Flight Safety

This is the serious section of my aviation quotes collection. It’s all aerial risk and reward, safety sayings and operational reality. Some are from seamanship or railway operations, but I think they all apply to flying. There is a seperate piloting quotes section and even more personal flying stuff at Inner Art of Airmanship. Let’s be careful up there:

On the occasion of every accident that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use.

Epictetus, The Enchiridion. Short manual of Stoic ethical advice compiled by Arrian, a 2nd-century disciple of the Greek philosopher Epictetus, c. 125.

Enchiridion of Epictetus

In the sea there are countless gains,
But if thou desirest safety, it will be on the shore.

Saadi Shirazi (سعدی), The Gulistan, 1258.

Do not suppose that every man understands the sea.

Piri Reis (حاجي أحمد محيتين پيري بك), Book of the Sea (Kitab-ı Bahriye), 1521.

What about danger, one may enquire? Danger is one of the attractions in flying.

Jean Louis Conneau, aka André Beaumont, My Three Big Flights, 1912.

My Three Big Flights

You should live gloriously, generously, dangerously. Safety last!

Cecil Lewis, Sagittarius Rising, 1936.

Sagittarius Rising

It is one thing to be in the proximity of death, to know more or less what she is, and it is quite another thing to seek her.

Ernest Hemingway. After being in a January 1954 airplane crash in a remote location by the border of the Belgian Congo, Hemingway was believed to have lost his life. When he later returned safely to Nairobi he had the rather odd sensation of reading several reports of his death in the newspapers. He found to his displeasure that, “In all obituaries, or almost all, it was emphasized that I had sought death all my life”. Cited in 1961 book by Carlos Baker, Hemingway and His Critics: An International Anthology.

Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.

Captain Alfred Gilmer 'Lamps' Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. circa early 1930’s.

This famous phrase has been reproduced on posters and plaques many times, almost always with the attribution of anonymous. I was told at a book signing that André Priester (one of the first Pan Am employee’s) may have said it, and decided to check this with the late R. E. G. Davies, then curator of air transport history at the Smithsonian, and author of a book on Pan Am. Ron called me back and told me the phrase pre-dates Priester. His research showed the originator of the phrase was Captain Lamplugh, who learnt to fly in 1913, served in the RFC and RAF in WWI, then became an aviation insurance underwriter and principal surveyor.

Aviation in itself

The readiness to blame a dead pilot for an accident is nauseating, but it has been the tendency ever since I can remember. What pilot has not been in positions where he was in danger and where perfect judgment would have advised against going? But when a man is caught in such a position he is judged only by his error and seldom given credit for the times he has extricated himself from worse situations. Worst of all, blame is heaped upon him by other pilots, all of whom have been in parallel situations themselves, but without being caught in them.

If one took no chances, one would not fly at all. Safety lies in the judgment of the chances one takes. That judgment, in turn, must rest upon one’s outlook on life. Any coward can sit in his home and criticize a pilot for flying into a mountain in fog. But I would rather, by far, die on a mountainside than in bed. Why should we look for his errors when a brave man dies? Unless we can learn from his experience, there is no need to look for weakness. Rather, we should admire the courage and spirit in his life. What kind of man would live where there is no daring? And is life so dear that we should blame men for dying in adventure? Is there a better way to die?

Charles Lindbergh, journal entry, 26 August 1938. Later published in The Wartime Journals, 1970.

If you don’t take risks, you’ll have a wasted soul.

Drew Barrymore, in the 2004 movie My Date with Drew.

The fate of Icarus frightened no one. Wings! wings! wings! they cried from all sides, even if we should fall into the sea. To fall from the sky, one must climb there, even for but a moment, and that is more beautiful than to spend one’s whole life crawling on the earth.

Théophile Gautier, French Romantic poet, Histoire de Romanticisme, 19th century. Quoted in the 1961 book Icarus: The Image of the Artist in French Romanticism.

Fall of Icarus

It is not the risk I enjoy, and I don’t like the feeling of adrenaline, resulting from perceived danger. Rather, what drives me is my desire to accomplish noble missions while helping my team coolly and mindfully face the hazards and control the risk with operating precision.

Jim Wetherbee, test pilot and astronaut. Only person to command five Space Shuttle missions. In his 2016 book Controlling Risk: Thirty Techniques for Operating Excellence.

Jim Wetherbee

It is impossible to make the men perfect; the men will always remain the same as they are now; and no legislation will make a man have more presence of mind, or, I believe, make him more cautious; and besides that, the next time such an accident occurs, the circumstances will be so different, that the instructions given to the men, in consequence of the former accident, will not apply.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, chief engineer of the Great Western Railway, evidence before the Select Committee on Railways, paragraph 567, Parliamentary Papers, 22 March 1841.

The road must be run safe first, and fast afterward.

Rulebook of the New York & Erie Railroad, 1854.

Who is in charge of the clattering train?
The axles creak, and the couplings strain.
For the pace is hot, and the points are near,
And Sleep hath deadened the driver's ear;
And signals flash through the night in vain.
Death is in charge of the clattering train!

First two and last four lines of a uncredited poem published in Punch magazine 4 October 1890. Now attributed to Edwin James Milliken, a former engineer who became a writer and was at the time an editor at Punch. The full poem and a cartoon were published following a damning report on working conditions on the railway following a fatal accident, the driver and stoker working for over 16 hours causing them to be “asleep, or nearly so”, so missing stop signals and crashing into a freight train.

The six lines here were quoted by Sir Winston Churchill in the first volume of his epic six-volume history of World War II, The Gathering Storm (1948) to illustrate a nation asleep at the wheel.

Death and his brother sleep

The railway company is expected to provide not only transportation, but an immunity from risk far beyond what is obtained under other ordinary conditions of everyday life.

C. B. Byles, signal engineer, Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, Great Western Railway Magazine, February 1911.

I thought her unsinkable and I based my opinion on the best expert advice available. I do not understand it.

Philip A. S. Franklin, Vice President of the White Star Line, sobbing to reporters the day after the R.M.S. Titanic sank, 16 April 1912.

When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experiences of nearly forty years at sea, I merely say uneventful. Of course, there have been Winter gales and storms and fog and the like, but in all my experience I have never been in an accident of any sort worth speaking about … I never saw a wreck and have never been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.

I will say that I cannot imagine any condition which could cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.

Captain Edward J. Smith, R.M.S. Titanic, intervew on maiden trip of the Adriatic, 1907. Quoted in Disater At Last Befalls Capt. Smith, New York Times newspaper, 16 April 1912.

Disaster at Last

No law, no matter how rigidly enforced, can correct evils that are directly chargable to failure of employees themselves to do their duty and to exercise due precaution not alone for their own safety, but also for the safety of others. We know that employees often fail to exercise ordinary precaution in the performance of their work. This failure is often a form of thoughtlessness in which the chief motive is haste. …

If we can instill the idea that it is more honorable and more professional to be cautious and prudent than to take unneccessary risks a great reduction in the accident records will result.

H. W. Belnap, Chief Inspector of Safety Appliances, Interstate Commerce Commission. Address published as Employees' Responsibility For Their Own Safety, Railway Age Gazette, 5 July 1912.

The Captains are to remember that, whilst they are expected to use every diligence to secure a speedy voyage, they must run no risk which by any possibility might result in accident to their ships. They will ever bear in mind that the safety of the lives and property entrusted to their care is the ruling principle which should goven them in the navigation of their ships, and no supposed gain in expedition, or saving of time on the voyage, is to be purchased at the risk of accident.

Rules to Be Observed in the Company’s Service, Cunard Steam-Ship Company Limited, March 1913.

The man who wishes to keep at the problem long enough to really learn anything positively cannot take danerous risks. Carelessness and overconfidence are usually more dangerous than deliberately accepted risks.

Wilbur Wright, letter to his father, 3 September 1900.

Wright Flying

If you are looking for perfect safety, you will do well to sit on a fence and watch the birds; but if you really wish to learn, you must mount a machine and become acquainted with its tricks by actual trial.

Wilbur Wright, from an address to the Western Society of Engineers in Chicago, 18 September 1901.

All who are practically concerned with aerial navigation agree that the safety of the operator is more important to successful experimentation than any other point. The history of past investigations demonstrates that greater prudence is needed rather than greater skill. Only a madman would propose taking greater risks than the great constructors of earlier times.

Wilbur Wright, July 1901. First published as Die wagerechte Lage Während des Gleitfluges in Illustrierte Aeronautische Mitteilungen. Wilbur’s original unpublished English manuscript did not survive. This translation from The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

By far the greater number of aeroplane accidents are due to precisely the same circumstances that have caused previous accidents. A distressing feature of these accidents is the evidence they afford of the unwillingness, or the inability, of many pilots to profit from the experiences and mistakes of others.

Gustav Hamel and Charles C. Turner, Flying: Some Practical Experiences. Published posthumously in 1914.

New device makes airships foolproof.

Headline in The New York Times, story was about the Martin aerodynamnic stabilizer that “is expected to make the heavier-than-air machines practically foolproof”. 27 November 1916.

The greatest single factor in airplane disasters to-day is the human factor.

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

There would be very few accidents if the elementary rules of flying were rigidly observed and stupid risks avoided. The road hog, with whom we are all so familiar nowadays, has his counterpart in the air, so cultivate the sane mind in the sound and healthy body.

Halton magazine, Summer 1931.

Human errors and the taking of unnecessary and inexcusable risks are the principal causes, as in the vast majority of road accidents.

Major C. C. Turner, RAF, on the examination of causes of flying accidents in the RAF for 1934. Quoted in Royal Air Force Flying Record, The Gazette newspaper, Montreal, Canada, 15 January 1935.

The air is an extremely dangerous, jealous and exacting mistress. Once under the spell most lovers are faithful to the end, which is not always old age. Even those masters and princes of aerial fighting, the survivors of fifty mortal duels in the high air who have come scatheless through the War and all its perils, have returned again and again to their love and perished too often in some ordinary commonplace flight undertaken for pure amusement.

Sir Winston Churchill, In The Air, Thoughts and Adventures, 1932.

I have yet to hear of anyone engaged in this work dying of old age.

James H. Doolittle, on retiring from air racing after breaking the world landplane speed record, speech before the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, 1932. Quoted in The Story of Jimmy Doolittle, Collier’s, 1948.

The man who always believes in “safety first” as the most important rule of life … will never amount to much as a flyer—or anything else for that matter.

Commander Richard E Byrd, USN, famous North Pole and trans-Atlantic pilot in magazine interview, Commander Byrd Tells Roy Guffin How to Get into Aviation, Popular Science, October 1927.

Commander Byrd Tells Roy Guffin How to Get into Aviation

#1 Don't Panic.
#3 Safety.

Safety third. There’s not even a Rule Number Two. But even though there’s nothing in second place, safety is not getting promoted to number two.

Elon Musk, on his family rules, showing an understanding of the fallacy of ‘safety first’. Interview in Rolling Stone magazine 30 November 2017.

If aviation profits by the lessons of disaster, as it is preparing to profit, then it may be said that the price, however great, was not too much.

Unknown author, Popular Mechanics, December 1927.

If your time has come to go, it is a glorious way in which to pass over. Smell of burning oil, the feel of strength and power beneath your hands. So quick has been the transition from life to death there must still linger in your mind's eye the everlasting beauty and joy of flight … Women pilots were blazing a new trail. Each pioneering effort must bow to death. There has never been nor will there ever be progress without sacrifice of human life.

Louise Thaden, explaining her thoughts about the death of Marvel Crosson in the first National Women’s Air Derby. High, Wide and Frightened, 1938.

The chess board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just and patient. But we also know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance.

Thomas Henry Huxely, A Liberal Education and Where to Find It, 1868.

There are two critical points in every aerial flight — its beginning and its end.

Alexander Graham Bell, Aerial Locomotion, The National Geographic Magazine, January 1907.

The R-101 is as safe as a house, except for the millionth chance.

Lord Thomson, Secretary of State for Air, shortly before boarding the doomed airship headed to India on its first real proving flight, 4 October 1930. The day before he had made his will.

Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world; knowing they’re going to light the bottom — and doesn’t get a little worried — does not fully understand the situation.

John Young, after being asked if he was worried about flying the first Space Shuttle launch. Quoted in the New Mexico Museum of Space History.

STS1 Liftoff

You know, being a test pilot isn’t always the healthiest business in the world.

Alan Shepard, quoted in the 2004 book Alan Shepard: The First American in Space (The Library of Astronaut Biographies)

You are professionals trained to deal with three things that can kill you: gravity, combustion, and inertia. Keep them under control, and you’ll die in bed.

Sailor Davis, long-time TWA ground school instructor. Sourced from personal conversations with TWA pilots.

The fundamental problem is government people — pointy-headed bureaucrats — telling people what to do. There is an environment in this city of people unwilling to admit their mistakes and move ahead. The attitude toward rule-making has been so curtailed that common sense recommendations now take years and years.

Attributed to James Hall, NTSB, 1996.

There are no new types of aircrashes — only people with short memories. Every accident has its own forerunners, and every one happens either because somebody did not know where to draw the vital dividing line between the unforeseen and the unforeseeable or because well-meaning people deemed the risk acceptable.

If politics is the art of the possible, and flying is the art of the seemingly impossible, then air safety must be the art of the economically viable. At a time of crowded skies and sharpening competition, it is a daunting task not to let the art of the acceptable deteriorate into the dodgers' art of what you can get away with.

Stephen Barlay, The Final Call: Why Airline Disasters Continue to Happen, March 1990.

Since [the airplane] is fully automatic and does not depend upon the pilot reading and interpreting a lot of instruments the human element is almost removed. The pilot now has only to monitor the operation of the automatic equipment from the moment of takeoff until the airplane comes to rest on the landing strip at its final destination.

Rain, Fog, Snow! Future Airliner to Go Right Thru: Automatic Devices Will Handle It. Chicago Daily Tribune. 6 June 1946.

Fully Automatic

The plane behaved as if an invisible crew were working her controls … The commanding robot was a snarl of electronic equipment affectionately known as “the Brain.” Everything it did on the long flight was "preset" before the start. It received radio signals from a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. Later it picked up a beam from Droitwich, England, and followed that for a while. When the plane neared Brize Norton, the wide-awake Brain concentrated on a special landing beam from an R.A.F. radio and made a conventional automatic landing. On the way over, the crew checked the course and watched the instruments. Most of them had little to do. They played cards and read books.

Report on a military aircraft flying from Newfoundland to England under the control of an autopilot programmed on punched cards. No Hands, Time magazine 50(14), 1947.

I have long been on record that I believe our probable cause findings are primarily a vehicle for affecting positive changes, and not for placing blame. In accident investigation and prevention efforts, I don’t believe that we are constrained to a narrow construct of causality.

By embracing a “pilot error” probable cause, as it has in this case, the majority has, in my opinon, foregone an important opportunity to leverage meaningful changes that would be more helpful in the prevention of future accidents like this one.

John K. Lauber, NTSB Board Member, 2 February 1993. Dissenting statement in NTSB report AAR-93/01. The pilot’s actions were egrious in the fatal 22 April 1992 crash of Scenic Air Tours flight 22, but the safety culture of the company and air tour industry also played a causal role.

Usually [the cause of aviation accidents] is because someone does too much too soon, followed very quickly by too little too late.

Steve Wilson, NTSB investigator, Oshkosh, WI, August 1996.

Trouble in the air is very rare. It is hitting the ground that causes it.

Amelia Earhart, 20 Hrs 40 Mins, 1928.

I learned that danger is relative, and the inexperience can be a magnifying glass.

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

Spirit of St Louis Book

A balloon is no more dangerous than an automobile. Fools get killed in both.

A. Leo Stevens, quoted in The New Sport of Air-Sailing, Country Life in America magazine, January 1909.

After the ship has sunk, everyone knows how she might have been saved.

Italian proverb

My inclination to go by the Air Express is confirmed by the crash they had yesterday, which will make them more careful in the immediate future.

A. E. Housman, English poet. In a letter 17 August 1920.

You consider danger only from the standpoint that it’s up to you to know what you’re doing, to do your best, to be very careful about it and very thorough about it, and learn everything you can about it. No, I never really worried about it, even though I had quite a few close calls. And in those instances you’re so busy, you don't think about it anyway. So I can honestly say I was never really afraid. I’ve never been what I would call afraid. Now, there were a few times perhaps when you were lost in an airplane, you'd be temporarily confused, but not necessarily afraid.

Betty Skelton, First Lady of Firsts, interview by the NASA Oral History Project, Cocoa Beach, Florida, 19 July 1999.

Equipment malfunctions will also occur, particularly during subsystem development testing. In manned flight we must regard every malfunction, and, in fact, every observed peculiarity in the behavior or a system as an important warning of potential disaster. Only when the cause is understood and a change to eliminate it has been made and verified, can we proceed with the flight program.

F. J. Bailey, Jr., NASA Manned Space Center, Review of Lessons Learned in the Mercury Program Relative to Spacecraft Design and Operations, March 1963.

I can’t remember a single flight when some group of engineers who were responsible for one or another of the subsystems did not advise us to delay the launch. Sometimes we took their advice and postponed … other times we went ahead and flew in spite of the advice.

Hans Mark, aerospace engineer and NASA deputy administrator, in his 1987 book The Space Station: A Personal Journey.

Hans Mark

You either accept a degree of risk or you don’t do anything. We reckoned to have about a one in two chance of getting back from the Moon at first, but by the time I flew it was about five to one. I think it’s always gonna be high risk. Be worth it, though.

John Young, the only astronaut to fly on four different classes of spacecraft: Gemini, the Apollo command and service module, the Apollo Lunar Module and the Space Shuttle, on the risk of flying to the Moon. Quoted in the 2019 book Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth.

We fooled ourselves into thinking this thing wouldn't crash. When I was in astronaut training I asked, ‘what is the likelihood of another accident?' The answer I got was: one in 10,000, with an asterisk. The asterisk meant, ‘we don't know.'

Bryan O'Connor, NASA deputy associate administrator Space Shuttle, interview in Space News, 10 January 1996.

I don’t take crazy risks. I’m afraid to get on a roller coaster, I really am. It’s dumb. I have no control over the thing once I’m on it.

Eileen Collins, test pilot, astronaut, space shuttle commander, interview in the Chicago Tribune, 10 July 2005.

Eileen Collins in front of an F4

Challenger was lost because NASA came to believe its own propaganda. The agency's deeply impacted cultural hubris had it that technology — engineering — would always triumph over random disaster if certain rules were followed. The engineers-turned-technocrats could not bring themselves to accept the psychology of machines with abandoning the core principle of their own faith: equations, geometry, and repetition — physical law, precision design, and testing — must defy chaos. No matter that astronauts and cosmonauts had perished in precisely designed and carefully tested machines. Solid engineering could always provide a safety margin, because the engineers believed, there was complete safety in numbers.

William E. Burrows, This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age, 1998.

Insisting on perfect safety is for people who don’t have the balls to live in the real world.

Mary Shafer, SR-71 Flying Qualities Lead Engineer, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. Newsgroup posting, c. 1990.

We have to get out of the mind-set of saying, ‘No matter how hard we try, we will have accidents,’ and into ‘We will not have accidents.’

Federico Peña, U.S. Transportation Secretary, Safety conference speech, January 1995.

After reading … accounts … of minor accidents of light, it is little wonder that the average man would far rather watch someone else fly and read of the narrow escapes from death when some pilot has had a forced landing or a blowout, than to ride himself. Even in the postwar days of now obsolete equipment, nearly all of the serious accidents were caused by inexperienced pilots who where then allowed to fly or attempt to fly — without license or restrictions about anything they could coax into the air …

Charles Lindbergh, We, 1928.

If there were no risks it probably would not be worth doing. I certainly believe an airplane is capable of killing you, and in that sense I respect it.

Steve Ishmael, NASA Test Pilot.

Airplanes may kill you but they ain't likely to hurt you.

Leroy Robert 'Satchel' Paige, American Negro league baseball and Major League Baseball pitcher, c. 1959.

We tend to shy away from words like ‘dangerous,’ because we will not embark on anything unless it is truly thought out. But there is always an area of uncertainty … but we prefer to call it ‘high risk’ rather than ’dangerous.’

Squadron Leader Vic C. Lockwood RAF, Principal Fixed Wing Flying Tutor, Empire Test Pilot School, 1985.

Flying is inherently dangerous. We like to gloss that over with clever rhetoric and comforting statistics, but these facts remain: gravity is constant and powerful, and speed kills. In combination, they are particularly destructive.

Dan Manningham, Business and Commercial Aviation magazine. Don’t know what issue as I lost it in a long-ago move and it’s not online.

Mix ignorance with arrogance at low altitude and the results are almost guaranteed to be spectacular.

Bruce Landsberg, Executive Director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, Most Dangerous Game, 5 November 1996.

[Airplanes are] near perfect, all they lack is the ability to forgive.

Richard L. Collins, AOPA Pilot magazine, Feburary 1988.

Mountains should be abolished. At least that’d stop all those aeroplanes bumping into every other peak … It's just happened … in Nepal … Kathmandu … I was reading the story in the paper. Here … look.”

Hergé, in The Adventures of Tin Tin in Tibet, 1960.

Mountains are not fair or unfair, they are just dangerous.

Reinhold Messner, All Fourteen 8,000ers, 1999.

Reinhold Messner

When it comes to testing new aircraft or determining maximum performance, pilots like to talk about “pushing the envelope.” they’re talking about a two dimensional model: the bottom is zero altitude, the ground; the left is zero speed; the top is max altitude; and the right, maximum velocity, of course. So, the pilots are pushing that upper-right-hand corner of the envelope. What everybody tries not to dwell on is that that's where the postage gets canceled, too.

atributed to Rick Hunter, U.S. Navy pilot.

We must remember that the sea is no respector of ships or persons. The sea is always ready, at the first sign of failure, to rush in and destroy the very craft it so readily supports upon the surface of the water. The sea is only safe and harmless so long as the ship is safe and seaworthy and ably handled.

Felix Riesenberg, Standard Seamanship for the Merchant Service, 1922.

Recently a man asked whether the business of flying ever could be regulated by rules and statutes. I doubt it. Not that flying men are lawless. No one realizes better than they the need for discipline. But they have learned discipline through constant contact with two of the oldest statutes in the universe— the law of gravity and the law of self-preservation.

Ten feet off the ground these two laws supersede all others and there is little hope of their repeal.

Walter Hinton, in an adventure article on flying, Liberty magazine, 24 July 1926.

In flying, the probability of survival is inversely proportional to the angle of arrival.

attributed to Neil Armstrong. Quoted in, for example, the 2003 book Computer Algebra Recipes for Classical Mechanics.

Learning should be fun. If you don’t have fun in aviation then you don’t learn, and when learning stops, you die.

James 'Pete' Campbell, FAA. Quoted by Rod Machado in AOPA Pilot magazine, 2000.

Flying is so many parts skill, so many parts planning, so many parts maintenance, and so many parts luck. The trick is to reduce the luck by increasing the others.

David L. Baker. Quoted in Managing Yourself, Flight Training magazine, December 2000.

It's better to miss the lead story at 6 … than to become the lead story at 11.

Bruce Erion, President of the National Broadcast Pilots Assn., 1999.

If the engine stops for any reason, you are due to tumble, and that's all there is to it!

Clyde Cessna, founder of Cessna aircraft, talking to journalists and the public after flying a new Queen monoplane, Enid, Oklahoma, 4 July 1911. Quoted in Reflections, a publication of the Kansas Historical Society, volume 10 number 2, Spring 2016.

A 10 cent fuse will protect itself by destroying the $2,000 radio to which it is attached.

Robert Livingston, Flying The Aeronca, 1981.

No matter how interested individual employees might be, or what assistance a manufacturer offers, or how insistent a certificating authority might be — none of these factors will have a significant effect on safety without support from top management.

John O'Brian, ALPA's Engineering and Air Safety Department. Air Line Pilot magazine, November/December 1996.

Although no definite reason for the accident has been established, modifications are being embodied to cover every possibility that imagination has suggested as a likely cause of the disaster. When these modifications are completed and have been satisfactorily flight tested, the Board sees no reason why passenger services should not be resumed.

Lord Brabazon of Tara, letter to the Minister of Transport recommending that Comet aircraft be allowed to fly passengers again. Service resumed, but the next month Comet G-ALYY crashed into waters near Naples and the fleet was grounded once again. 4 April 1954.

The cost of solving the Comet mystery must be reckoned neither in money nor in manpower.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, grounding the Comet fleet, April 1954.

Comet aeroplane windows

You know, and I know, the cause of this accident. It is due to the adventurous, pioneering spirit of our race. It has been like in the past, it is like that in the present, and I hope it will be in the future. Here is a great imaginative project, to build a machine with twice the speed and twice the height of any existing machine in the world. We all went into it with our eyes wide open. We were conscious of the dangers that were lurking in the unknown. We did not know what fate was going to hold out for us in the future.

Lord Brabazon of Tara, robust defense while speaking to the court of inquiry for the Comet accidents, 1954.

For all the scientific pizazz [in airline accident investigations], unraveling the subtle, complex chain of events leading to aviation deaths is proving more elusive than ever.

The Wall Street Journal newspaper, Why More Plane-Crash Probes End in Doubt, 22 March 1999.

In less than 70 hours, three astronauts will be launched on the flight of Apollo 8 from the Cape Kennedy Space Center on a research journey to circle the moon. This will involve known risks of great magnitude and probable risks which have not been foreseen. Apollo 8 has 5,600,000 parts and 1.5 million systems, subsystems and assemblies. With 99.9 percent reliability, we could expect 5,600 defects. Hence the striving for perfection and the use of redundancy which characterize the Apollo program.

Jerome Lederer, Director of Manned Space Flight Safety, NASA. First paragraph of Risk Speculations of the Apollo Project, a paper presented at the Wings Club, New York, New York, 18 December 1968.

Failure is not an option.

In the 1995 movie Apollo 13 this line is said by legendary NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris), but there is no evidence Kranz ever said it before the movie came out. He used it as the title of his excellent 2000 book Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond, in which he wrote it was “a creed that we all lived by” (page 12) and that “Failure does not exist in the lexicon of a flight controller. The universal characteristic of a controller is that he will never give up until he has an answer of another option” (page 307). Gene uses the phrase several other times, but never directly claims it was his or that it was ever articulated as it's now known. Jerry C. Bostick, the Flight Dynamics Officer (FDO) for Apollo 13 has written that Al Reinart and Bill Broyles, the script writers of the movie, interviewed him regards the atmosphere in mission control:

One of their questions was “Weren’t there times when everybody, or at least a few people, just panicked?” My answer was “No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution.” I immediately sensed that Bill Broyles wanted to leave and assumed that he was bored with the interview. Only months later did I learn that when they got in their car to leave, he started screaming, “That's it! That’s the tag line for the whole movie, Failure is not an option. Now we just have to figure out who to have say it.” Of course, they gave it to the Kranz character, and the rest is history.

The phrase centainly sums up the ‘human factors’ atitude of NASA mission control in the 1960’s, but it was created for a movie, condensed from reality, rather than a real world quotation

Gene Kranz

My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?

Lawrence Mulloy, Solid Rocket Booster Project Director, Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA, regards Morton Thiokol’s engineers’ warnings, 27 January 1986.

[I’m] appalled at the Thiokol recommendation.

George Hardy, Deputy Director of Science and Engineering, Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA, regards Morton Thiokol’s engineers’ warnings, 27 January 1986.

If the primary [o-ring] seal does not seat, the secondary seal will seat… . [Morton Thiokol] recommends STS-51L launch proceed on 28 January 1986.

Joe C. Kilminster, VP Space Booster Programs, Morton Thiokal, after a meeting in which Senior VP Jerry Mason told people to take off their engineering hats and put on their management hat, by fax to NASA, January 27 1986.

The explosion of the Challenger, after twenty-four consecutive successful shuttle flights, grounded all manned space missions by the U.S. for more than two years. The delay barely evoked comment … But contrast the early history of aviation, when 31 of the first 40 pilots hired by the Post Office died in crashes within six years, with no suspension of service.

C. Owen Paepke, The Evolution of Progress: The End of Economic Growth and the Beginning of Human Transformation, 1992.

Statistics don’t count for anything. They have no place in in engineering anywhere.

Will Willoughby, NASA head of reliability and safety during the Apollo moon landing program. Quoted in The Space Shuttle: A Case of Subjective Engineering, by Bell & Esch, IEEE Spectrum Volume 16 issue 6, 1989.

All of the people involved in the program, to my knowledge, felt Challenger was quite ready to go and I made the decision, along with the recommendation of the team supporting me, that we launched.

Jesse W. Moore, NASA associate administrator for space flight, reported in theNew York Times, 29 January 1986.

I know how to never have another Challenger. I know how to never have another leak, and never to screw up another mirror, and that is to stop and build some shopping centers in the desert.

J. R. Thompson, NASA deputy administrator, 1990.

All of a sudden, space isn’t friendly. All of a sudden, it's a place where people can die… . Many more people are going to die. But we can't explore space if the requirement is that there be no casualties; we can't do anything if the requirement is that there be no casualties.

Isaac Asimov, regards the Challenger investigation, on CBS television show 48 Hours, 21 April 1988.

It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management …

Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed, schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative… .

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Richard Feynman, Personal Observations on Reliability of Shuttle, Volume II, Appendix F to the official US Government Report of the Presidential commission of the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, issued 6 June 1986. Feynman won the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics, and addition to his therotical work was a brilliant explainer of physical reality.

Richard Feynman

Truth in politics is optional — Truth in engineering is mandatory.

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

Of course risk is part of spaceflight. We accept some of that to achieve greater goals in exploration and find out more about ourselves and the universe.

Lisa Nowak, STS-121 astronaut, a few days prior to launch, reported in the Houston Chronicle newspaper, 25 June 2006.

Every one of us is aware there is a slightly increased risk if you compare it to the day-to-day risk that we might be exposed to driving on the streets or going on commercial airlines. Each of us, independent of our nationality or space agency, believes the experience we gain in terms of scientific results, in terms of just expanding our horizons, is worth the remaining risk.

German astronaut Thomas Reiter, a few days prior to launch of STS-121, reported in the Houston Chronicle newspaper, 25 June 2006.

I don’t see it as a risk, I see it as living.

Victoria Principal, actress and skin-care promoter, regards her planned 2009 Virgin Galactic ride. She was the first woman to call Richard Branson and buy a US $200,000 ticket. Reported in People magazine, 18 June 2007.

If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.

Astronaut Virgil 'Gus' Grissom, regards the dangers and importance of the mission of going to the moon, Gemini: A Personal Account of Man’s Venture into Space, published in 1968 after his 1967 death in a flash fire aboard the Apollo 1 spacecraft.

Gus Grissom

Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, Dammit, stop! I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did.

From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: Tough — and Competent.

Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.

Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director, address to flight control team on the Monday morning following the Apollo 1 disaster. Since known as the Kranz Dictum. 30 January 1967

The route to the target is more important than the target. We are going to go for the target, but we enjoy the route as well.

Israeli Air Force Col. Ilan Ramon, to reporters on the eve of his Space Shuttle flight, 16 January 2003. STS-107 was lost on re-entry on 1 February 2003.

To me it’s very definitely worth the risk, and it is a risky business. We sometimes are guilty of making it look a little too easy, maybe. But it's not easy, what we do. I liken it sort of to polar exploration during say the 19th Century when people were looking for the Northwest Passage. Ships were lost and brave people were killed, but that doesn’t mean we never went back to that part of the world again, and I consider it the same in space exploration. A civilization that only looks inward will stagnate. We have to keep looking outward; we have to keep finding new avenues for human endeavor and human expression. If I wasn’t doing this kind of exploration, I'd like to be doing some other kind of exploration. It might be more risky, or less risky, but, in the business of exploration, risk is part of the territory.

John Phillips, International Space Station Science Officer and Flight Engineer, NASA preflight interview before his second trip to the ISS. NASA website, 23 February 2005.

Some things simply are inherent to the design of the bird and cannot be made better without going and getting a new generation of spacecraft. That’s as true for the Space Shuttle as it is for your toaster oven.

Michael Griffin, NASA Administrator, regards Space Shuttle safety, eve of launch of STS-114, 25 July 2005.

I’d hate to see an epitaph on a fighter pilot’s tombstone that says, “I told you I needed training.” How do you train for the most dangerous game in the world by being as safe as possible? When you don’t let a guy train because it’s dangerous, you’re saying, “Go fight those lions with your bare hands in that arena, because we can't teach you to learn how to use a spear. If we do, you might cut your finger while you’re learning.” And that’s just about the same as murder.

Attributed to Colonel Lloyd 'Boots' Boothby, USAF. He led Project Red Baron at the Tactical Air Warfare Center at Nellis AFB with the aim to improve their air-to-air performance following the Vietnam War. His efforts helped create more realistic training, including dissimilar air combat training — the aggressor force. Cited in several books and USAF publications, including Fighter Pilot Balanced Tactics, Safety, Effectiveness published by the Air Force History Office on 5 December 2006.

527th Aggressors

Whenever we talk about a pilot who has been killed in a flying accident, we should all keep one thing in mind. He called upon the sum of all his knowledge and made a judgment. He believed in it so strongly that he knowingly bet his life on it. That his judgment was faulty is a tragedy, not stupidity. Every instructor, supervisor, and contemporary who ever spoke to him had an opportunity to influence his judgment, so a little bit of all of us goes with every pilot we lose.

author unknown, help please!

The warm Hawaiian sun was blaring in as we went eastbound. I just closed my eyes for a minute, enjoying the sunshine and dozed off.

Scott Oltman, captain of go! flight 1002 on 13 February 2007, who along with the first officer fell asleep heading out over the ocean during an inter-island flight. They awoke in time to fly back to land. From a subsequent NTSB interview.

I am a history major. I believe that the past is prologue. The archives bear that out. Most major aircraft accidents are not acts of God. In our recommendations we try to take what we have learned and correct situations so it shouldn’t happen again.

James Hall, NTSB, 1996.

Take nothing for granted; do not jump to conclusions; follow every possible clue to the extent of usefulness … Apply the principle that there is no limit to the amount of effort justified to prevent the recurrence of one aircraft accident or the loss of one life.

Accident Investigation Manual of the U.S. Air Force, c. 1965.

When you have two engines, you have two engines that can fall to bits. When you have four, you have four that can fall to bits. The less engines you have, the safer you are.

Frank Fickeisen, chief engineer for Boeing, replying to a complaint made by the American Airlines Allied Pilots' Association about the dangers of flying two-engine airplanes across the Pacific.

The airlines spell safety with a dollar sign and the FAA practices regulation by death.

Patricia Robertson Miller, Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, 1 August 1979.

Where the water meets the sky, it was just fire.

Jarreau Israel, eyewitness to the crash of TWA Flight 800 into the waters off New York's Long Island, 1996.

We actually are waiting for more people to be killed before we can do something that makes sense. We don’t kill enough people in aviation to merit regulatory changes.

Deborah Hersman, former US NTSB chairwoman, explaining to USA Today newspaper why the FAA doesn't change old regulations. 20 June 2014.

Its important not to focus so much on the statistics, but [on people’s] perceptions.

Federico Peña, U.S. Transportation Secretary, quoted in USA Today newspaper, 22 December 1994.

I go out of my way to stay off commuter planes. I have skipped conferences because I would not fly on marginal airlines (and because of many mishaps, I also avoided flying on ValuJet).

Mary Schiavo, U.S. DOT Inspector General, Newsweek magazine, 20 May 1996.

Senator Wyden, I strongly take exception to her comments… When we say an airline is safe to fly, it is safe to fly. There is no gray area.

David R. Hinson, Federal Aviation Administrator, under oath to the Senate Commerce Committee, 14 May, 1996.

I have flown ValuJet, ValuJet is a safe airline, as is our entire aviation system.

Federico Peña, 12 May 1996. Listen to the original quote (mp3)

Yes, the airline is safe. I would fly on it. It meets our standards.

David R. Hinson, Federal Aviation Administrator, 12 May 1996. ValuJet was later grounded for not meeting FAA standards.

Regulatory non-compliance and being unsafe are two different things.

Herb Kelleher, executive chairman of Southwest Airlines, immediately before a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on FAA safety enforcement held following that airline’s record $10.2 million dollar fine. The New York Times, 3 April 2008.

Except for Acts of God, every accident, no matter how minor, is a failure of the organization.

Professor Kenneth R. Andrews, Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, 1953. Quoted in the 1980 book Readings in Industrial Accident Prevention and the 1988 book Modern Accident Investigation and Analysis. Also attributed to Jerome 'Jerry' Lederer of the Flight Safety Foundation.

I am concerned any time that new entrants into aviation particularly carrying packages or goods enter a market where their background has been essentially trying to cut costs to make money.

Cutting costs in aviation causes deaths and accidents.

Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, regards Amazon running cargo airlines. Business Insider, 21 March 2019.

Management decisions and actions, or more frequently, indecisions and inactions, cause accidents.

Attributed to John Lauber, chairman NTSB, 1993.

Safety begins in the boardroom.

James L. Oberstar, member U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, commenting on airline safety regulations, reported in Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, 3 August 2009.

The modern airplane is the product of a program of research, development, and refinement in detail that no other structure or mechanism has ever matched. The results have been so remarkable that there is always danger of forgetting that these extraordinary craft still have to be operated by men, and that the most important test they have to meet is still being operable without imposing unreasonable demands or unnecessary strains on the flight personnel.

Edward P. Warner, quoted in the 1946 book Human Factors in Air Transport Design.

The alleviation of human error, whether design or intrinsically human, continues to be the most important problem facing aerospace safety.

Jerome Lederer, director of the Flight Safety Foundation for 20 years and NASA's first director of Manned Flight Safety, quoted in Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 11, 2007.

The element of discipline is especially strong. The railway employee is continually conscious of some higher authority to which he must 'report' and must render faithful obedience. It may be that he is sometimes to warped by this consciousness. But in some branches of railway activity a quasi-military authority with corresponding submission seems indispensable, no doubt. Great human interests demand it, even though it may occasionally be felt to have the appearance on an infringement of human liberty. The peculiar combination of knowledge and discipline necessary to railway service gives it a character of its own, one which has its advantages and from which men in certain other walks of life may perhaps learn something of value.

Benjamin Chapman Burt, Railway Station Service, 1911.

Mishaps are like knives that either serve us or cut us as we grasp them by the blade or the handle.

James Russell Lowell, Cambridge Thirty Years Ago, Literary Essays, volume I, 1864-1890.

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by adequate error.

John Kenneth Galbraith, economist, Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went, 1975.

Are we going to lose one of these [planes] sometime? Probably. But it's like the Indy 500. Is someone going to go into the wall at Indy? Probably. Is that dangerous? Yes. Could we make it safer? Yes. But would anybody watch it, then? No.

Kirby Chambliss, five time US National Aerobatic Champion, regards flying in the Red Bull Air Races. Flying magazine, January 2006.

The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.

Cornelius Tactitus, in Latin ‘Nisi impunitatis cupido retinuisset, magnis semper conatibus adversa’. In his account of Subrius Flavus’ passing thought of assassinating Nero while the emperor sang on stage, Book XV, 50, The Annals, AD 14–68.

Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.

William Shakespeare, King Henry the Fourth, Part One. Circa 1591.

Out of this nettle

To conquer without risk is to triumph without glory.

Pierre Corneille, Le Cid, 1636. Original French, “À vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloire".

No nation can advance unless the old ideals of exploration and adventure are lived. There must be lives lost in flying, as in every other step of progress, and as many lives have been lost in the past, but there is no need to run foolish risks. The search for adventure need not entail foolhardiness. Fear is a tonic and danger should be something of a stimulant.

Lady Mary Heath, Women and Flying, 1929.

Of the major incentives to improve safety, by far the most compelling is that of economics. The moral incentive, which is most evident following an accident, is more intense but is relatively short lived.

Jerome Lederer, director of the Flight Safety Foundation for 20 years and NASA's first director of Manned Flight Safety, quoted in Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 11, 2007.

Unfortunately, our flight was at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Yevhenii Dykhne, president of Ukraine International Airlines, after a UIA Boeing 737-800 was unintentionally shot down on 8 January 2020 by an Iranian missile. Press conference in Kiev, 11 January 2020,

If you are convinced that your organization has a good safety culture, you are almost certainly mistaken. Like a state of grace, a safety culture is something that is striven for but rarely attained. As in religion, the process is more important than the product. The virtue—and the reward—lies in the struggle rather than the outcome.

James Reason, professor of psychology at the University of Manchester, in his 1997 book Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents.

Corporate culture has a very real influence on the attitudes and performance of the people within an organization there is no question in my mind that management decisions and actions, or more frequently, indecision’s and inaction’s, cause accidents.

John Lauber, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member from 1985 to 1995. Quoted by Robert L. Sumwalt, NTSB, in a speech in Scottsdale, Arizona, 17 May 2007.

We are perhaps the only government agency trying to put itself out of work.

Robert Benzon, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator, The Washington Post, 4 May 2010.

The high level of safety achieved in scheduled airline operations lately should not obscure the fact that most of the accidents that occurred could have been prevented. This suggest that in many instances, the safety measures already in place may have been inadequate, circumvented or ignored.

International Civil Aviation Organization, Accident Prevention Manual, 1984.

Complacency or a false sense of security should not be allowed to develop as a result of long periods without an accident or serious incident. An organization with a good safety record is not necessarily a safe organization.

International Civil Aviation Organization, Accident Prevention Manual, 1984.

The hard, inescapable reality is that anyone who flies may die in an airplane.

Stephen Coonts, The Intruders, 1994.

I think the least likely thing … is mechanical. I mean, that's just common sense.

James Kallstrom, chief of the FBI investigation of TWA flight 800, in the Wall Street Journal newspaper, 22 July 1996. It was mechanical. The NTSB found that the probable cause was an explosion of flammable fuel/air vapors in a fuel tank, most likely from a short-circuit.

It is clear to us all that a tyre burst alone should never cause a loss of a public-transport aircraft.

Sir Malcolm Field, head of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority, 16 August 2000. This was following the Air France Concorde crash in Paris, a causation chain started by a piece of metal damaging the tires on the runway.

Rechecked five times with the same result.

Mechanic signoff on Alaska Airlines MD-83 N963AS, MIG-4 Non-Routine Work Card, Oakland maintenance facility, California, 27 September 1997. The planned action during the C5 check was to replace the horizontal stab nut. This was changed to re-evalute the previously failed test. Mechanic signed it off as within limits, adding “rechecked five times”. If it was clearly within limits, why would you need to test it five times?

Alaska Airines MIG-4
The NTSB determined that the probable cause Alaska Airlines Flight 261 “was a loss of airplane pitch control resulting from the in-flight failure of the horizontal stabilizer trim system jackscrew assembly’s acme nut threads.” The MD-83 had no fail-safe mechanism to prevent the catastrophic effects of total acme nut thread loss. Alaska Airlines had developed a culture of non-compliance with safety regulations and practices. The cockpit voice recorder captured the doomed pilots commenting on the pressure placed on them by the company to continue the flight. Even the lead flight attendant was aware of the management culture. The CVR recording captured her telling the pilots, “So they're trying to put the pressure on you — ”.

The role of both maintenance control and dispatch was to push aircraft. Pilots determined if the aircraft was flyable. This was the philosophy and always has been.

Director of Flight Safety, Alaska Airlines, at the time of the fatal MD-83 Flight 261 crash. Post-accident interview quoted in letter to Richard Rodriguez, Investigator-In-Charge, NTSB, from ALPA, official submission of comments to the Major Investigations Division, 23 August 2002.

Remember one thing, the Pk (Probability of kill) of the ground is always 100%.

Origin unknown, but a much used philosophy by the instructors at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) in Fallon, NV.

A little mountain will kill you just as dead as a big one if you fly into it.

Stephen Coonts, The Cannibal Queen: A Flight Into the Heart of America, 1992.

Even the most eminent persons are subject to the laws of gravity.

Winston Churchill, while Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, while allowing himself to be buckled into a seatbelt for a flight from Athens to Naples, 28 December 1944. Quoted in Max Hastings’ Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945.

In my experience flying search-and-rescue missions, the greatest single variable contributing to successful rescues was the preparedness and expertise of the person(s) in distress.

Dr. Tom Gross, United States Coast Guard. Quoted in 1997 book Sailors’ Secrets: Advice from the Masters.

People often assume I assume I am a thrill seeker, but I am not. I do not enjoy roller coasters, and you won't find me bungee-jumping … It is a disadvantage that my pursuits are inherently dangerous. A large part of my effort is to reduce risk.

Steve Fossett, aviation record breaker, as told to Richard Branson, reported in Branson’s Time magazine appreciation of Steve after he went missing in the desert, 22 October 2007.

In NASCAR you smash into a wall, most of the time you get out and throw your helmet at the ground. One mistake in an air race, you’re dead.

Kirby Chambliss, Red Bull air race champion, interview in Maxim magazine, November 2008.

Kirby Chambliss

The majority of aircraft accidents are due to some type of error of the pilot. This fact has been true in the past and, unfortunately, most probably will be true in the future.

Hugh Harrison Hurt, Jr., in the preface of his book Aerodynamics For Naval Aviators, NAVWEPS 00-80T-80, August 1959.

Safety is the business of all hands. The consequences of neglet of safety measures can be tragic. It is difficult to talk about safety without repeating trite phrases everyone has heard many times.

Start of Chapter XX, Safety, American Merchant Seaman's Manual. 6th edition, 1980.

A hundred years ago, a ship’s survival depended almost solely on the competence of her master and on his constant alertness to every hint of change in the weather. To be taken aback or caught in full sail on by even a passing squall might mean the loss of spars or canvas; and to come close to the center of a genuine hurricane or typhoon was synonymous with disaster. While to be taken by surprise was thus serious, the facilities for avoiding it were meager. Each master was dependent wholly on himself for detecting the first symptoms of bad weather, for predicting its seriousness and movement, and for taking the appropriate measures to, to evade it if possible and to battle through it if it passed near to him. There was no radio by which weather data could be collected from all over the oceans and the resulting forecasts by expert aerologists broadcasted to him and to all afloat. There was no one to tell him that the time had now come to strike his light sails and spars, and snug her down under close reefs and storm trysails. His own barometer, the force and direction of the wind, and the appearance of sea and sky were all that he had for information. Ceaseless vigilance in watching and interpreting signs, plus a philosophy of taking no risk in which there was little to gain and much to be lost, was what enabled him to survive.

Both seniors and juniors alike must realize that in bad weather, as in most other situations, safety and fatal hazard are not separated by any sharp boundary line, but shade gradually from one into the other. There is no little red light which is going to flash on and inform commanding officers or higher commanders that from then on there is extreme danger from the weather, and that measures for ships' safety must now take precedence over further efforts to keep up with the formation or to execute the assigned task. This time will always be a matter of personal judgment. Naturally no commander is going to cut thin the margin between staying afloat and foundering, but he may nevertheless unwittingly pass the danger point even though no ship is yet in extremis. Ships that keep on going as long as the severity of wind and sea has not yet come close to capsizing them or breaking them in two, may nevertheless become helpless to avoid these catastrophes later if things get worse. By then they may be unable to steer any heading but in the trough of the sea, or may have their steering control, lighting , communications, and main propulsion disabled, or may be helpless to secure things on deck or to jettison topside weights. The time for taking all measures for a ship's safety is while still able to do so. Nothing is more dangerous than for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to have been unnecessary. Safety at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy.

Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Parts of his Pacific Fleet Confidential Letter 14CL-45 (now declassified) following typhoon damage to many ships, 13 February 1945.

ATTENTION! Aircraft Designers, Operators, Airmen, Managers. Anxiety never disappears in a human being in an airplane — it merely remains dormant when there is no cause to arouse it. Our challenge is to keep it forever dormant.

Harold Harris, Vice President, Pan American World Airways, c. 1950.

Clearly this was an out of the ordinary landing, but I was just doing my job and any one of our pilots would have taken the same actions.

Captain David Williams, Virgin Atlantic flight 43. He safely landed his B747 at London Gatwick with 447 people on board with no starboard outer main landing gear. BBC News, 31 December 2014.

VS 43

For they had learned that true safety was to be found in long previous training, and not in eloquent exhortations uttered when they were going into action.

Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, c. 404 BC.

Better safe than sorry.

Nineteenth-century proverb.

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.

John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, 1928. Recycled with slightly different wording in newspapers over the decades. Made popular again by Admiral Grace M Hopper in the 1980's.

It is well to moor your bark with two anchors.

Publilius Syrus, Sententiae, c. 50 BCE

Most accidents originate in actions committed by reasonable, rational individuals who were acting to achieve an assigned task in what they perceived to be a responsible and professional manner.

Peter Harle, Director of Accident Prevention, Transportation Safety Board of Canada and former RCAF pilot, Investigation of human factors: The link to accident prevention, In Johnston, N., McDonald, N., & Fuller, R., Aviation Psychology in Practice, 1994.

Man’s greatest sin is the unnecessary taking of human lives.

Benjamin Howard, The Attainment of Greater Safety, presented at the 1st Annual ALPA Air Safety Forum, 1954.

It is a fool’s errand to try to make the aviation system terrorist proof. The only way to do that is ground the airplanes.

Edmund S. 'Kip' Hawley, former Administrator Transportation Security Administration (TSA), quoted in The New York Times after the Christmas Day underwear bomber incident, 28 December 2009.

Nobody ever thought about having to protect the passengers from the pilots.

David Neeleman. His JetBlue Airways was the first to install secure cockpit doors after 9/11, but Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 made him wonder about other senerios. This quote was over a year before the Germanwings 9525 tragedy. Article in Popular Mechanics magazine 19 March 2014.

If you were born on an airliner in the US in this decade and never got off you would encounter your first fatal accident when you were 2300 years of age and you would still have a 29% chance of being one of the survivors.

Les Lautman, Safety Manager Boeing Commercial Airplane Company, 1989.

If you were to take a flight every day, in order for you statistically to be in a fatal aircraft accident, you’d have to live 35,000 years. There is no other means of transportation that is equivalent in terms of its success. It’s actually much safer than riding on an escalator.

R. John Hansman Jr., Aero/Astro Professor at MIT. Quoted in As this (intentional) 727 crash shows, you can survive, USA Today newspaper, 1 October 2012.

We believe the airplane is trying to tell us something and that it has been trying for quite awhile.

Bernard Loeb, NTSB director of aviation safety, Safety Board hearing on the 1994 USAir Boeing 737 rudder crash. Boeing had been advancing a theory of pilot error, but eventually the design fault was found. 23 March 1999, quoted the next day in U.S. panel questions safety of 737s, Chicago Tribune, Section 1, 14 March 1999.

The plane is trying to tell us something

When people say I changed the culture of Boeing, that was the intent, so that it’s run like a business rather than a great engineering firm. It is a great engineering firm, but people invest in a company because they want to make money.

Harry Stonecipher, Boeing CEO, in an interview with Patricia Callahan, So why does Harry Stonecipher think he can turn around Boeing?, Chicago Tribune newspaper, 29 Feburary 2004. It’s an insightful piece about Stonecipher, Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and safety culture.

Harry Stonecipher

so I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)

Mark Forkner, Boeing test pilot, November 2016 text message to another Boeing employee used in 2021 legal indictment criminally charging him for hiding Boeing's flawed design of the 737 MAX from regulators.

B737 Forkner test

Are we vulnerable to single AOA sensor failures with the MCAS implementation or is there some checking that occurs?

[Name Redacted] Boeing aero-stability and control group employee expressing concern about the B-737 MAX MCAS system in internal Boeing email, 17 December 2015. Slide from US House Transportation Committee investigation, October 2019:

B737 MCAS email

This airplane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.

[Name Redacted] Boeing company pilot, internal message to a colleague regards the B737 MAX, 26 April 2017. Part of the document dump sent to the US Congress investigation, October 2019.

Designed by clowns

I would absolutely not fly a MAX airplane. I’ve worked in the factory where they were built, and I saw the pressure employees were under to rush the planes out the door. I tried to get them to shut down before the first crash.

Edward Pierson, former Boeing senior manager 737 production, Los Angeles Times newspaper, 30 January 2024. His contemporary concerns are detailed in the 2021 book Flying Blind: The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing:

“Frankly right now all my internal warning bells are going off. For the first time in my life, I'm sorry to say that I’m hesitant about putting my family on a Boeing airplane.”

Ed Pierson, senior manager 737 production, letter to Scott Campbell, general manager of the 737 factory, 2018. Internal communication made public at House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, 11 December 2019.

737 plug door failure

If back then, we knew everything we know now, we would have made different decisions.

Dennis A. Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing, in testimony to the US Congress about the B737 MAX, 29 October 2019. He was let go by year’s end.

There are issues around the safety culture in Boeing. Their priorities have been focused on production and not on safety and quality.

Michael Whitaker, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator, during interview with Lester Holt, NBC News, 19 March 2024.

Asked if Boeing was too big to fail, he said “Economics isn’t part of my portfolio, but I would say they’re too big to not make a good airplane. They have all the resources they need. There’s no reason they can’t make a good airplane, and that’s our focus right now.” The FAA had already capped Boeing production volume.

First among these is our finding that there exists a “disconnect” between the words that are being said by Boeing management, and what is being seen and experienced by the technicians and engineers.

They hear “safety is our number one priority”, but they see that that is only true as long as you meet your production milestones. They hear “speak up if you see anything unsafe”, but they see that when they do, there’s little feedback, and if they insist, they may find themselves on the short end of the stick next time raises are distributed, or worse.

Javier de Luis, aerospace systems engineering lecturer at MIT and member of the FAA Expert Review Panel on Boeing, report to the US Senate, 17 April 2024.

Perhaps the history of the errors on mankind, all things considered, is more valuable and interesting that that of their discoveries. Truth is uniform and narrow; it constantly exists, and does not seem to require so much an active energy, as a passive aptitude of soul in order to encounter it. But error is endlessly diversified; it has no reality, but is the pure and simple creation of the mind that invents it. In this field, the soul has room enough to expand herself, to display all her boundless faculties, and all her beautiful and interesting extravagancies and absurdities.

Benjamin Franklin, Report of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, and Other Commissioners, Charged by the King of France, with the Examination of the Animal Magnetism, as Now Practiced in Paris, 1784.

Weiner’s Laws

1-16. Intentionally left blank.

17. Every device creates its own opportunity for human error.

18. Exotic devices create exotic problems.

19. Digital devices tune out small errors while creating opportunities for large errors.

20. Complacency? Don’t worry about it.

21. In aviation, there is no problem so great or so complex that it cannot be blamed on the pilot.

22. There is no simple solution out there waiting to be discovered, so don’t waste your time searching for it.

23. Invention is the mother of necessity.

24. If at first you don’t succeed… try a new system or a different approach.

25. Some problems have no solution. If you encounter one of these, you can always convene a committee to revise some checklist.

26. In God we trust. Everything else must be brought into your scan.

27. It takes an airplane to bring out the worst in a pilot.

28. Any pilot who can be replaced by a computer should be.

29. Whenever you solve a problem you usually create one. You can only hope that the one you created is less critical than the one you eliminated.

30. You can never be too rich or too thin (Duchess of Windsor) or too careful what you put into a digital flight guidance system (Wiener).

31. Today’s nifty, voluntary system is tomorrow’s F.A.R.

Dr. Earl Wiener, human factors researcher at NASA Ames and University of Miami, president of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. I don’t know why 1 through 16 were left blank, presumably part of his famously playful nature. Asaf Degani, Ph.D. captured the list, noting that “some are funny and some are dead serious”.

Published online as Wiener’s Laws, in the Aviation Week blog Things With Wings by John Croft, 28 July 2013.

Risk management is a more realistic term than safety. It implies that hazards are ever-present, that they must be identified, analyzed, evaluated and controlled or rationally accepted.

Jerome Lederer, director of the Flight Safety Foundation for 20 years and NASA's first director of Manned Flight Safety, quoted in his obituary, The New York Times, 9 February 2004.

During this period Steen and Fox were killed trying a single-engine instrument approach at Moline. Then Campbell and Leatherman hit a ridge near Elko, Nevada. In both incidents the official verdict was ‘pilot error’, but since their passengers, who were innocent of the controls, also failed to survive, it seemed that fate was the hunter. As it had been and would be.

Ernest K. Gann, Fate is the Hunter, 1961.

Fate Is The Hunter


Didn’t find what you were looking for? There are loads more flying safety quotes on my Last Words page, the 9/11 aviation quotations page, and the Piloting Quotes page. Or try a seach of the entire database: