The Magic and Wonder of Flight

Maybe my favourite section of the entire aviation quote collection, here are people saying Wow! This flying thing is dang awesome! People, that is, clearly more elequent than I. The first quotation is where we got the title of the second book:

The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be? — it is the same the angels breathe.

Mark Twain, Roughing It, Chapter XXII, 1886.

The origin of the quote really has nothing to do with flying. Twain was talking about the cool, foggy air at his campsite at Lake Tahoe, on the border of California and Nevada.

Wilbur Wright

The natural function of the wing is to soar upwards and carry that which is heavy up to the place where dwells the race of gods. More than any other thing that pertains to the body it partakes of the nature of the divine.

Plato, Phaedrus, circa 370 BC.

Man must rise above the Earth — to the top of the atmosphere and beyond — for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.

Socrates. From Plato’s Dialogue, Phaedo, circa 360 BC. A less romantic translation is:

“Because of our weakness and slowness we are unable to cross and reach the edge of air (atmosphere). Because if someone reaches its edge or gain wings and fly, he will raise up his head and see, in a way that the fish down here pull up their heads above the sea and see the world around them, shall see the things up there. And if his hold is firm and continues to watch he may perceive that that is the real sky, the real light and the real earth. Our earth down here and the stones and all the places are in decay and is eroded, as those that are inside the sea from the salt.”

A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the study of so vast a subject. A time will come when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them.

Seneca, Book 7, first century BC.

When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.

This may be one of the most famous aviation quotes — but it wasn’t Leonardo! It’s attributed everywhere to him (including some Smithsonian publications, the Washington Post newspaper and a couple of science quotation books), but he never said or wrote it. For the full story on who did, see my August 2020 article in Air Facts magazine The Famous Quote That Da Vinci Never Said.

Tasted Flight

Limited in his nature, infinite in his desires,
Man is a fallen god who remembers heaven.

Alphonse de Lamertine, L’Homme, addressed to Byron in 1819. The original French:

“Borné dans sa nature, infini dans ses vocux, L’homme est un dieu tombé qui se souvient des cieux.”

The blue distance, the mysterious Heavens, the example of birds and insects flying everywhere — are always beckoning Humanity to rise into the air.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, The Successes of Air Balloons in the XIX Century, 1901.

The desire to reach for the sky runs deep in our human psyche.

Cesar Pelli, architect of the tallest building in the world, the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, quoted in The New York Times, 20 September 2001.

O to speed where there is space enough and air enough at last!

Walt Whitman, One Hour to Madness and Joy, 1860.

All the calculations show it can’t work. There’s only one thing to do: make it work.

Attributed to Pierre Georges Latécoère, early French aviation entrepreneur.

I cannot describe the delight, the wonder and intoxication, of this free diagonal movement onward and upward, or onward and downward….The birds have this sensation when they spread their wings and go tobogganing in curves and spirals through the sky.

Alberto Santos-Dumont, The Sensations and Emotions of Aerial Navigation, The Pall Mall Magazine, Janurary 1904.

Alberto Santos-Dumont

Flying is like the most irresistible intoxication.

Sydney Carline, 1921. Seen at an Imperial War Museum exhibition of First World War air, RAF Museum, London. This 1919 painting is The Sea of Galilee: Aeroplanes Attacking Turkish Boats, 1919, by Sydney Carline:

The Sea of Galilee: Aeroplanes Attacking Turkish Boats, 1919, by Sydney Carline.

It was delightful. Now at last I know what Elijah felt like when he was drawn up to heaven in the chariot of fire.

One elderly lady, after flying with Norman Macmillan in the open cockpit of a military fighter plane. Quoted by him in his 1928 book The Art of Flying.

I began to understand why young men with apparently everything to make them happy on earth persist in leaving it by means of aeroplanes … What lures them is the call of a new world waiting to be conquered, the sense of power, of detachment from everything humdrum, or even human, the thrill that makes all the other sensations stale and vapid, the exhilaration that for the moment makes each one of them a king.

Richard Harding Davis, riding in a Wright Model B, assigned to describe this new sensation of flying, Collier's magazine, September 1911.

Sometimes, flying feels too godlike to be attained by man. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for human eyes to see.

Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis, 1953.

Commander Fitzhugh Green was driving Lindbergh back to New York after the Washington home-coming reception. 'Slim,' he said, 'what are you going to do after the noise dies down?'

'But I mean—say five years from now?'
'Well, don't you intend to get married?'
'Oh, I suppose that might happen to anyone.'
'After you're married what will you do?'

Charles Lindbergh and his chief secretarial aide Fitzhugh Green. Story in several 1928 publications, including The New York World newspaper and US Air Services magazine. This copy from the Reading Times newspaper, Reading, Pennsylvania, 18 April 1928. While probably planted by Green, it rings true to Lindy's concise speaking style and his deep love of flying.

Charles Lindbergh FLY

Why do I want to fly? Because half-way between the earth and sky, one seems to be closer to God. There is a peace of mind and heart, a satisfaction which walls can not give. When I see an airplane flying I just ache all over to be up there. It isn’t for a fad, or a thrill, or pride.

Margery Brown, Flying is Changing Women. Pictorial Review magazine, June 1930.

To be able to rise from the earth, to be able, from a station in outer space, to see the relationship of the planet earth to other planets; to be able to contemplate the billions of factors in precise and beautiful combination that make human existence possible; to be able to dwell on an encounter of the human brain and spirit with the universe—all this enlarges the human horizon.

Norman Cousins, statement to the Subcommittee on Space Science and Application, 94th congress of the United States, 22 July 1975.

The most beautiful dream that has haunted the heart of man since Icarus is today reality.

Louis Bleriot. Quoted by Louise Faure-Favrier in Les chevaliers de l’air, 1923.

As flying enters into everyday life, the dreams of centuries become actualities. One by one they take shape and become stepping-stones for other dreams.

Amelia Earhart, Fly America First, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, October 1929.

There is no sport in the world quite equal to that which aviators enjoy while being carried through the air on great white wings. Compared with the motion of a jolting automobile is not flying real poetry?

Wilbur Wright, private letter to the Italian soaring enthusiast Aldo Corazza, December 1905.

Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight — how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. More than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly.

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, 1970.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

My soul is in the sky.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V. Scene I.

Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness.

Alejandro Jodorowski. Quoted in the 2016 book Investing with Impact: Why Finance is a Force for Good.

All agreed that the sensation of coasting on the air was delightful.

Octave Chanute, Recent Experiments in Gliding Flight, The Aeronautical Annual, 1895.

Gliders, sailplanes, they are wonderful flying machines. It’s the closest you can come to being a bird.

Neil Armstrong, interview with Ed Bradley, First Man, CBS TV show 60 Minutes, 2005.

It is a realization of a dream so many persons have had of floating in the air. More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination.

Wilbur Wright. Quoted in Successful in Flying, the Wrights Guard Their Secret Well, but may have been reporter's paraphrase. New York Herald, 25 November 1906.

The exhilaration of flying is too keen, the pleasure too great, for it to be neglected as a sport. It seems to me that its use will be somewhat similar to the automobile, as far as pleasure goes; that is, that people will have aeroplanes for pleasure runs, for fresh air, and for sight-seeing — perhaps even for touring, when starting devices are either carried along, or to be found readily at stopping points. There will be races, I suppose, and contests, and many of them will be beneficial as stimulative to inventive progress, just as races and contests have improved the automobile. But the greatest development in a sporting line, as I see it, will be for the pure pleasure of flying.

Orville Wright. The Future of the Aeroplane, Country Life in America magazine, January 1909.


Within all of us is a varying amount of space lint and star dust, the residue from our creation. Most are too busy to notice it, and it is stronger in some than others. It is strongest in those of us who fly and is responsible for an unconscious, subtle desire to slip into some wings and try for the elusive boundaries of our origin.

K. O. Eckland, Footprints On Clouds, 1976.

No one can realize how substantial the air is, until he feels its supporting power beneath him. It inspires confidence at once.

Otto Lilienthal, The Flying Man, McClure’s Magazine, September 1894.

The Flying Man

We returned home, after this experiment (September, 1874), with the conviction that sailing flight was not the exclusive prerogative of birds.

Otto Lilienthal, Birdflight As the Basis of Aviation: A Contribution Towards a System of Aviation, 1889.

When gliding operators have attained greater skill, they can, with comparitve safety, maintain themselves in the air for hours at a time in this way.

Wilbur Wright, Some Aeronautical Experiments, presented to the Western Society of Engineers 18 September 1901.

The soaring pilot makes an aerial excursion, not an incursion. His passage leaves a whisper, not a shriek.

Richard Miller, 1967. Original citation lost, help please!

The air to a glider pilot is a reality … He is trying to understand it in all its moods; to learn its flow, its laws, and to try and use this knowledge to his own ends.

Philip Wills. Original citation lost, help please!

By day, or on a cloudless night, a pilot may drink the wine of the gods, but it has an earthly taste; he's a god of the earth, like one of the Grecian deities who lives on worldly mountains and descended for intercourse with men. But at night, over a stratus layer, all sense of the planet may disappear. You know that down below, beneath that heavenly blanket is the earth, factual and hard. But it's an intellectual knowledge; it's a knowledge tucked away in the mind; not a feeling that penetrates the body. And if at times you renounce experience and mind's heavy logic, it seems that the world has rushed along on its orbit, leaving you alone flying above a forgotten cloud bank, somewhere in the solitude of interstellar space.

Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis, 1953.

The lure of flying is the lure of beauty. The dramas of the clouds, the glory of the stars, the charm of landscapes and the wonders of the waters and skies have, to me, an irresistible appeal

Ameila Earhart, Quoted in Two Ocean Hops Traced, Los Angeles Times newspaper, 31 March 1935.

It’s wonderful to climb the liquid mountains of the sky, Behind me and before me is God and I have no fears.

Helen Keller, at age 74, on flight around the world, news reports of 5 February 1955.

My airplane is quiet, and for a moment still an alien, still a stranger to the ground, I am home.

Richard Bach, Stranger to the Ground, 1963.

Stranger to the Ground

Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there's a reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, 1970.

The airplane is just a bunch of sticks and wires and cloth, a tool for learning about the sky and about what kind of person I am, when I fly. An airplane stands for freedom, for joy, for the power to understand, and to demonstrate that understanding. Those things aren’t destructable.

Richard Bach, Nothing by Chance, 1963.

Built into the human psyche, we have this … desire for liberty. I think with many people the airplane becomes the metaphor for liberation, for the ultimate sense of freedom.

Rod Machado, interview in the documentary The Disciples of Flight, 2019.

Never stop being a kid. Never stop feeling and seeing and being excited with great things like air and engines and sounds of sunlight within you. Wear your little mask if you must to protect you from the world but if you let that kid disappear you are grown up and you are dead.

Richard Bach, Nothing by Chance, 1963.

The fascination of flight can't be expressed with words. But it really lies beyond the capabilities of human endeavor. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll never be able to forget it.

Attributed to Friedrich Oblessor, 127 victories WWII.

What I like best about flying is the freedom it affords to navigate an ocean of air and see the earth from a wider perspective. I never tire of the beauty of the earth by day or the sky by night.

Chesley 'Sully' Sullenbeger, Instagram post on National Aviation Day, 19 August 2020.

Sully Sullenbeger Fighter Pilot

If you’re tired of takeoffs, you’re tired of life.

Dave Matheny, Sport Aviation magazine, June 2019.


Lovers of air travel find it exhilarating to hang poised between the illusion of immortality and the fact of death.

Alexander Chase, Perspectives, 1966.

It is as though we have grown wings, which thanks to Providence, we have learnt to control.

Louis Blériot, Atlantic Monoplanes of Tomorrow, The Graphic, 3 September 1927.

Flying was a very tangible freedom. In those days, it was beauty, adventure, discovery — the epitome of breaking into new worlds.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, introduction to Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, 1929.

Science, freedom, beauty, adventure: what more could you ask of life? Aviation combined all the elements I loved. There was science in each curve of an airfoil, in each angle between strut and wire, in the gap of a spark plug or the color of the exhaust flame. There was freedom in the unlimited horizon, on the open fields where one landed. A pilot was surrounded by beauty of earth and sky. He brushed treetops with the birds, leapt valleys and rivers, explored the cloud canyons he had gazed at as a child. Adventure lay in each puff of wind.

I began to feel that I lived on a higher plane than the skeptics of the ground; one that was richer because of its very association with the element of danger they dreaded, because it was freer of the earth to which they were bound. In flying, I tasted a wine of the gods of which they could know nothing. Who valued life more highly, the aviators who spent it on the art they loved, or these misers who doled it out like pennies through their antlike days? I decided that if I could fly for ten years before I was killed in a crash, it would be a worthwhile trade for an ordinary life time.

Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis, 1953.

To put your life in danger from time to time… breeds a saneness in dealing with day-to-day trivialities.

Nevil Shute, Slide Rule: The Autobiography of an Engineer, 1954.

Slide Rule

Once you have learned to fly your plane, it is far less fatiguing to fly than it is to drive a car. You don’t have to watch every second for cats, dogs, children, lights, road signs, ladies with baby carriages and citizens who drive out in the middle of the block against the lights … Nobody who has not been up in the sky on a glorious morning can possibly imagine the way a pilot feels in free heaven.

William T. Piper, president of Piper Aircraft Corporation, Plain Facts About Private Planes, The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945.

Courage is the price that life extracts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not, knows no release
From little things;
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.

Amelia Earhart, 1927. Published as Courage, Survey magazine, 1 July 1928.

Flying. Whatever any other organism has been able to do man should surely be able to do also, though he may go a different way about it.

Samuel Butler. Published in the 1912 book The Note-Books of Samuel Butler.

I am getting housemaid’s knee kneeling here gulping beauty.

Amelia Earhart, comment in logbook while flying the Atlantic, June 1928. Quoted in 1963 book Courage is the price: The biography of Amelia Earhart.

Courage is the price

Ours is the commencement of a flying age, and I am happy to have popped into existence at a period so interesting.

Amelia Earhart, 20 Hrs 40 Mins, 1928.

From the air, the distinctions between residential, commercial, and industrial areas are easily understand while town, county, and state boundaries go unseen.

Oliver Gillham, The Limitless City, 2001.

The airplane has unveiled for us the true face of the earth.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939.

The magic of the craft has opened for me a world in which I shall confront, within two hours, the black dragons and the crowned crests of a coma of blue lightnings, and when night has fallen I, delivered, shall read my course in the starts.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939.

The modern airplane creates a new geographical dimension. A navigable ocean of air blankets the whole surface of the globe. There are no distant places any longer: the world is small and the world is one.

Wendell Willkie. Written for the Airways to Peace: An Exhibition of Geography for the Future, presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, opened 2 July 1943.

Airways to Peace: An Exhibition of Geography for the Future

I, too, have made it a lifelong task of mine to add a cultural element to my work, which should result in uniting countries and reconciling their people. Our experience of today’s civilisation suffers from the fact that it only happens on the surface of the earth. We have invented barricades between our countries, custom regulations and constraints and complicated traffic laws and these are only possible because we are not in control of the ‘kingdom of the air’, and not as ‘free as a bird’.

Otto Lilienthal, letter to Moritz von Egidy, c. January 1894.

We want the air to unite the peoples, and not to divide them.

Viscount Swinton, first Minister of Civil Aviation UK, during debate in the House of Lords, 1945.

Unlike the boundaries of the sea by the shorelines, the ‘ocean of air’ laps at the border of every state, city, town and home throughout the world.

L. Welch Pogue, chairman of the US Civil Aeronautics Board, 1979. Quoted in the 1984 book Empires of the Sky: The Politics, Contests, and Cartels of World Airlines.

We humans are basically content with a two-dimensional world, which is what we’ve always occupied. We travel mostly on the ground, have traffic jams, parking problems, and we’d do a lot better to look up a little bit because there is that great aerial highway that’s always ready to go, you don’t have to pave it and the benefits are very great.

Paul MacCready, The Pioneers of Flight episode, Discover Magazine TV show, 2000.

The genius of Leonardo da Vinci imagined a flying machine, but it took the methodical application of science by these two American bicycle mechanics to create it.

Bill Gates, chairman and CEO Microsoft. Aviators: The Wright Brothers, Time magazine, 29 March 1999.

Time magazine, 29 March 1999

The Wrights created one of the greatest cultural forces since the development of writing, for their invention effectively became the World Wide Web of that era, bringing people, languages, ideas and values together. It also ushered in an age of globalization, as the world’s flight paths became the superhighways of an emerging international economy.

Bill Gates, chairman and CEO Microsoft. Aviators: The Wright Brothers, Time magazine, 29 March 1999.

I’ve never known an industry that can get into people’s blood the way aviation does.

Robert Six, founder of Continental Airlines. Quoted in 2000 book Airline Executives and Federal Regulation: Case Studies in American Enterprise from the Airmail Era to the Dawn of the Jet Age.

whhheeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! The scream of jet engines rises to a crescendo on the runways of the world. Every second, somewhere or other, a plane touches down, with a puff of smoke from scorched tyre rubber, or rises in the air, leaving a smear of black fumes dissolving in its wake. From space, the earth might look to a fanciful eye like a huge carousel, with planes instead of horses spinning round its circumference, up and down, up and down. Whhheeeeeeeeeee!

David Lodge, Small World: An Academic Romance, 1984.

My senses of space, of distance, and of direction entirely vanished. When I looked for the ground I sometimes looked down, sometimes up, sometimes left, sometimes right. I thought I was very high up when I would suddenly be thown to earth in a near vertical spin. I thought I was very low to the ground and I was pulled up to 3,000 feet in two minutes by the 500-horsepower motor. It danced, it pushed, it tossed … Ah! la la!

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, letter to his mother regards his first flight in a SPAD-Herbemont. This was one of his first flights, and these are his first words on the experience of flight, Lettres à sa mère, 1921.

Dad, I left my heart up there.

Francis Gary Powers, CIA U-2 pilot shot down over the Soviet Union, describing his first flight at age 14. In his 1970 book Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident.

As soon as we left the ground I knew I myself had to fly!

Amelia Earhart, after her first flight in an airplane, a ten minute sight-seeing trip over Los Angeles, 1920. Quoted in the 1989 book Amelia Earhart: A Biography

It was a night of stars. Stars hung outside my cockpit window near enough to touch.

Amelia Earhart, writting about flying from Hawaii to California. She was the first person to complete this flight solo. Last Flight, 1937.

Even before the old Taylorcraft had reached 300 feet, I recognized that the sky would be my home. I tumbled out of the airplane with stars in my eyes.

Geraldyn 'Jerrie' Cobb, regards her first flight, piloted by her father when she was 12 years old. Woman Into Space: The Jerrie Cobb Story, 1963.

I wanted to go higher than Rockefeller Center, which was being erected across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue and was going to cut off my view of the sky… . Flying got into my soul instantly but the answer as to why must be found somewhere back in the mystic maze of my birth and childhood and the circumstances of my earlier life. Whatever I am is elemental and the beginnings of it all have their roots in Sawdust Road. I might have been born in a hovel, but I determined to travel with the wind and stars.

Jacqueline Cochran, The Stars at Noon, 1954.

After about 30 minutes I puked all over my airplane. I said to my self, “Man, you made a big mistake.”

Charles 'Chuck' Yeager, regards his first flight. Quoted in CNN report 50 years later, Yeager proves he still has 'the right stuff', 14 October 1997.

I’ve had a ball.

Charles 'Chuck' Yeager, last sentence of his autobiography, Yeager, 1985.

I've had a ball

Receiving my first Medicare card a few months ago was not much of a thrill. I wanted to burn it immediately and go out and buy a Pitts!

Betty Skelton, quoted in her New York Times obituary, Air and Land Daredevil, Dies at 85. The New York Times, 10 September 2011.

Betty Skelton Pitts

To invent an airplane is nothing. To build one is something. To fly is everything.

Ferdinand Ferber, 1898. Widely misattributed to Otto Lilienthal, to whom it was dedicated. Published in L’Aviation; Ses Debuts son Developpement [Aviation, its debut and devopment], 1908.

Aeronautics was neither an industry nor even a science; both were yet to come. It was an art and I might say a passion. Ineed, at that time it was a miracle. It meant the realization of legends and dreams that had existed for thousands of years and had been pronounced again and again as impossible by scientific authorities. Therefore, even the brief and unsteady flights of that period were deeply impressive. Many times I observed expressions of joy and tears in the eyes of witnesses who for the first time watched a flying machine carrying a man in the air.

Igor Sikorsky. Undated, from the Igor I Sikorsky Historical Archives.

It is not the visions but the activity which makes you happy, and the joy and glory of the flier is the flight itself…
Every time I have gone up in an aeroplane and looked down have realized I was free of the ground, I have had the consciousness of a new discovery. “I see:” I have thought, “This was the idea. And now I understand everything.”

Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa, 1937.

I have flown everything from a 65hp Piper J-3 Cub to all the USAF Century Series fighters. But there is still something about being in the back seat of a yellow J-3 Cub with the door open on a glass smooth early morning just after sunrise with the slipstream hitting you in the face and Mother Earth slowly — I mean slowly — passing a couple of hundred feet below.

Dick Rutan, Voyager world flight pilot, quoted in the 2013 book The Little Book of Aviation.

You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment you touch the perfect speed. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, of flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfect speed, my son, is being there.

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, 1970.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull book

There is no excuse for an airplane unless it will fly fast!

Attributed to Roscoe Turner

Professor Focke and his technicians standing below grew ever smaller as I continued to rise straight up, 50 metres, 75 metres, 100 metres. Then I gently began to throttle back and the speed of ascent dwindled till I was hovering motionless in midair. This was intoxicating! I thought of the lark, so light and small of wing, hovering over the summer fields. Now man had wrested from him his lovely secret.

Hanna Reitsch, German test pilot describing the first helicopter flight.

Everyone asks me “how it feels to fly.” It feels like riding in a high powered automobile, minus bumping over the rough roads, continually signaling to clear the way and keeping a watchful on the speedometer to see that you do not exceed the speed limit and provoke the wrath of the bicycle policeman or the covetous constable.

Harriet Quimby, How a Woman Learns to Fly, in Leslie’s Illustraated Weekly, 1911.

That this tiny two-seater box of metal managed to rise into the air at all felt unbelievable. Once we broke ground, it seemed as if I were floating on a magic carpet. The lightness and height made me tingle in somewhat the same way I feel aroused before making love. When I took over the controls, I felt as if I were at the center of my universe instead of orbiting someone else's. I felt then, and still believe now, that piloting a small aircraft is about as good as it gets.

Barbara Cushman Rowell, Flying South: A pilot’s Inner Journey.

I take the paraglider to the mountain or I roll Daisy out of her hangar and I pick the prettiest part of the sky and I melt into the wing and then into the air, till I’m just soul on a sunbeam.

Richard Bach, Running From Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit, 1994. Daisy was Richard’s Cessna 337.

The engine is the heart of an aeroplane, but the pilot is its soul.

Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh. No, not that other Sir Walter Raleigh, the one who popularized tobacco and El Dorado, and was beheaded in 1618 at the Palace of Westminster. Our Sir Walter was a poet, professor of English Literature at Oxford university, and wrote the 1922 book The History of the War in the Air 1914-1918. It contains this passage about the Royal Flying Corps:

“The problems presented to them were complicated and novel; they had no safe models to copy, and no ancient tradition to follow. They had to cope patently and resolutely with the most recent of sciences, and, more than that, they had to procure and train a body of men who should transform the timid and gradual scence into a confident and rapid art. The engine is the heart of an aeroplane, but the pilot is its soul. They succeeded so well that at the opening of the battles of the Somme, on the 1st of July 1916, the Royal Flying Corps held the mastery of the air.”

War in the Air

High sprits they had: gravity they flouted.

Cecil Day Lewis, A Time to Dance, 1936.

Flying without feathers is not easy; my wings have no feathers.

Titus Maccius Plautus, Paenulus, Act v, scene 2, c. 220 BCE Original, “Sine pennis volare hau facilest: meae alea pennas non habent.”

He rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.

Old Testament: Psalms XVIII, 10, c. 150 BCE

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it. The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply that they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.

J. M. Barrie. The Little White Bird, 1902. His Peter Pan story started as one chapter and grew to an “elaborate book-within-a-book” of more than one hundred pages during the four years Barrie worked on The Little White Bird.

I sometimes think that the desire to fly after the fashion of birds is an ideal handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air.

Wilbur Wright, letter to the Aéro-Club de France, 5 November 1908.

Like a great graceful bird sailing through the illimitable skies.

Helen Keller, blind and deaf author and advocate, describing the airplane, in Helen Keller Flies to Meet Hoover, the New York Times newspaper, 22 April 1931.

Real flight and dreams of flight go together. Both are part of the same movement. Not A before B, but all together.

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 1973.

Often I have a feeling about how strange it would be not to fly. I ask people who don’t fly, “How can you not fly when you live in a time in history when you can fly?” and, “How can you ever really know where you are if you don’t fly?” I think people who don’t fly have no idea of their own blindness, and of the geographic orientation of the world that a pilot does have … Flying is a fundamental liberation of the mind.

William Langewische. Interview in Avweb, 28 November 2001.

We contrive to make the invisible air support us, we relinquish the security of feet on the ground because flying is demanding, delightful, beautiful: because we love it. Very few of us are actually crazy, and nearly all of us manage the risks as well as we can, but we all willingly trade some of our security for the immeasurable beauty of the sky.

Paul J. Sampson. I’ve lost the source of this great line, help please!

No bird ever flew nonstop from New York to Tokyo, or raced 15 miles high at triple the speed of sound. But birds do something else. They do not conquer the air; they romance it.

Peter Garrison, Gull Ability, Flying magazine, June 1997.

Gull Ability

No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, composed between 1790 and 1793.

Fly and you will catch the swallow.

James Howell, English Proverbs, 1659.

Sometimes I feel a strange exhilaration up here which seems to come from something beyond the mere stimulus of flying. It is a feeling of belonging to the sky, of owning and being owned — if only for a moment - by the air I breathe. It is akin to the well known claim of the swallow: each bird staking out his personal bug-strewn slice of heaven, his inviolate property of the blue.

Guy Murchie, Song of the Sky, 1954.

I had never cared about flying, and in fact had only once been up in the air; although I do a great deal of motor-boat and car racing, I had always been afraid of flying. I used to tell my friends that I should never fly and that sometimes I even hated butterflies, or anything with wings, and that it actually made me dizzy to look at my own foot. That was my outlook so far as flying was concerned until this day when I spied the little machine in that shop window.

The Hon. Mrs Victor Bruce, The Bluebirds’s Flight, 1931.

Every flyer who ventures across oceans to distant lands is a potential explorer; in his or her breast burns the same fire that urged the adventurers of old to set forth in their sailing-ships for foreign lands. Riding through the air on silver wings instead of sailing the seas with white wings, he must steer his own course, for the air is uncharted, and he must therefore explore for himself the strange eddies and currents of the ever-changing sky in its many moods.

Jean Batten, Alone in the Sky, 1979.

Travelers are always discoverers, especially those who travel by air. There are no signposts in the air to show a man has passed that way before. There are no channels marked. The flier breaks each second into new uncharted seas.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, North to the Orient, 1935

I was conscious again of the fundamental magic of flying, a miracle that has nothing to do with any of its practical purposes — purposes of speed, accessibility, and convenience—and will not change as they change …

For not only is life put into new patterns from the air, but it is somehow arrested, frozen into form … A glaze is put over life. There is no flaw, no crack in the surface; a still reservoir, no ripple on its face.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, North to the Orient, 1935.

I have lifted my plane from the Nairobi airport for perhaps a thousand flights and I have never felt her wheels glide from the Earth into the air without knowing the uncertainty and the exhilaration of first-born adventure.

Beryl Markham, West with the Night, 1942.

West with the Night

I’ll run my hand gently over the wing of a small airplane and say to him, “This plane can teach you more things and give you more gifts than I ever could. It won't get you a better job, a faster car, or a bigger house. But if you treat it with respect and keep your eyes open, it may remind you of some things you used to know — that life is in the moment, joy matters more than money, the world is a beautiful place, and that dreams really, truly are possible.” And then, because airplanes speak in a language beyond words, I’ll take him up in the evening summer sky and let the airplane show him what I mean.

Lane Wallace, Eyes of a Child, Flying magazine, February 2000.

Flying is within our grasp. We have naught to do but take it.

Charles F. Duryea, Learning How to Fly, Procedings of the Third International Conference on Aeronautics, 1894.

I was sold on flying as soon as I had a taste for it.

John Glenn. Quoted in John Glenn: Astronaut and Senator, 2000.

It will free man from the remaining chains, the chains of gravity which still tie him to this planet. It will open to him the gates of heaven.

Wernher von Braun, The Jupiter People, Time magazine, 10 February 1958.

What is it that makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle, such as a Redstone, Atlas, Titan or Saturn rocket, and wait for someone to light the fuse?

Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff, 1979.

It was quite a day … I don’t know what you can say about a day when you see four beautiful sunsets — three in orbit and one on the surface. This is a little unusual, I think.

John Glen, after becoming first American to orbit the Earth in space. Press conference at Cape Canaveral, 23 February 1962.

As you pass from sunlight into darkness and back again every hour and a half, you become startlingly aware how artificial are thousands of boundaries we’ve created to separate and define. And for the first time in your life you feel in your gut the precious unity of the Earth and all the living things it supports. The dissonance between this unity you see and the seperateness of human groupings that you know exists is starkly apparent.

Russell 'Rusty' Schweickart, describing Earth orbit in Apollo 9. Discover magazine, July 1987.

Father, we thank you, especially for letting me fly this flight — for the privilege of being able to be in this position, to be in this wondrous place, seeing all these many startling, wonderful things that you have created.

Gordon 'Gordo' Cooper Jr, prayer while orbiting the earth. Quoted in The New York Times, 22 May 1963.

To be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars.

Henry Van Dyke, The Footpaths to Peace, 1900.

No one regards what is before his feet; we all gaze at the stars.

Quintus Ennius. Quoted by quoted by Cicero in De Divinatione, Book II, Chapter XIII, 44 BC.

Through you, we feel as giants, once again.

President Ronald Reagan, to the crew of Columbia after their completion of the first shuttle mission, 14 April 1981.

In the press grandstand where I watched Discovery rise against the cloudless sky, the media hit the abort button on cynicism. The Earth shook to the sounds of man, three miles away. The candle lit … only someone stripped of awe can leave a launch untouched.

Jonathan Alter, Newsweek magazine, 9 November 1998.

There is no flying without wings.

French proverb

And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, Or, The Whale, 1851.

Nothing ever built arose to touch the skies unless some man dreamed that it should, some man believed that it could, and some man willed that it must.

Charles F. Kettering, director of General Motors’ research division. Quoted in the 1956 book The Kettering Digest: A collection of Articles Commemorating Charles F. Kettering’s 80th Birthday.

To most people, the sky is the limit. To those who love aviation, the sky is home.


I saw how a man can be master of a craft, and how a craft can be master of an element. I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know — that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it. These I learned at once. But most things come harder.

Beryl Markham, West With The Night, 1942. A book Hemingway called “bloody wonderful”.

West With The Night

When I’m up in the air, it's like I’m closer to heaven; I can't explain the feeling.

First Officer Jeffrey Gagliano, who died while flying AA 4184. Personal conversation with his widow Cindy Gagliano.

What happiness this is: to fly, skimming over the earth just as we do in our dreams! Life has become a dream. Can this be the meaning of paradise?

Nikos Kazantzakis, The last temptation of Christ, 1960.

Anyone who’s not interested in model airplanes must have a screw loose somewhere.

Paul MacCready. Interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, 1992. Quoted in his New York Times obituary, 31 August 2007.

But to fly is just like swimming. You do not forget easily. I have been on the ground for more than ten years. If I close my eyes, however, I can again feel the stick in my right hand, the throttle in my left, the rudder bar beneath my feet. I can sense the freedom and the cleanliness and all the things which a pilot knows.

Saburō Sakai, naval aviator during WWII, one of Japan’s highest ranking fighter aces. Sakai came to prominence in 1957 when his memoir, Samurai! The Personal Story of Japan's Greatest Living Fighter Pilot, was published in English, with Japanese journalist Fred Saito and American Martin Caidin as coauthors. It is a classic of air combat, but contains numerous errors and is further blemished by Caidin copyrighting it in the US only in his name, denying Sakai royalties. Quote is from the Forward, written in Tokyo, 1956.

Samurai! The Personal Story of Japan's Greatest Living Fighter Pilot

They shall mount up with wings as eagles.

Isaiah 40:31.

How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790.

The moment I saw the planes in flight and heard the rhythmic whirr of their motors, I felt the call of the air.

Amila Earhart. Quoted in Amelia Earhart Answers the Call of Fate, Illustrated Love Magazine, January 1932.

Anyone who has spent any time in space will love it for the rest of their lives. I achieved my childhood dream of the sky.

Attributed to Valentina Tereshkova. Quoted in Valentina Tereshkova: First Woman in Space,, published online 22 January 2018.

Whether outwardly or inwardly, whether in space or time, the farther we penetrate the unknown, the vaster and more marvelous it becomes.

Charles A. Lindbergh, Autobiography of Values, 1977.

I may be flying a complicated airplane, rushing through space, but in this cabin I’m surrounded by simplicity and thoughts set free of time. How detached the intimate things around me seem from the great world down below. How strange is this combination of proximity and separation. That ground — seconds away — thousands of miles away. This air, stirring mildly around me. That air, rushing by with the speed of a tornado, an inch beyond. These minute details in my cockpit. The grandeur of the world outside. The nearness of death. The longness of life.

Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis, 1953.

Between takeoff and landing, we are each in suspended animation, a pause between chapters of our lives. When we stare out the window into the sun’s glare, the landscape is only a flat projection with mountain ranges reduced to wrinkles in the continental skin. Oblivious to our passage overhead, other stories are unfolding beneath us.

Blackberries ripen in the August sun; a woman packs a suitcase and hesitates at her doorway; a letter is opened and the most surprising photograph slides from between the pages. But we are moving too fast and we are too far away; all the stories escape us, except our own.

Robin Wall Kimmerer. You find aviation quotes in all kinds of places, in this case it was in her book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, 2003.

A small machine is ideal for short flights, joy riding the heavens, or sight seeing among the clouds; but there is something more majestic and stable about the big bombers which a pilot begins to love. An exquisite community grows up between machine and pilot; each, as it were, merges into the other. The machine is rudimentary and the pilot the intellectual force. The levers and controls are the nervous system of the machine, through which the will of the pilot may be expressed—and expressed to an infinitely fine degree. A flying-machine is something entirely apart from and above all other contrivances of man’s ingenuity.

The aëroplane is the nearest thing to animate life that man has created. In the air a machine ceases indeed to be a mere piece of mechanism; it becomes animate and is capable not only of primary guidance and control, but actually of expressing a pilot’s temperament.

Sir Ross Smith. From London to Australia by Aëroplane, National Geographic Magazine, March 1921.

National Geographic 
            Magazine, March 1921

We who fly do so for the love of flying. We are alive in the air with this miracle that lies in our hands and beneath our feet. The pleasure of just getting up off the ground, getting into the air, getting our machine working, listening to the engine. Whatever it might be, you are master of it. You can take it up, bring it down, roll it, loop it, and all yourself. It’s terrific egoism. You can’t get that feeling in anything else, that feeling of leaving the earth, of going to heaven and really lifting yourself up off this flat dish of earth into the three dimensions of God.

Cecil Lewis. Taped comments as President of the Tiger Moth Club at their annual dinner that he was unable to attend due to age. Quoted in his obituary, The Independant newspaper, 29 January 1997.

Cecil Lewis

Flying alone! Nothing gives such a sense of mastery over mechanism, mastery indeed over space, time, and life itself, as this.

Cecil Lewis, Sagittarius Rising, 1936.

It is a huge thrill. you’re up there on your own, and you really feel like this is life. I’m the king of the castle up here. That's really what it's like.

Eric 'Winkle' Brown, British Navy Fleet Air Arm test pilot and war hero. BBC Interview 23 April 2013.

It’s a spiritual experience for anybody with a soul, I think, and I got that. It's a religious experience for some, maybe they've got two or three souls, I don't know. So, personally, it was a cherished experience. I feel I got the chance to see the inner workings of the grand order of things. In the overall scheme of things, it proves that men can do about anything they want to if they work hard enough at it, and I knew that I could do it, and that’s a good thought. And that leads, of course, to a strong suspicion that everybody else can do it if they want to.

Scott Carpenter, answering the question “What do you think was the most important thing that you learned either personally or professionally on [the 1962 Mercury 7 space] flight?” NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project, interview by Michelle Kelly in Houston, Texas, 30 March 1998.

Scott Carpenter

This was the crystalline moment Dan loved so well, the moment of transition between ground and air, when the laws of aerodynamics took over the job of physical support of the jet. He'd become a pilot for this very moment: the feel of mighty engines and the roar of the slipstream, all converging on the reality of sustained flight on an invisible highway of air. Flying was a thrill in even a single-engine airplane, but to levitate a leviathan — a metallic eggshell longer than a football field and heavier than a house — was a magic he could never quite comprehend. Every liftoff was a philosophical wonder that left a broad smile on his face.

John J. Nance, Blackout, 2000.

He did it alone. We had a cast of a million.

Attributed to Neil Armstrong, regards Charles Lindbergh.

How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and of oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life?

Charles A. Lindbergh, Reader’s Digest, November 1939.

Pilots are a rare kind of human. They leave the ordinary surface of the word, to purify their soul in the sky, and they come down to earth, only after receiving the communion of the infinite.

Attributed to José María Velasco Ibarra, five-time President of Ecuador.

Until now I have never really lived! Life on earth is a creeping, crawling business. It is in the air that one feels the glory of being a man and of conquering the elements. There is an exquisite smoothness of motion and the joy of gliding through space. It is wonderful!

Gabriele D’Annunzio, on his first experience as an aeroplane passenger in 1909. Quoted in the 1987 Smithsonian Institution book Contact! The Story of the Early Aviators.

Life doesn't get complicated until you land.

Patty Wagstaff, interview in the 2019 documentary The Disciples of Flight.

Patty Wagstaff

Flying has always been to me this wonderful metaphor. In order to fly you have to trust what you can't see. Up on the mountain ridges where very few people have been I have thought back to what every flyer knows. That there is this special world in which we dwell that's not marked by boundaries, it's not a map. we’re not hedged about with walls and desks. So often in an office the very worst thing that can happen is you could drop your pencil. Out there's a reminder that are a lot worse things, and a lot greater rewards.

Richard Bach. Interview in 1988 BBC TV documentary Reaching for the Skies.

I am alive. Up here with the song of the engine and the air whispering on my face as the sunlight and shadows play upon the banking, wheeling wings, I am completely, vibrantly alive. With the stick in my right hand, the throttle in my left, and the rudder beneath my feet, I can savor that essence from which life is made.

Stephen Coonts, FLY! A Colorado Sunrise, A Stearman, and A Vision, AOPA magazine, 1994.

I live for that exhilarating moment when I’m in an airplane rushing down the runway and pull on the stick and feel lift under its wings. It's a magical feeling to climb toward the heavens, seeing objects and people on the ground grow smaller and more insignificant. You have left that world beneath you. You are inside the sky.

Gordon 'Gordo' Cooper, Leap of Faith, 2000.

Then it was intoxicating. The smooth takeoff, and the free feeling of having the world drop away. Soon after leaving the ground, they were crossing patches of stratus that lay in the valleys as heavy and white as glaciers. North for the first time. It was still an adventure, as exciting as love, as frightening.

James Salter, The Hunters, 1956.

More varied than any landscape was the landscape in the sky, with islands of gold and silver, peninsulas of apricot and rose against a background of many shades of turquoise and azure.

Cecil Beaton, regards an Egyptian sunset. Quoted in the 1985 book Cecil Beaton: The Authorized Biography.

We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens … The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.

Johannes Kepler, Mysterium Cosmographicum, 1597.

Mysterium Cosmographicum

Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds, to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation. Your vision is not limited by what your eye can see, but by what your mind can imagine … Make your life count and the world will be a better place because you tried.

Astronaut Ellison Onizuka, astronaut, in his graduation address to Konawaena High School, Hawaii, 1980.

Ah hell. We had more fun in a week than those weenies had in a lifetime.

Florence 'Pancho' Barnes, quoted in the 2000 book The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes.

I’ve the normal desire experienced by everybody who’s ever flown an airplane with a certain amount of zoom capability to go a little bit higher and a little bit faster. Flying alone, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to go way on up there and see the earth from a really great height.

Gordon 'Gordo' Cooper, Mercury 9 astronaut and first American to spend an entire day in space, the first to sleep in space, and the last American launched on an entirely solo orbital mission. Life magazine, 14 September 1959.

Life magazine article

It’s the most exciting thing you have ever done with your pants on!

Stephen Coonts, Flight of the Intruder, 1986.

Air racing may not be better than your wedding night, but it’s better than the second night.

Mickey Rupp, air racer and former Indianapolis 500 driver. Quoted in the 1991 book Pilots: The Romance of the Air: Pilots Speak About the Triumphs and Tragedies, Fears and Joys of Flying.

If you have flown, perhaps you can understand the love a pilot develops for flight. It is much the same emotion a man feels for a woman, or a wife for her husband.

Louise Thaden, first woman to win the Bendix trophy. Preface to High, Wide, and Frightened, 1938.

Flyers fell a certain kinship with the sight of the earth unencrusted by humanity, they want to see it that way in one sweeping view, in reassurance that nature still exists on her own, without a chain-link fence to hold her.

Richard Bach, A Gift Of Wings, 1974.

The man who flies an airplane, then, to be the best possible pilot, must be a believer in the unseen.

Richard Bach, Biplane, 1966.

The Wright brothers flew through the smoke screen of impossibility.

Charles Kettering. Quoted in The Kettering Digest: A Collection of Articles Commemorating Charles F. Kettering’s 80th Birthday, 1956.

Are we lost, or are we found at last?
On earth we strive for our various needs, because so goes the fundamental law of man. Aloft, at least for a little while, the needs disappear. Likewise the striving.
In the thoughts of man aloft, food and evil become mixed and sometimes reversed. This is the open door to wisdom.
Aloft, the earth is ancient and man is young, regardless of his numbers, for there, aloft he may reaffirm his suspicions that he may not be so very much. This is the gateway to humility.
And yet, aloft there are moments when man can ask himself, “what am I, this creature so important to me? Who is it rules me from birth to tomb? Am I but a slave destined to crawl for labor to hearth and back again? Am I but one of the living dead, or my own god set free?” This is the invitation to full life… .
“Where are we?"
“If you really must know, I’ll tell you.”
“Never mind. Here aloft, we are not lost, but found.”

Ernest K. Gann, Ernest K. Gann’s Flying Circus, 1974.

When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on or we will be taught to fly.

Patrick Overton, The Leaning Tree, 1975.

The last of the lonely places is the sky, a trackless void where nothing lives or grows, and above it, space itself. Man may have been destined to walk upon ice or sand, or climb the mountains or take craft upon the sea. But surely he was never meant to fly? But he does, and finding out how to do it was his last great adventure.

Frederick Forsyth, in his introduction to the 1991 book Great Flying Stories.

It is a strange thing how little in general people know about the sky. It is the part of all creation in which nature has done more for the sake of pleasing man, more, for the sole and evident purpose of talking to him and teaching him, than in any other of her works, and it is just the part in which we least attend to her. There are not many of her other works in which some more material or essential purpose than the mere pleasing of man is not answered by every part of their organization; but every essential purpose of the sky might, as far as we know, be answered, if once in three days, or thereabouts, a great, ugly black rain cloud were brought up over the blue, and everything well watered, and so all left blue again till next time, with perhaps a film of morning and evening mist for dew.

And instead of this, there is not a moment of any day of our lives, when nature is not producing scene after scene, picture after picture, glory after glory, and working still upon such exquisite and constant principles of the most perfect beauty, that it is quite certain it is all done for us, and intended for our perpetual pleasure. And every man, wherever placed, however far from other sources of interest or of beauty, has this doing for him constantly … the sky is for all; bright as it is, it is not “too bright, nor good, for human nature's daily food,’ it is fitted in all its functions for the perpetual comfort and exalting of the heart, for the soothing it and purifying it from its dross and dust. Sometimes gentle, sometimes capricious, sometimes awful, never the same for two moments together; almost human in its passions, almost spiritual in its tenderness, almost divine in its infinity.

John Ruskin, The Sky, first published in The School Journal 7 January 1882.

The bluebird carries the sky on his back.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 3 April 1852.

Thou art an eagle, thou doest belong to the sky and not to the earth, stretch forth thy wings and fly!

Dr. J. K. Aggrey. Sermon delivered at Mukono, Uganda, March 1924.

The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower is a tethered butterfly.

Ponce Denis — couchard Lebrun. In original French, “Le papillon est une fleur qui vole, La fleur un papillon fixé.” Quoted in T. B. Harbottle & P. H. Dalbiac, Dictionary of Quotations (French), 1908.

Oh, that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away, and be at rest.

Psalms 55:6

Long flights give you more time to reflect, look around, experience your surroundings. I got to know the nooks and crannies on Mir very, very well.

Mike Foale, who has 168 days logged in space.

Somewhere over the rainbow way up high,
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby,

Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

Someday I’ll wish upon a star
and wake up where the clouds are far behind me,
Where troubles melt like lemon drops,
away, above the chimney tops, that’s where you’ll find me.

Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow, why then, oh why can’t I?

If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow,
why oh why can’t I?

Over the Rainbow, lyrics by E.Y. 'Yip' Harburg, music by Harold Arlen, performed by Judy Garland in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. It was recorded on 7 October 1938 at the MGM soundstage. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and became Garland’s signature song. It’s ranked number one on several best songs on the century lists.

Over the Rainbow
The studio version heard on the radio was recorded in September 1939. An introductory verse that was omitted from the film is sometimes used in theatrical productions of The Wizard of Oz and was included in the piano sheet music from the film:

“When all the world is a hopeless jumble
and the raindrops tumble all around,
Heaven opens a magic lane.
When all the clouds darken up the skyway,
there's a rainbow highway to be found,
Leading from your window pane.
To a place behind the sun,
Just a step beyond the rain.”

Up in the sky, look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

Maybe the most well-known version of the opening to Superman movies, TV shows, and radio shows over the years. The original opening was written by Robery Maxwell and Allen Decovny, first broadcast on the radio 12 february 1940:

“Faster than an airplane, more powerful than a locomotive, impervious to bullets.
Up in the sky—look!
It’s a giant bird.
It’s a plane.
It’s Superman!”

Caution: Cape does not enable user to fly.

Batman costume warning label, seen by me in a Wisconsin Wal-Mart, 1995.

I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.

J. M. Barrie, the play Peter Pan, act V, scene i, 1928.

It is appearances, characteristics and performance that make a man love an airplane, and they, are what put emotion into one. You love a lot of things if you live around them, but there isn’t any woman and there isn’t any horse, nor any before nor any after, that is as lovely as a great airplane, and men who love them are faithful to them even though they leave them for others. A man has only one virginity to lose in fighters, and if it is a lovely plane he loses it to, there his heart will ever be.

Ernest Hemingway, London Fights the Robots, Collier’s magazine, August 1944.

You can always tell when a man has lost his soul to flying. The poor bastard is hopelessly committed to stopping whatever he is doing long enough to look up and make sure the aircraft purring overhead continues on course and does not suddenly fall out of the sky. It is also his bound duty to watch every aircraft within view take off and land.

Ernest K Gann, Fate is the Hunter, 1961.

Splutter, splutter. Yes - we're off - we're rising. But why start off with an engine like that? But it smooths out now, like a long sigh, like a person breathing easily, freely. Like someone singing ecstatically, climbing, soaring - sustained note of power and joy. We turn from the lights of the city; we pivot on a dark wing; we roar over the earth. The plane seems exultant now, even arrogant. We did it, we did it! we're up, above you. We were dependant on you just now, prisoners fawning on you for favors, for wind and light. But now, we are free. We are up; we are off. We can toss you aside, for we are above it.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Listen! the Wind, 1938.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

So the crew fly on with no thought that they are in motion. Like night over the sea, they are very far from the earth, from towns, from trees. The clock ticks on. The dials, the radio lamps, the various hands and needles go though their invisible alchemy… . and when the hour is at hand the pilot may glue his forehead to the window with perfect assurance. Out of oblivion the gold has been smelted: there it gleams in the lights of the airport.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939.

Flying is more than a sport and more than a job; flying is pure passion and desire, which fill a lifetime.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe, The First and the Last, 1954.

The cockpit was my office. It was a place where I experienced many emotions and learned many lessons. It was a place of work, but also a keeper of dreams. It was a place of deadly serious encounters, yet there I discovered much about life. I learned about joy and sorrow, pride and humility, fear and overcoming fear. I saw much from that office that most people would never see. At times it terrified me, yet I could always feel at home there. It was my place, at that time in space, and the jet was mine for those moments. Though it was a place where I could quickly die, the cockpit was a place where I truly lived.

Brian Shul, Sled Driver; Flying The World's Fastest Jet, 1992.

Before I went to the Mess I made the excuse I wanted to get something out of my aeroplane, and climbed into the cockpit; I did this, however, to be able to say good-bye to the old dear; and I really felt dreadfully sorry to part with her. I get very attached to aeroplanes, and I am one of those people who think that they aren't so inanimate as we are told they are.

Charles Rumney Samson, A Flight from Cairo to Cape Town and Back, 1931.

Whether we dub it sacrifice, or poetry, or adventure, it is always the same voice that calls.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939.

Man's mind and spirit grow with the space in which they are allowed to operate.

Krafft A. Ehricke, rocket pioneer. Quoted in the 1960 book Men of Space: Profiles of the Leaders in Space Research, Development, and Exploration, Volume 1.

Krafft Ehricke.jpg

Again I felt that overpowering rush of excitement which I fond almost everyone has experienced who has seen a man fly. It is an exhilaration, a thrill, an ecstasy. Just as children jump and clap their hands to see a kite mount, so, when the machine leaves the ground and with a soaring movement really flies upon its speeding wings, one feels impelled to shout, to rush after it, to do anything which will relieve the overcharged emotion.

Harry Harper, describing Bleriot’s departure for Dover, in the Daily Mail newspaper, 26 July 1909.

There is a thrill of vulnerability at all airshows. There is no way of making everything completely safe. When the machines are being thrashed to capacity and the pilots are flying at their limits to dazzle, things are bound to go wrong sometimes. There have been some historic disasters, but the danger is a part of the attraction.

Alex James, bass player of the group Blur, and a private pilot. Bit of a Blur, 2007.

On cloud 9 right now 🤩☁️✈️ !!!! First time flying a plane.

Britney Spears, first time at the controls of an airplane. Great emoji use, Instagram post, 1 October 2021.

Be like the bird, who
Halting in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him,
Yet sings
Knowing he hath wings.

Victor Hugo, Be Like the Bird, Songs of Dusk, 1836. There are several English translations. In original French:

Soyez comme l’oiseau, posé pour un instant
Sur des rameaux trop frêles,
Qui sent ployer la branche et qui chante pourtant,
Sachant qu’il a des ailes!

Birds in flight, claims the architect Vincenzo Volentieri, are not between places, they carry their places with them. We never wonder where they live: they are at home in the sky, in flight. Flight is their way of being in the world.

Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence, 1997.

Before take-off, a professional pilot is keen, anxious, but lest someone read his true feelings he is elaborately casual. The reason for this is that he is about to enter a new though familiar world. The process of entrance begins a short time before he leaves the ground and is completed the instant he is in the air. From that moment on, not only his body but his spirit and personality exist in a separate world known only to himself and his comrades.

As the years go by, he returns to this invisible world rather than to earth for peace and solace. There also he finds a profound enchantment, although he can seldom describe it. He can discuss it with others of his kind, and because they too know and feel its power they understand. But his attempts to communicate his feelings to his wife or other earthly confidants invariable end in failure.

Flying is hypnotic and all pilots are willing victims to the spell. Their world is like a magic island in which the factors of life and death assume their proper values. Thinking becomes clear because there are no earthly foibles or embellishments to confuse it. Professional pilots are, of necessity, uncomplicated, simple men. Their thinking must remain straightforward, or they die — violently.

The men in this book are fictitious characters but their counterparts can be found in cockpits all over the world. Now they are flying a war. Tomorrow they will be flying a peace, for, regardless of the world’s condition, flying is their life.

Ernest K. Gann, forward to Island in the Sky, 1944.

Real flight, my friend taught me, is the spirit of an airplane lifting the spirit of its pilot into the high clean blue of the sky, where they join to share the freedom.

Richard Bach, in the first article he ever had published, an unsolicated submission to Air Facts magazine they bought for $25. “My friend” was an Air Force T-33 jet trainer. Voice in the Dark, Air Facts magazine, September 1960.

Air Facts Sep 1960

For pilots sometimes see behind the curtain, behind the veil of gossamer velvet, and find the truth behind man, the force behind a universe.

Richard Bach, Biplane, 1966.

All my life, I’ve never been able to get enough airplanes. This will keep me flying every day.

Astronaut Robert 'Hoot' Gibson, commander of four Space Shuttle missions, on his taking a job as a Southwest Airlines B-737 first officer, 1996.

Flying has torn apart the relationship of space and time; it uses our old clock but with new yardsticks.

Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis, 1953.

I have seen the curvature of the earth. I have seen sights most people will never see. Flying at more than 70,000 feet is really beautiful and peaceful. I enjoy the quiet, hearing myself breathing, and the hum of the engine. I never take it for granted.

Lt. Col. Merryl Tengesda, first African-American female to pilot the U-2. Article in Good Black News, 18 February 2015.

When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system.

Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist, STS-107, first Indian born woman astronaut, she died when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry.

When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with all other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

John Muir, Travels in Alaska, 1915.

My father had been opposed to my flying from the first and had never flown himself. However, he had agreed to go up with me at the first opportunity, and one afternoon he climbed into the cockpit and we flew over the Redwood Falls together. From that day on I never heard a word against my flying and he never missed a chance to ride in the plane.

Charles Lindbergh, We, 1928.

One-third of the earth’s surface is covered by land. Two-thirds is water. All of it is covered by air. Maybe it’s time you learn to fly.

Cassna aircraft company ad, for example in Popular Science magazine, July 1999.

Popular Science 1999

When I was twenty, most of my friends were dead. We had sweated out the troopship journey together, shared the excitements of new countries, endured and enjoyed the efforts of learning to fly. At last we had completed our training, and had stood in the hot Rhodesian sun together while our wings were pinned on our chests. We were then more than friends; we were fellow pilots, which to a boy of nineteen was inexpressibly wonderful…

Captain Lincoln Lee, first words of Three-Dimensioned Darkness: The World of the Airline Pilot, 1962.

The job has its grandeurs, yes. There is the exultation of arriving safely after a storm, the joy of gliding down out of the darkness of night or tempest toward a sun-drenched Alicante or Santiago; there is the swelling sense of returning to repossess one’s place in life, in the miraculous garden of earth, where are trees and women and, down by the harbor, friendly little bars. When he has throttled his engine and is banking into the airport, leaving the somber cloud masses behind, what pilot does not break into song?

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Night Flight, 1933.

I can’t remember the time when airplanes were not a part of my life and can’t remember ever wanting anything so much as to fly one. Once I had started I had to keep flying.

But it was not until I was seventeen that I finally got into an airplane. At that time I felt I had come to the place where I belonged in the world. the air to me was what being on the ground was to other people. When I felt nervous it pulled me together. Things could get too much for me on the ground, they never got that way in the air. flying came into my mind like fresh air into smoked up lungs and was food in my hungry mouth and strength in my weak arms. I felt that way the first time I got into an airplane. I wasn’t nervous when I first soloed. There was excitement in me, but it was the nice kind you get when you’re going home after a long, long unhappy time away.

Major Don S. Gentile, USAAF. 4th Fighter Group. Quoted in Lone Eagle: The Fighter Pilot Experience: From World War I and World War II to the Jet Age, 2015.

Being able to move in three dimensions … is just one of the happiest aspects of my life. If I every get a little unhappy, I go fly my airplane.

R. Key Dismukes, former head of Human Factors reseach at NASA, interview in the 2019 documentary The Disciples of Flight.

There isn’t a flight goes by when I don’t stare out of the window and thank my stars for what I’m seeing and feeling.

Richard Branson, pilot and founder of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic. In his book Reach For The Skies, 2011.

It’s congenital really. We’re an aspiring species that doesn’t have wings. What else would we dream of?

Mark Vanhoenacker, British Airways B747 pilot and aviation author, on dreams of flight. Story in Financial Times newspaper, 17 April 2015.

Here above the farms and ranches of the Great Plains aviation lives up to the promise that inspired dreamers through the ages. Here you are truly separate from the earth, at least for a little while, removed from the cares and concerns that occupy you on the ground. This separation from the earth is more than symbolic, more than a physical removal-it has an emotional dimension as tangible as the wood, fabric, and steel that has transported you aloft.

Stephen Coonts, The Cannibal Queen, 1992.

The Cannibal Queen

Those rotary engines … the Le Rhones, the Monos, and the Clergets! They made a sort of crackling hiss, and always the same smell of castor oil spraying backwards down the fuselage in a fine mist over your leather helmet and your coat. They were delightful to fly, the controls so light, the engines so smooth running. Up among the sunlit cumulus under the blue sky I could loop and rolls and spin my Camel with the pressure of two fingers on the stick besides the button which I used as little as possible. Looping, turn off the petrol by the big plug cock upon the panel just before the bottom of the dive, ease the stick gently back and over you go. The engine dies at the top of the loop; ease the stick fully back and turn the petrol on again so that the engine comes to life five or six seconds later.

She would climb at nearly a thousand feet a minute, my new Clerget Camel; she would do a hundred and ten miles an hour. She would be faster, I thought, than anything upon the Western Front … A turn to the left in the bright sun, keeping the hedge in sight through the hole in the top plane. A turn to the right. Now, turn in, a little high, stick over and top rudder, the air squirting in upon you sideways round the windscreen. Straight out, over the hedge, and down onto the grass. Remember that the Clerget lands very fast, at over forty miles an hour, and with that great engine in the nose the tail was light. Watch it … Lovely.

Nevil Shute, The Rainbow and the Rose, 1958.

The Rainbow and the Rose

Racing planes didn’t necessarily require courage, but it did demand a certain amount of foolhardiness and a total disregard of one’s skin … I would be flying now, but there’s precious little demand for an elderly lady air racer.

Mary Haizlip, pioneer air racer. Quoted in The Smithsonian’s 2007 book Extreme Aircraft.

To a professional pilot ‘up there’ can eventually become ‘up here’, and the world where he lands is episodic, fragmentary. It happens to some earlier than others. Then, perhaps, he does something damnfool in the half-real world down below and he finds that being able to fly doesn’t make him one of the gods.

It isn’t new. It’s been happening to birds ever since cats.

Gavin Lyall, in his debut novel Wrong Side of the Sky, 1961.

"Just try and remember,” I said slowly,” that if God had intended men to fly He’d have given us wings. So all flying is flying in the face of nature. It's unnatural, wicked and stuffed with risks all the time. The secret to flying is learning to minimize the risks.”

“Or perhaps — the secret of life is to choose your risks?"

Gavin Lyall, Shooting Script, 1966.

I owned the world that hour as I rode over it — free of the earth, free of the mountains, free of the clouds, but how inseparably I was bound to them.

Charles A. Lindbergh, on flying above the Rocky Mountains. Quoted in 1978 book Lindbergh.

If the heavens be penetrable, and no lets, it were not amiss to make wings and fly up, and some new-fangled wits should some time or other find out.

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621.

The very existence of aviation is proof that man, given the will, has the capacity to accomplish deeds that seem impossible.

Eddie Rickenbacker, Rickenbacker: An Autobiography, 1967.

Earthbound souls know only the underside of the atmosphere in which they live … but go higher — above the dust and water vapor — and the sky turns dark until one can see the stars at noon.

Jacqueline Cochran, The Stars at Noon, 1954.

The Stars at Noon

We thought humble and proud at the same time, all at once in love again with this painful bittersweet lovely thing called flight.

Richard Bach, A Gift of Wings, 1974

Flying prevails whenever a man and his airplane are put to a test of maximum performance.

Richard Bach, A Gift of Wings, 1974

Fighter pilot is an attitude. It is cockiness. It is aggressiveness. It is self-confidence. It is a streak of rebelliousness, and it is competitiveness. But there’s something else — there's a spark. There’s a desire to be good. To do well; In the eyes of your peers, and in your own mind.

I think it is love of that blue vault of sky that becomes your playground if, and only if, you are a fighter pilot. You don’t understand it if you fly from A to B in straight and level, and merely climb and descend. you’re moving through the basement of that bolt of blue.

A fighter pilot is a man in love with flying. A fighter pilot sees not a cloud but beauty. Not the ground but something remote from him, something that he doesn't belong to as long as he is airborne. He’s a man who wants to be second-best to no one.

Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF. Interview in 1988 BBC documentary Reaching for the Skies. He was a triple ace, with a combined total of 17 victories in World War II and the Vietnam War.

Robin Olds

As a young boy dreaming of becoming an airman, if I had a choice between becoming chief of staff of the Air force or becoming a fighter ace, I would have chosen to become a fighter ace.

General Thomas White, USAF Chief of Staff, speech at the first American Fighter Aces Association reunion, San Francisco, 23 September 1960.

Gen Thomas White

You never lose the buzz of flying. Every time you take off, it feels a bit naughty, as if you’re doing something humans shouldn’t really do.

Matt Jones, co-founder and managing director of Boultbee Flight Academy, the only Spitfire school in the world. August 2011.

Matt Jones

Why fly? Simple. I’m not happy unless there's some room between me and the ground.

Richard Bach, A Gift of Wings, 1974.

Don’t let the fear of falling keep you from knowing the joy of flight.

Lane Wallace, Flying magazine, January 2001.

Flying has changed how we imagine our planet, which we have seen whole from space, so that even the farthest nations are ecological neighbors. It has changed our ideas about time. When you can gird the earth at 1,000 m.p.h., how can you endure the tardiness of a plumber? Most of all, flying has changed our sense of our body, the personal space in which we live, now elastic and swift. I could be in Bombay for afternoon tea if I wished. My body isn’t limited by its own weaknesses; it can rush through space.

Diane Ackerman, Traveling Light, op-ed in The New York Times, 11 January 1997.

I used to have dreams when I was a kid that I’d go running down the street and jump up in the air and go flying and just fly through the air all by myself. That’s what weightlessness is like.

Robert 'Hoot' Gibson, quoted in the 1988 book The Home Planet.

The famous photo of Bruce McCandless using the MMU on STS-41B, becoming the first untethered human in space, 7 February 1984, was taken by Gibson. He later remarked that a good caption would be ‘NASA Photo by Hooter’

McCandless MMU
McCandless said of the historic space walk, “It may have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me.” Quoted in NASA article The Iconic Photos from STS-41B: Documenting the First Untethered Spacewalk, by historian Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, 2 Feburary 2024.

The spacious firmament on high,
And all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim.

Joseph Addison, Of the Glory of God in the Starry Heavens, 1712.

Oh! ‘darkly, deeply, beautifully blue,’
As someone somewhere sings about the sky.

Lord Byron, Don Juan, IV. 110, published between 1819 and 1824.

But what I could never tell of was the beauty and exaltation of flying itself. Above the haze layer with the sun behind you or sinking ahead, alone in an open cockpit, there is nothing and everything to see. The upper surface of the haze stretches on like an endless desert, featureless and flat, and empty to the horizon. It seems your world alone. Threading one’s way through the great piles of summer cumulus that hang over the plains, the patches of ground that show far far below are for earthbound folk, and the cloud shapes are sculptured just for you. The flash of rain, the shining rainbow riding completely around the plane, the lift over mountain ridges, the steady, pure air at dawn take-offs … It was so alive and rich a life that any other conceivable choice seemed dull, prosaic, and humdrum.

Dean Smith, By the Seat of My Pants: A Pilot’s Progress From 1917 to 1930, published in 1960.

Though, as he was torn into a pink upper air, she was a good craft to ride in, for her belly was firm and her breasts enabled a flying man good hold and emotions of heady safety … Steering her peasant tits he bounded off stars.

Thomas Keneally, Blood Red, Sister Rose, 1974.

This is all about fun. You can grab ahold of an airplane here, and literally take your life in both hands. One for the throttle and one for the stick, and you can control your own destiny, free of most rules and regulations. It may not be better than sex, but it's definitely better than the second time. Adrenaline is a narcotic; it may be a naturally induced narcotic, but it is a narcotic. And once you get it movin' around in there, it's a rush like none other.

Attributed to Alan Preston, air race pilot.

Flying makes me feel like a sex maniac in a whorehouse with a stack of $20 bills.

Florence 'Pancho' Barnes. Quoted in 2009 dicumentary The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club.

Flying is like having a new lover. It’s so exciting.

Carol Vorderman, pilot and British TV personality. The Times of London, 29 October 2016.

They say it’s better than sex. It’s so much better. It’s amazing.

Angelina Jolie, pilot and actress, regards flying. Quoted in In Touch Weekly magazine, 4 July 2005, and she repeated the sentiments on the TV show In The Actor’s Studio.

Flying is like sex — I’ve never had all I wanted but occasionally I’ve had all I could stand.

Stephen Coonts, The Cannibal Queen, 1992.

Buddy of mine once told me that he’d rather fly a jet than kiss his girl. Said it gave him more of a kick.

Jerry Connell, played by James Best in the 1951 movie Air Cadet. Screenplay by Robert L. Richards.

Air Cadet

Flight is romance - not in the sense of sexual attraction, but as an experience that enriches life.

Stephen Coonts, The Cannibal Queen 1992.

I have often said that the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, and I need no other flight to convince ne that the reasons flyers fly, whether they know it or not, is the aesthetic appeal of flying.

Amelia Earhart, Last Flight, 1937

One cannot look at the sea without wishing for the wings of a swallow.

Sir Richard Francis Burton, Wanderings in West Africa from Liverpool to Fernando Po, 1863.

It had never gotten old for him, flying. Never gone boring. Every engine start was a new adventure, guiding the spirit of a lovely machine back into life; every takeoff blending his spirit with its own to do what's never been done in history, to lift away from the ground and fly.”

Richard Bach, Hypnotizing Maria, 2009

Flyers have a sense of adventures yet to come, instead of dimly recalling adventures of long ago as the only moments in which they truly lived.

Richard Bach, A Gift of Wings, 1974.

In our dreams we are able to fly … and that is a remembering of how we were meant to be.

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, 1972.

Has the progress of the human race taken a wrong direction? Why do we belong to the dry land? Why not to the air or the sea? The desire to possess wings; the strange dreams in which we imagine that we can fly and are flying without wondering about it. — What do these things mean?

Henrik Ibsen, paralipomena from the preparatory work for his play The Lady from the Sea, 1888. We started in the sea, why doesn’t evolution continue and give us wings? This translation by Otto Heller in the 1912 book Henrik Ibson: Plays and Problems.

In order to invent the airplane you must have at least a thousand years’ experience dreaming of angels.

Attributed to Arnold Rockman.

Deftly they opened the brain of a child, and it was full of flying dreams.

Stanley Kunitz, My Surgeons. First published in Intellectual Things, 1930.

Someday I would like to stand on the Moon, look down through a quarter of a million miles of space and say, “There certainly is a beautiful earth out tonight.”

Lieutenant Colonel William H. Rankin, The Man Who Rode the Thunder., 1960.

The Man Who Rode the Thunder

When old dreams die, new ones come to take their place. God pity a one-dream man.

Esther Goddard, reading from her late husband's diary to the AP just prior to the launch of Apollo 11.

You are brave. Not brave because you are going to be facing any physical dangers; you are not really going to. I mean brave in another, deeper sense. By being on this flight you have shown that you are willing to explore your own identity to discover what might lie within you. Your human clay has not hardened, and you are also willing to explore your own perceptions of the universe, knowing that you may be forced to set aside many comfortable and cherished assumptions. The idea that you must approach honestly and directly is that flying very dramatically makes the pilot solely responsible for his own life.

Harry Bauer, The Flying Mystique: Exploring Reality and Self in the Sky, 1980.

I had that morning gone to say my farewells to Broadhurst and to the RAF. I had made a point of going to HQ at Schleswig in my 'Grand Charles.' Coming back I had taken him high up in the cloudless summer sky, for it was only there that I could fittingly take my leave.

Together we climbed for the last time straight towards the sun. We looped once, perhaps twice, we lovingly did a few slow, meticulous rolls, so that I could take away in my finger-tips the vibration of his supple, docile wings.

And in that narrow cockpit I wept, as I shall never weep again, when I felt the concrete brush against his wheels and, with a great sweep of the wrist, dropped him on the ground like a cut flower.

As always, I carefully cleared the engine, turned off all the switches one by one, removed the straps, the wires and the tubes which tied me to him, like a child to his mother. And when my waiting pilots and my mechanics saw my downcast eyes and my shaking shoulders, they understood and returned to the dispersal in silence.

Pierre Clostermann, The Big Show 1951. Original French title Le Grand Cirque.

The Big Show

And should I not, had I but known, have flung the machine this way and that, once more to feel it live under my hand, have sported in the sky and laughed and sung, knowing that never after should I feel so free, so sure in hazard, so secure, riding the daylight in the pride of youth? No more horizons wider than Hope! No more the franchise of the sky, the freedom of the blue! No more! Farewell to wings! Down to the little earth!

That distant day had a significance I could not give it then. So we wheeled and came back south towards the city. The Temple of Heaven slipped by underneath, that perfect pattern in its ample park. Then the wide plain ruled to the far horizon. Soon the aerodrome.

Now shut the engines off. Come down and flatten out, feel the long float, and at the given moment pull the stick right home. She's down. Now taxi in. Switch off. It’s over - but not quite, for the port engine, just as if it knew, as if reluctant at the last to let me go, kicked, kicked, and kicked again, as overheated engines will, then backfired with an angry snorting: Fool! The best is over … But I did not hear.

Cecil Lewis, regards flying for the last time a Vickers Vimy over Peking in 1921. Sagittarius Rising, 1936.

So let us raise a cheer … for the insatiable spirit of Man eager for all new things! What a tale could have been written by that far off man who first saw a tree trunk roll and made a wheel and cart and harnessed in his mare and cracked his whip and drove away to disappear beyond the hill! Or that first man who made a boat and raised a sail and disappeared hull down to unknown shores!

All this is misty in a distant past. The land and sea are long since named and mapped and parcelled out. Only the air and all beyond, the greatest mystery of all, was still unmastered and unknown when I was young. Now we have learned to shuffle about the house and even plan to visit the neighbours. A million starry mansions wink at us as if they knew our hopes and beckon us abroud. All that I shall not see. But at the start, the little lost beginning, I can say of one small part of it: “Here is a witness from my heart and hand and eye of how it was!

Cecil Lewis in 1965, new preface for Sagittarius Rising.

Before I went to the Mess I made the excuse I wanted to get something out of my aeroplane, and climbed into the cockpit; I did this, however, to be able to say good-bye to the old dear; and I really felt dreadfully sorry to part with her. I get very attached to aeroplanes, and I am one of those people who think that they aren't so inanimate as we are told they are.

Charles Rumney Samson, A Flight from Cairo to Cape Town and back, 1931.

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, 1964.

Fly, dotard, fly!
With thy wise dreams and fables of the sky.

Alexander Pope, The Odyssey of Homer, book ii.

Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O grave! where is thy victory?
O death! where is thy sting?

Alexander Pope, The Dying Christian to his Soul.

What can I tell you about this first step that encounters nothing solid?

Russell Hawkes, in a hugely influential article on the then-nascent sport of hang gliding, Happy Birthday, Otto Lilienthal!, National Geographic magazine, February 1972.

California hang gliders were made then of bamboo and cloth, but the essence was already there. “I began to understand what this sport is all about: To fly without awareness of the means of flight … Is this one more rash of the endemic madness that periodically breaks out in California? Or the birth of a genuine national leisure-time mania, like drag racing and surfing?”

A lot of pilots were inspired by this article, and the first step line is still repeated by pilots who fly with wings, but no wheels.

Nothing solid

Pilots track their lives by the number of hours in the air, as if any other kind of time isn’t worth noting.

Michael Parfit, The Corn was Two Feet Below the Wheels, Smithsonian Magazine, May 2000.

Aviators live by hours, not by days.

T. H. White, England Have My Bones, 1936.

I would recommend a solo flight to all prospective suicides. It tends to make clear the issue of whether one enjoys being alive or not.

T. H. White, England Have My Bones, 1936.

Flying is an act of conquest, of defeating the most basic and powerful forces of nature. It unites the violent rage and brute power of jet engines with the infinitesimal tolerances of the cockpit. Airlines take their measurements from the ton to the milligram, from the mile to the millimeter, endowing any careless move - an engine setting, a flap position, a training failure - with the power to wipe out hundreds of lives.

Thomas Petzinger, Jr. First couple of sentences of the prologue to Hard Landing: The Epic Contest for Power and Profits That Plunged the Airlines into Chaos, 1995.

So long as the airlines preserve their magic quality — including, above all, their safety and reliability — they will be guaranteed a significant role in the workings of the world. Science will never digitalize an embrace. Electronics will never convey the wavering eye of a negotiating adversary. Fiber-optic cable can do many things, but it cannot transport hot sand, fast snow, or great ruins.

Thomas Petzinger, Jr., Hard Landing: The Epic Contest for Power and Profits That Plunged the Airlines into Chaos , 1995.

I’ve got the greatest job in the world. Northwest sends me to New York ten times a month to have dinner. I’ve just got to take 187 people with me whenever I go.

Colin Soucy, Northwest Airlines pilot.

The great bird will take its first flight … filling the world with amazement and all records with its fame, and it will bring eternal glory to the nest where it was born.

Leonardo da Vinci, on the cover of the Codice Sul Volo degli Uccelli, 1505.

A sky as pure as water bathed the stars and brought them out.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, first sentence of Southern Mail, 1929.

I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies,
In the freedom that fills all the space 'twixt the marsh and the skies.

Sidney Lanier, American poet, in the poem The Marshes of Glynn.

The highest art form of all is a human being in control of himself and his airplane in flight, urging the spirit of a machine to match his own.

Richard Bach, A Gift Of Wings, 1974.

The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. In original German, “Je hoeher wir fliegen, desto kleiner erscheinen wir fuer diejenigen die nicht fliegen koennen.”

To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is, you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived.

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, 1970.

Trees become bushes; barns, toys; cows turn into rabbits as we climb. I lose all conscious connection with the past. I live only in the moment in this strange, unmortal space, crowded with beauty, pierced with danger. The horizon retreats, and veils itself in haze. The great, squared fields of Nebraska become patchwork on a planet’s disk.

Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis, 1953.

Flying might not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price.

Amelia Earhart, The Fun of It, 1932.

The Fun of It

Take possession of the air, submit the elements, penetrate the last redoubts of nature, make space retreat, make death retreat.

Romain Rolland, La Nouvelle Journée, 1912. Quoted in The Bards of Aviation: Flight and French Culture, 1909-1939, Michigan Quarterly Review, Summer 1990.

The air is the most mysterious, the most exciting, the most challenging of all the elements. We leave the planet, we leave the sea, we leave the earth. The air is no longer of this world …

David Beaty, Strange Encounters: Mysteries of the Air, 1984.

Flight is the only truly new sensation than men have achieved in modern history.

James Dickey, New York Times Book Review, 15 July 1979.

When flying was being invented a hundred years ago, when it was a million times more perilous than it is right now, there was the idea then that anybody who was a writer, an artist, or a poet, or a philosopher, or a historian, or anybody advanced, would want to be a pilot because of this unique in human history view that you can have from two or three thousand feet up.

I still feel that everyday.

James Fallows, pilot and writer, interview on the Between Two Wings podcast, published 2 February 2022.

How many more years I shall be able to work on the problem I do not know; I hope, as long as I live. There can be no thought of finishing, for 'aiming at the stars' both literally and figuratively, is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning.

Robert H. Goddard, in a 1932 letter to H. G. Wells.

I think it is a pity to lose the romantic side of flying and simply to accept it as a common means of transport, although that end is what we have all ostensibly been striving to attain.

Amy Johnson, Sky Roads of the World, 1939.

Aeronautics confers beauty and grandeur, combining art and science for those who devote themselves to it … The aeronaut, free in space, sailing in the infinite, loses himself in the immense undulations of nature. He climbs, he rises, he soars, he reigns, he hurtles the proud vault of the azure sky.

Georges Besançon, founder of the first successful aviation journal L’Aérophile, February 1902.

Life’s too short to fly an ugly airplane.

Andy Bibber, pilot, flight instructor, nice guy and co-owner of Adventure Flight. It’s a wonderful phrase, he told it to me in January 2020 when he let me fly his beautiful Cessna T-50 in California.


Live thy life as it were spoil and pluck the joys that fly.

Martial, Epigrams, A.D. 86.

Those who are able to walk on stilts can roam the earth unstopped by mountains or rivers. They are able to imagine flying and therefore reach the isles of the immortals.

Attributed to P'ao-Pou Tseu in several Cirque du Soleil publications.

The sea is dangerous and its storms terrible, but these obstacles have never been sufficient reason to remain ashore… . Unlike the mediocre, intrepid spirits seek victory over those things that seem impossible … It is with an iron will that they embark on the most daring of all endeavors … to meet the shadowy future without fear and conquer the unknown.

Attributed to Ferdinand Magellan, c. 1520.

Aviation will give new nourishment to the religious sprit of mankind. It will add airspace to those other great heighteners of the cosmic mood: the wood, the sea, the desert.

Attributed to Christian Morgenstern.

These bright roofs, these steep towers, these jewel-lakes, these skeins of railroad line — all spoke to her and she answered. She was glad they were there. She belonged to them and they to her … She had not lost it. She was touching it with her fingertips. This was flying: to go swiftly over the earth you loved, touching it lightly with your fingertips, holding the railroads lines in your hand to guide you, like a skein of wool in a spider-web game — like following Ariadne’s thread through the Minotaur’s maze, Where would it lead, where?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, The Steep Ascent, 1944.

There’s no better way to test an idea than to take it outside and see if it flies.

Alan Perry, one of the supersonic designers at the British Aircraft Corporation in Bristol, UK. Quoted in press reports of the Science Museum unveiling the original 1959 papier mache and sticky tape models made by W. E. Gray for use in wind tunnel trials at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, Hampshire, for the project that became Concorde. 27 September 2007.

Paper models
He added: “Sometimes we’d even use our punch cards. We’d fold them up, take them outside at lunchtime if the weather was nice and see who can fly them furthest from the hanger.”

Paper concorde

It’s a lovely shape – one feels that if God wanted aircraft to fly he would have meant them to be this shape.

Sir Morien Morgan, Concorde engineer, interview im the 1964 BBC documentary Supersonic. He had worked on the Spitfire in 1937/38, but the swept-wing design was his real baby, making him known as Morgan the Supersonic, or the Welsh father of Concorde.

Sir Morien Morgan

“How do you like your coffee, captain — cream and sugar?”

We are at 30 west, the half-way point between the European & North American continents, and the stewardess in charge of the forward galley is looking after her aircrew during a pause in serving the passengers' meals.

Mach 2. On autopilot, eleven miles high, moving at 23 miles a minute. Nearly twice as high as Mount Everest, faster than a rifle bullet leaving its barrel. The side windows are hot to the touch, from friction of the passing air. Despite the speed we can talk without raising our voices.

“Milk, please, and no sugar.”

Brian Calvert, opening paragraphs of Flying Concorde, 1982.

It is not unreasonable to look upon Concorde as a miracle.

Brian Trubshaw, Concorde Chief Test Pilot, opening line of his 2000 book Concorde: The Inside Story. It was published the day after the Air France Concorde crash.


Concorde is like a great wine; you dream of it beforehand, you savor it while drinking, and remember it for the rest of your life.

Philippe Faure-Brac, voted world’s best wine steward, 1992.

This is where astronauts and fighter pilots fly, only they’re in spacesuits and you’re in chinos and a cotton shirt, sipping fine wine and listening to Mozart on headphones. From Concorde I have seen the Northern Lights, the deep blue of outer space, the curve of the Earth, and have traveled faster than most of the human race can even imagine.

Graham Boynton, A Flight of Fancy That Made Your Spirit Soar, Telegraph newspaper, 26 July 2000.

Nowadays a businessman can go from his office straight to the airport, get into his airplane and fly six hundred or seven hundred miles without taking off his hat. He probably will not even mention this flight, which a bare twenty-five years ago would have meant wearing leather jacket and helmet and goggles and risking his neck every minute of the way.

No, he probably wouldn't mention it - except to another flier. Then they will talk for hours. They will re-create all the things seen and felt in that wonderful world of air: the sense of remoteness from the busy world below, the feeling of intense brotherhood formed with those who man the radio ranges and control towers and weather stations that bring the pilot home, the clouds and the colors, the surge of the wind on their wings.

They will speak of things that are spiritual and beautiful and of things that are practical and utilitarian; they will mix up angels and engines, sunsets and spark plugs, fraternity and frequencies in one all-encompassing comradeship of interests that makes for the best and most lasting kind of friendship any man can have.

Percy Knauth, Wind On My Wings, 1960.

            On My Wings

I don’t understand these people anymore, that travel the commuter-trains to their dormitory towns. These people that call themselves human, but, by a pressure they do not feel, are forced to do their work like ants. With what do they fill their time when they are free of work on their silly little Sundays?

I am very fortunate in my profession. I feel like a farmer, with the airstrips as my fields. Those that have once tasted this kind of fare will not forget it ever. Not so, my friends? It is not a question of living dangerously. That formula is too arrogant, too presumptuous. I don’t care much for bull-fighters. It’s not the danger I love. I know what I love. It is life itself.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939. Graphic from the wonderful 2014 St. Ex. biography The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

The Pilot and the Little Prince

And if flying, like a glass-bottomed bucket, can give you that vision, that seeing eye, which peers down on the still world below the choppy waves — it will always remain magic.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, North to the Orient, 1935.

My highway is unfeatured air,
My consorts are the sleepless Stars.

William Ellery Channing, Hymn of the Earth. Cited in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 10th ed., 1919.

The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.

James 'Jim' Irwin, Lunar Module pilot Apollo 15. Quoted in 1988 book The Home Planet.

It may be that the invention of the aeroplane flying-machine will be deemed to have been of less material value to the world than the discovery of Bessemer and open-hearth steel, or the perfection of the telegraph, or the introduction of new and more scientific methods in the management of our great industrial works. To us, however, the conquest of the air, to use a hackneyed phrase, is a technical triumph so dramatic and so amazing that it overshadows in importance every feat that the inventor has accomplished. If we are apt to lose our sense of proportion, it is not only because it was but yesterday that we learned the secret of the bird, but also because we have dreamed of flying long before we succeeded in ploughing the water in a dug-out canoe. From Icarus to the Wright Brothers is a far cry.

Waldemar Kaempffert, The New Art of Flying, 1910.

To fly! to live as airmen live! Like them to ride the skyways from horizon to horizon, across rivers and forests! To free oneself from the petty disputes of everyday life, to be active, to feel the blood renewed in one’s vein — ah! that is life … Life in finer and simpler. My will is freer. I appreciate everything more, sunlight and shade, work and my friends. The sky is vast. I breathe deep gulps of the fine clear air of the heights. I feel myself to have achieved a higher state of physical strength and a clearer brain. I am living in the third dimension!

Henri Mignet, L’Aviation de l’Amateur; Le Sport de l’Air, 1934.

Henri Mignet

The facts are that flying satisfies deeply rooted desires. For as long as time these desires have hungered vainly for fulfillment. The horse, and later the motorcar, have merely teased them. The upward sweep of the airplane signifies release.

Bruce Gould, Sky Larking: The Romantic Adventure of Flying, 1929.

Sky Larking

Every time you go aloft you are the king at a command performance of the world’s magnificence.

Bruce Gould, Sky Larking: The Romantic Adventure of Flying, 1929.

The helicopter is probably the most versatile instrument ever invented by man. It approaches closer than any other to fulfillment of mankind's ancient dreams of the flying horse and the magic carpet.

Igor Ivanovitch Sikorsky, comment on 20th anniversary of the helicopter’s first flight, 13 September 1959.

Any pilot can describe the mechanics of flying. What it can do for the spirit of man is beyond description.

Barry M. Goldwater, in With No Apologies: The Personal and Political Memoirs of United States Senator Barry M. Goldwater, 1979.

Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying.

Neil Armstrong, a line he used several times. Quoted “as told a group of well-wishers at an air show who wanted to hear what it had been like to walk on the moon” by Kathy Sawyer in Armstrong’s Code, Washington Post Magazine, 11 July 1999.

Many wonderful inventions have surprised us during the course of the last century and the beginning of this one. But most were completely unexpected and were not part of the old baggage of dreams that humanity carries with it. Who had ever dreamed of steamships, railroads, or electric light? We welcomed all these improvements with astonished pleasure; but they did not correspond to an expectation of our spirit or a hope as old as we are: to overcome gravity, to tear ourselves away from the earth, to become lighter, to fly away, to take possession of the immense aerial kingdom; to enter the universe of the Gods, to become Gods ourselves.

Jerome Tharaud, Dans le ciel des dieux, in Les Grandes Conferences de l'aviation: Recits et souvenirs, 1934.


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