Since the Wright Brothers’ first flight back in December 1903, many have commented on the rapid rise of aviation. But what are the best aviation quotes?

The best aviation quotes are those which epitomize the human race’s desire to soar above the clouds. They’re the ones from aviation icons from every single walk of life that accurately convey our love for aviation not just as an industry, but as a job or hobby as well.

Flying corporate and being a flight instructor is just the culmination of a life’s journey. I’ve loved aircraft since the age of three when I attended my first airshow, perched up on my father’s shoulders.

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The Aviation Fraternity

I believe Jonathan Winters said it best.

“I shook hands with Orville Wright,” he said. “Forty years later, I did the same with Armstrong.”

In his eloquent wit, Winters encapsulates an amazing phenomenon in history. It is, perhaps, the most indicative element of the human spirit. Part of one lifetime is all it took for us to go from inventing a contraption that allowed us to battle the bounds of gravity, then go on and invent a contraption that freed us from it.

Orville’s first flight and Neil's moon landing all happened within the lifetime of one generation. If you just let that sink in for a minute, it will become apparent that the only way that could happen is if we came together. And we did, the fraternity of aviation spreads wide and stretches deep into the fabric of our society.

Aviation has spurred us on, united us, and challenged us. In essence, it brings out the best in us in more ways than one, and I guess it's because we love it.

Allen Paulsen, the founder of Gulfstream Aircraft once said,

“To be successful in anything, you have to love it.”

That love for aviation has made our achievement the benchmark of human imagination and ingenuity. It has been the reason for advances in everything from material sciences, to understanding weather, deciphering the physics of aerodynamics, and the thermodynamics of propulsion.

Aviation has accelerated our understanding of other cultures, accelerated our prosperity through trade and tourism, and increased our ability to elevate the human condition. Imagine what it must have been to be Jonathan Winters, to have had the honor of meeting the man who gave Kitty Hawk its place in infamy.

That alone would have been such a heavy moment for me to experience but he was also able to meet the man whose footprints remain in the dust of the moon’s surface.

What I would give to share his same fortune. But the point he makes, so poignant in its simplicity, is how much we have advanced in such a short span of time. Aviation is not just a technical achievement, it’s a force that continues to shape this world.

It’s like what Bill Gates said,

“The Wright Brothers created the single greatest cultural force.”

But then there are those who have a simpler view of man’s desire for taking to the skies. The naysayers. So let’s imagine for a moment if we hadn't. Imagine if everyone believed the words repeated by Djimon Honshou’s character, Sholu, in the movie,  King’s Man, when he says,

“If god had intended man to fly, he would have wings,”

We don’t really know who originally said it, just that it was said at some point far back in history. It highlights the limited thinking of our own capabilities and our ability to determine our destiny. The response to that line in the movie, however, counters the naysayers of aviation perfectly when the Duke’s son replies to the man who is also his father’s chauffeur,

“If god had intended man to drive, he would have wheels.”

As human beings, it is clear we are not meant to do anything, meaning we do not have a preordained destiny or pre-existing limitation. How far we go, be it over the horizon or across space, is up to us.

The perspective does, however, serve well as a contrast to Winters’ observation. By contrasting the naysayers’ opinion to the speed at which we have developed the technology to escape the bounds that hold us to the planet we evolved on, it speaks loudly to our greatest ability as a species.

As Eddie Rickenbacker said,

“Aviation proves that given the will, we can achieve the impossible.”

Rickenbacker was a World War I ace who shot down over twenty enemy aircraft. For his role in the war, Rickenbacker was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Rickenbacker’s observation that humans have the ability to look past what is impossible at the moment and make it possible by invoking sheer will is proven by the existence of aviation.

I wonder what he would have said if he could have witnessed the Apollo 11 rocket blast off from the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center. I wonder what he would have said if he could have witnessed the rallying of a nation when we came together in the sixties to make Kennedy’s vision a reality.

That sheer defiance of the earth's most significant force - that of gravity, and all the complications it entails was first dreamed up by John F Kennedy in his famous speech in Dallas on that hot, sweltering September 12th afternoon in 1962.

“We choose to go to the Moon... not because it’s easy.”

It was certainly not easy. But if you read his full speech carefully, what comes through, more than just the desire to travel to a large rock in space, is the clarion call to organize and measure our energies and skills. Traveling to space did more than just transport us to a far of land, it taught us the science needed to get there and it taught us how to aspire to something that was so audacious, that it helped us to rise above our own mental shackles.

Kenedy had multiple reasons for committing us to the moon, and he knew then, as it is evident now, that it was as much to unite the country with one focus as it was to undertake something gargantuan.

Aviation is not one plane flying in the sky. An astronaut is not one traveling to space, it is the culmination of thousands of man-hours put in towards the accomplishment of a particular goal.

It has always been that way. Aviation has always required hundreds and thousands of people to come together to make a vision a reality. And that's not just for things like the Mercury, Apollo, or shuttle programs.

In the age before digital computers, there were human computers that sat in back rooms and labs crunching numbers one line at a time before each Mercury craft could launch or each Apollo rocket could make it to the moon.

Every time I get ready to take a flight, there are weather briefers, line guys, refueling trucks, mechanics, ground controllers, departure controllers and so many more that are part of such a huge aviation ecosystem.

And now we are making tracks to return to the moon with Artemis 1. The thousands of minds and bodies it brings together is what the aviation family has always been about.

Perspective

The first time I rolled down the runway and lifted off into the sky, it wasn’t in the cockpit of an aircraft. It was as a passenger flying coach. I was on a flight from New York’s JFK to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.

From the time my eyes adjusted to the ever-decreasing size of the buildings below us, and then the shrinking of Long Island as we soared beyond the clouds, it altered something in me.

It’s like what Socrates imagined almost three thousand years ago.

“Man must rise above the Earth, to fully understand the world.”

I hadn’t heard that quote until I was much older, but reading it instantly transported me back to that first flight. I remember looking below at how things looked so different, so homogenous yet so diverse. It reminded me of how, for the first time, I realized the way the earth connects us ll.

As I grew even older, that perspective evolved. It dawned on me that the world was always what it was, it was my perspective of it that changed. And that realization was a breath of fresh air.

Flying, even just once in your life will change your perspective, not just spatially, but also philosophically. Socrates was right, that a simple change in perspective somehow activates a different part of our mind and allows us to see everything anew.

In the same way that my first flight altered my early perspectives, it was altered once more when I climbed into a cockpit as a student pilot. Just before I climbed on board my instructor showed me an engraving that read,

“...the sensation of flying is one of perfect peace.”

The words were uttered by Wilbur Wright, the other guy responsible for building the first aircraft. His words did not resonate the first time I read it, but as soon as we rolled down the runway and rotated into the air, every word on that plaque became true.

Something about flying seems built into the human psyche. It’s probably what has spurred the aviation industry to such success. It captures our imagination in ways nothing else can and, for those of us who are pilots, it’s like what Ernest Hemmingway said,

“You love a lot of things but none as much as an airplane.”

For most pilots and aviators who take to the air like fish to water, ascending from the airfield and above the clouds is an indescribable experience. And once in it, there is no forgetting it, and that I believe is because the ability to alter one’s perspective is refreshing.

Learning to Fly

“You begin with lots of luck and no experience. Get the experience before you run out of luck.”

I don’t know who originally said that, but I heard it from my instructor. And, over the years, I’ve come to see the truth in it. Looking back at my days as a student pilot, I can’t remember how I pulled off my long-distance cross-country trips, or crosswind landings, knowing as little as I did back then.

As I grew older and my log books increased in number, I started to identify possible emergencies long before they happened and managed to avoid them. My experience had stepped in as my luck started to run out.

I’ve often thought that our aviation industry is the same. From the day when the Wright brothers took to the air with bicycle parts to the point Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, and to the point Niel Armstrong set foot on the moon, we had started off with a bag full of luck and no experience, but now the opposite is true.

I think we have done pretty well at building up our experience over the last century, moving swiftly from Kitty Hawk to Cape Canaveral and onto the moon.

Just like every student pilot learns to fly with lots of luck on their side, the aviation industry has had a lot of luck on its side as well. Our first planes were made from bicycle parts, then wood and fabric. To take it beyond that, we had to develop better materials and better manufacturing processes.

Propulsion technologies, as nascent as they were back then, adequately propelled us forward. So did the study of aerodynamics, thermodynamics, and all the other disciplines that came together - thousands of people, across the entire country, successfully put two men on the moon.

When Neil Armstrong, a Naval Aviator, finally landed on the moon, in his, “One small step for a man,” quote, he articulately described all of humanity's ability on earth coming together and culminating in one leap on the surface of the moon.

It was the best moment of our species, not just because we arrived and landed on a celestial body, but because we did it together.

Grace and Tranquility

If you’re a pilot, then you know the feeling when you get up to cruise altitude. It’s late in the Fall and the sun is behind you. With the winds calm and the airplane trimmed out, the world below seems to come to a stop. It looks like your awareness climbed into a picture frame and is experiencing the impossible.

Charles Lindbergh once said,

“Sometimes, flying feels too God-like to be attained by man.”

When I first read it, I could not truly understand what he meant when he said it, or what experience he was referring to. But as my flight experience continues to grow,  I suspect he is talking about the pure grace that exists on a silent day, much like what he must have experienced over the Atlantic, all alone.

Being God-like at altitude is not about the grand feeling that you are somewhere not many members of your species have visited. I am certain after spending countless hours on the flight deck these days, that it's about that tranquility that descends upon you up at altitude.

I was on a flight that flew north over a warzone in the Middle East back in the nineties. From just over forty thousand feet I could see the blasts illuminate the night sky far below me. What must have been thunderous explosions seemed silent looking down from where I was.

It was hard to not think that whatever they were fighting for was not worth it, but I was glad to be away from it and not part of the thinking that led to it.

It reminded me of what Antoine de Exupery, poet and pilot, said about seeing the ground from the silence of his cockpit,

“I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny below.”

From that altitude, it's easy to look down, even at the prospect of battle, and think of how unnecessary it all is. It is what changes a pilot’s view. It is what makes us see things differently.

Hesitation and Fear

Amelia Earhart once said, “Use your fear... to the place where you store your courage.”

As a young First Officer, on a corporate jet, I used to approach my day with a good dose of excitement and an equally powerful measure of fear.  As time went on, I began to innovate out of that fear, focusing on what exactly scared me and using the energy fear gave me, to resolve it. I suppose that’s what she is referring to as well.

No matter how often a pilot takes to the skies, fear is a healthy response. Even flying to space and the moon elicits a certain sense of fear. All that is healthy. It teaches respect for the elements and to not take the unknown for granted. Use fear. It will energize you toward your goal.

She also said, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it."

In connection with the fear that she talked about converting to courage, the idea in aviation is to just get up and do it. If you start entertaining any element of fear, it will end up driving you and that’s never a good way to spend your time in the cockpit.

Today’s aviation industry has stepped away from fear and hesitation, thankfully. We have, however, slipped into misunderstanding and fake narratives. The industry stands now amidst hesitation from some quarters about reaching the stars.

But if your fear is because you are new to the industry and that you are afraid of doing the wrong thing, don’t be. Making mistakes is how you learn. Making mistakes is what gets you experienced. And being experienced is what you want as a pilot.

Richard Branson once said, "You don't learn by following rules. You learn by falling over."

The same applies to flying. Of course, there are rules to follow for everyone’s safety. He is not talking about skipping all the FARs and guidelines.

He is talking about removing the shackles that limit you from experiencing all things, flying included, and making mistakes, so that while you still have luck on your side, as mentioned above, you can build your experience.

And when your luck runs out, and you no longer have fear to caution you, you will have experience and wisdom.

As we head back to the moon with a goal that is worthy of Kennedy’s ‘We choose to go to the moon,’ speech, we see once more clearly how much effort has gone into the technology and the work that preceded it.

It’s not just the men and women in Cape Canaveral and across the United States, but also the men and women in Europe and the rest of the world, that worked, contributed, and even prayed so that the endeavor would be a safe one.

It’s been just under a hundred and twenty years since a plane took to the sky, albeit for just a hundred and twenty feet, and in that time we have accomplished so much, and more importantly, we have become so much more.

About THE AUTHOR

Joe Haygood

Joe Haygood

After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.

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