Full text of "Stick And Rudder An Explanation Of The Art Of Flying"


This post links to an article by author William Langewiesche - his father Wolfgang Langewiesche wrote the book Stick and Rudder which is considered a classic. It’s worth a look even for those not interested in aviation.

It’s available on-line


Perhaps what happens when the beginner reacts wrongly in an airplane
is similar to what happened in the early days of the automobile, when a
man trying to stop in an emergency would pull back on the wheel as if he
had reins in his hands and would even yell “Whoa.” There was nothing re¬
ally wrong with his reactions, with his intentions; the only thing wrong was
the image in his head that made him see the automobile as a sort of mech¬
anized horse, to be controlled as horses are controlled. Had he clearly seen
in his mind’s eye the mechanical arrangement we take for granted now—the
clutch that can disconnect the motor, the brakes that can clamp down on
the wheels; had he clearly appreciated that the thing was a machine and
had no soul at all, not even a horse’s soul, and that thus there was no use
in speaking to it—he would then have done the right thing without diffi¬
culty. It may be that, if we could only understand the wing clearly enough,
see its working vividly enough, it would no longer seem to behave contrary
to common sense; we should then expect it to behave as it does behave. We
could then simply follow our impulses and “instincts.” Flying is done largely
with one’s imagination! If one’s images of the airplane are correct, one’s
b ehavior in the airplane will quite naturally and effortlessly also be correct.

When I was a kid I was passenger in the first snowmobile I ever saw. Bench seat with engine in the back. The old-timer that was driving slid off the trail and hit a tree. He tried to stop it by pulling back on the wheel and saying “whoa” in a calm yet firm voice, suitable for horses.

I was a bit less calm on an icy S-bend (really the second of two right-angle corners by the Congregational Church) in Kittery in '72. “Turn, you sonofabitch, turn!” was how my passenger later delighted in quoting me as my Fiat 128 Special headed straight toward the stone fence. And as we got onto the gravel shoulder, it did. We got to our duties at the Naval Hospital nothing the worse.

But I didn’t pull on the wheel. :slight_smile:

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Millard must have been 70 years old then, he was retired from the paper company but still worked in the woods with my father. I recall working on a woods road with him using rock scoop of some sort made for pulling behind a horse that had been modified so he could tow it with his Jeep.

Anyway, pulling back on the wheel is an example of reverting to previously learned behavior when under stress. Mentioned as a factor in the Tenerife disaster by Karl Weick.

Back when I flew a bit I found myself putting a little pressure on the steering wheel of my car as I ascended a steep hill leaving the airport. I also found myself feeling as if things were in slow motion at 70 mph. Flying made me a better driver as strange as that may sound. It is weird how the mind and body adapt so quickly however it takes a bit for both to reprogram.

3 posts were split to a new topic: Rumble Strips on highways

Here’s a link to the main page for the book with different file formats available. The .txt file linked earlier leaves out the figures and drawings :slight_smile:

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This book takes an interesting approach to learning how to fly. I’ve never taken lessons or anything but I recall the first time someone tried to teach me how to run the CG 40 footer utility boat. It was confusing because the moment I stepped on the boat they started hitting me with details.

Most books on seamanship are like this, here are the names of the parts of the anchor, here are red and green buoys and so forth.

In this book about flying it’s more like a zen and the art of flying approach. First need to learn to think like a wing, that is to say how a wing produces lift and stalls etc must be intuitive.

Just saw this from Franam Street - from the book The Biggest Bluff.

"Most real-world environments are … “wicked”: there’s a mismatch between action and feedback because of external noise. Activities with elements of surprise, uncertainty, the unknown: suddenly, you’re not sure whether what you’ve learned is accurate or not, accurately executed or not. There’s simply too much going on. … But despite all this, one thing is undoubtedly true: while practice is not enough and there’s not even close to a magic number for its effectiveness, you also cannot learn if you do not practice. If you’re serious about thing—playing chess, writing a book, becoming an astronaut, playing poker—you have to learn the composite skills. No one is so naturally gifted that they can just get up and go. Even Mozart needed some lessons."

We tend to think of meta skills as the skill. For example, we default to thinking that reading is a skill. But there is really no skill called reading. Reading is the meta-skill that results when you alloy other skills together. You need to know the alphabet, how letter form words, how words have meaning, how words together have meaning, and so on. So often we focus on the meta-skill and not the sub-skills.

Teaching someone how to run a twin screw boat it’s not sufficient to just explain how to manipulate the controls, some time has to be spend just thinking about how the forces from the rudder and props move the boat. Also need to be able to take a few seconds to get used to how the throttles feel, what the wash looks like, how the engine sounds etc.

A post was merged into an existing topic: Culture and aviation safety

From Stick and Rudder, wrt to noise in the environment that makes learning the basics difficult.


A person who grew up on boats is going to focus on the salient clues without even thinking about it while the person who is learning for the first time has to learn what to focus on and what to ignore.

This is very closely related to this thread:

As an example on the maritime side, it’s far easier to maneuver in heavy ship traffic by eye with an occasional look at the ARPA rather than rely upon the ARPA alone yet that’s how most new mates try to do it. Not going by eye is like doing it in zero visibility, difficult and higher risk.

The reason it’s difficult to teach is because doing it by eye seems simple and obvious, why new mates don’t pick it up is a mystery as is why new mates refuse to even try.

In fact it’s more difficult to learn than it seems. New mates are like the “savage” that doesn’t grasp the importance of traffic lights amidst all the noise.