more of an opportunity, more of an exposure, and been fortunate to survive a lot of situations that many other weren't so lucky to make it. It's not how close can you get to the ground, but how precise can you fly the airplane. If you feel so careless with your life that you want to be the world's lowest flying aviator you might do it for a while. But there are a great many former friends of mine who are no longer with us simply because they cut their margins to close.
— R. A. 'Bob' Hoover

If you're faced with a forced landing, fly the thing as far into the crash as possible.
— R. A. 'Bob' Hoover

I sometimes still go out hunting for bad weather, flying low in simple airplanes to explore the inner reaches of the clouds. Less experienced pilots occasionally join me, not to learn formal lessons about weather flying, but with a more advanced purpose in mind — to accompany me in the slow accumulation of experience through circumstances that never repeat in a place that defies mastery.
— William Langeweische

Better to hit the far fence at ten knots than the close fence at VRef.
— Rick Davies, Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia

If you want to grow old as a pilot, you’ve got to know when to push it, and when to back off.
— Chuck Yeager.

I just made a balls of it, old boy. That's all there was to it.
— Douglas Bader, about the take-off crash that led to the loss of both legs.

Harmony comes gradually to a pilot and his plane. The wing does not want so much to fly true as to tug at the hands that guide it; the ship would rather hunt the wind than lay her nose to the horizon far ahead. She has a derelict quality in her character; she toys with freedom and hints at liberation, but yields her own desires gently.
— Beryl Markham, 1942.

Don't be a show-off. Never be too proud to turn back. There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots.
— E. Hamilton Lee, 1949

Navigating by the compass in a sea of clouds over Spain is all very well; it is very dashing, but you want to remember that below the sea of clouds lies eternity.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1939

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