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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."


Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

THE ARTISTRY OF FLYING

T.H.ursdays with Tom Hill

I struggled a little bit this week figuring out what to write about. I keep a list on my iPhone of ideas for subjects. When I think of a possibility, I write it into my phone for review later. Mostly, my ideas for what to write about simply come as I start putting "pen to paper." Today is no different. I wanted to write something about every pilot being exposed to acrobatics and other dynamic maneuvering. As I started to type I thought, "Let's talk more about the basics of why such training is important." That led me to think about today's topic, which is how flying is artistic.



I had a supervisor, the Commandant of the USAF Test Pilot School, say something about flying that was very insightful. He was an engineer, the only engineer to hold that distinguished position. Being the supremely intelligent man that he is, he would ask basic questions about the nature of flying that we pilots mostly took for granted. On this day he asked for my thoughts about whether I thought flying, specifically piloting, was by its nature artistic. I hadn't thought of that before but immediately made the connection.

I believe it is. As many controls, regulations, rules, and automation we might put into flying, at its core, piloting aircraft is artistic to the same degree as painting, playing an instrument, or being a photographer. Each of those vocations can easily be regimented--e.g. paint by numbers--but we rarely discount their connection to being artistic. Piloting, on the other hand, is not commonly connected to an artistic nature.

All of us have been to airshows and watched the headline demonstration team show off their skills. As much as I ooo'd and ahhh'd at their shows as a kid, I developed a new level of appreciation when I learned to fly at pilot training. After I learned the basics of aviation, a new window to the details of flying such demos opened up. The dozens and dozens of considerations, analyses, and decisions that go on every moment during such a demo are mind-boggling. Something as routine as quickly rejoining far flung aircraft involves amazing numbers of considerations and aircraft parameters to be worked through. Yet, these teams do these things so expertly as to make it look simple to the casual observer. We pilots know differently. With so many variables at play, it takes a good dose of "seeing" the solution to make these things happen. "Seeing" is a pretty necessary skill for any artist.


When I was the Edwards AFB F-15 demo pilot, the flight profile I flew was very scripted. Everything about it had parameters that had to be met to ensure proper safety margins were always in-play. To the outside uninformed observer, the long list of airspeeds, altitudes, and aircraft conditions were totally transparent. Yet, as pre-defined the profile was, it took a level of "expertise" to tackle the profile expertly. Even with all the pre-planning weather conditions would creep in requiring adjustments to the parameters to keep the profile as perfect for the viewer as possible. It was always the little things that made one demo flight better than the next. It's the same as a virtuoso playing a classic arrangement many others played before. Artistry is at work.

Some people out there may not understand how I can connect flying to artistry. Some of them might think flying as simply a matter of procedure. They may think flying is simply a matter of making planes idiot proof, training only a matter of learning perfect procedure, and discipline merely doing the right cookbook procedure at the right time. This might make sense in some situations but if you never understand the limits of such a perspective you're doomed to be surprised when things don't go right. If you know and understand that flying is more than simple procedures, there's a hope you might "see" solutions for unexpected situations. Artistry like flying is about developing great skill.

Artistry is a funny thing. It's so difficult to put a finger on what art is. Like anything that's based on subjectivity, it's hard to define quantitatively. But, just because something is hard to define quantitatively and is difficult for actuaries and accountants to accept, it does not mean it's not important. In fact, artistry might be the most important thing of all.


Cheers
Tom
www.tom-hill.biz 
Thank you Tom! This could not be a better week for this post. Monday we had the art of soaring, Tuesday is the art of giving back. Wednesday Aviation Art. And today... your beautiful piece on the Art of flying. Tomorrow another pilots makes art of another kind.

I can totally see how you can connect art to flying. I've flown with artists who paint the sky, and have flown with those who operate mechanically. There is a difference. 

Enjoy the journey!
XOX Karlene

12 comments:

  1. Ms Petitt says on Twitter: "Is Flying an Art, skill or learned procedures?" I'd say it's a combination of all of them. If you love what you do and feel a so big passion for it, how could we call it then? For some people their jobs are more than that, it represents their lives; their passion. Well, that's how I see it.

    Kind regards to all :)

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    1. Mario, what a great comment! I really like the way you see it. Thank you so much. And... I think you're right on.

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  2. Tom, bravo! I must have this post saved in my files. I have absolutely loved it.

    This is the perfect way of expressing the truth about a pilot's soul. There is a difference between an artistic pilot and a pilot that only follows mechanics (procedures?). Although, anyone can become an artistic pilot, but practice for proficiency is required at a very hard level.

    Some pilots find easier to learn, discover and think in comparison to others. There are also pilots with no interest on learning new lessons in every experience they encounter.

    I think it has a lot to do with perspective, confidence, interest and let yourself become more open to new horizons.


    Thank you for posting this!


    Alex

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    1. Alex, thank you so much for your comment. I love this post too, and what you have to say. Especially the statement: "I think it has a lot to do with perspective, confidence, interest and let yourself become more open to new horizons." That speaks volumes!
      Thank you so much!

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    2. Perspective and confidence is very much a part of this. For a kid that's learning to play the piano, scales and exercises make little sense. In fact it can be pure drugery. But, with core skills there is a confidence of execution, to be at a level where "doing" is less concern, and "seeing" is totally what's in play. That is when artistry is at work. It's in a special place between internal perception and rational thinking.

      Cheers

      Tom

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  3. Such wisdom is reminiscent of The Great Gull's lessons on flying. The leap from mechanical to artistic flying is a short one. Once you care enough to explore that space between procedure in a quest for refinement you've crossed the line into artistry.

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    1. John, Beautifully said! I love this. And that's how it is with most anything in life...The art of exploring the space between. We should all do that more often. Thank you so much for the great comment!

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    2. John, I completely forgot about the Great Gull. My gosh, I haven't heard the term let alone read it in perhaps 30 years. I need to get out more. That is precisely what I'm talking about. It is about seeing more than you see right in front of your eyes. It is about being able to do the unexplainable. It's unexplainable because the references are so difficult to translate to someone that just doesn't see or understand it.

      The challenge for us that see this type of thing is bridging the gap to those that don't. That is what I'm working on now. I'll explain more in future posts.

      Cheers

      Tom

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  4. Another of Tom's insightful posts and I agree with his words. That said, it is not just the great artistry of the tightly scripted aerobatic performance that shows, or a F-15 demo flight, but the stick and rudder precision demonstrated by nearly all seriously attentive pilots. They ALWAYS do it that way and and nothing is left to chance. Every action is anticipated and from outside the cockpit, it shows. That kind of flying is literally what separates the men from the boys. Thanks for sharing Tom's thoughts with us, Karlene. His insight is worthy reading. -Craig

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    1. Craig, Thank you so much for your beautiful comment. One day I hope to see all of Tom's stories in a compilation. He's very insightful and really makes us think.

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  5. Each and every flight episode is a rush of adrenalin and every flight is a lesson and an experience. Flying an airplane is a combination of your motor skills, your knowledge of the airplane, the airspace and desire to do well. Flying gives you a sense of freedom. Who would not want to see smiles at the end of the day finishing a flight. It is possible to achieve if we have to the 'Right Stuff'. Artistry of Flying does exist.

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    1. Oh... the smile at the end of the flight. I know that so well. And the one thing that my husband remembers the most clearly when I was flying small planes. I still hold that smile today at the end of every commercial flight too. Thank you so much for the comment!

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