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article number 265
article date 08-29-2013
copyright 2013 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
What to Expect in Your Flight Training, 1936
by General H. H. Arnold & Colonel Ira C. Eaker

From the 1936 book, This Flying Game. Dedication: This volume is dedicated to the Junior Birdmen of America, the Jimmie Allen Fling Club and other boys’ aeronautic organizations, with the realization that they must take our places and man the vans of air commerce tomorrow.

* * *

WILBUR WRIGHT said more than thirty years ago, “When men have learned to balance and steer, the age of flying machines will have arrived, for all other difficulties are of minor importance.”

The Fathers of Flight, unlike many learned men, followed their own advice implicitly. Before they applied power to their craft, they learned the secrets of airplane control—how to balance and steer—by many thousand glider flights. Never would they have been able to control their first plane on its brief first voyage as they did had it not been for the invaluable data collected and assimilated in these glides over a period of several years.

The Wright brothers discarded all methods and principles of learning to fly as formulated by the pioneers who preceded them. They “got on and rode,” as all the world knows. Present standard methods of pilot instruction follow this formula.

There is much talk of late about airplanes which eliminate the necessity for pilot instruction. Fool-proof planes may be about to appear which can be steered through the skies by men who have had no previous flying instruction. That is not, however, the type of plane which does the work in the air. It is a sport type, for transportation of one or two persons only.

The air van which shuttles over the air lines, the military plane which fights aloft, in fact all air vessels which do real work, still require carefully trained operators. Despite the fact that the Department of Commerce is sponsoring an “everyman’s” airplane which can be flown without previous pilot instruction, it is very noticeable that this same governmental agency has not let down the requirements for pilots on airlines.

This is a clear indication of the trend. Pilots who will have assignments on the airlines of the future will be even better trained than those of today.

Early flying instruction was a haphazard affair. The first pilots taught themselves. These then gathered about them small groups of daring adventurers bent upon a career in this new sphere. After a few lessons, such men bought airplanes and set out to teach themselves the remainder of the mystery of airplane control.


Despite the fact that the first plane was flown in 1903, there had been little effort to standardize flying instruction until the demands of the World War made it necessary to turn out thousands of fliers overnight. Quantity production of flying men forced standardization and formulation of definite methods just as it does in manufacture.

The governments of the contending nations in the Great War saw this necessity and directed experienced pilots to formulate methods of flying instruction. Out of the crucible of that conflict emerged methods of pilot instruction which have remained fairly standardized to this day.

There are many flying schools in this country, civil and military. Some of these, for economic reasons, offer courses of instruction for a tuition fee as low as five dollars per flying hour. It is possible to obtain enough pilot instruction to qualify for the government’s private operator’s license for a few hundred dollars.

Such flying students cannot carry passengers, secure positions on airlines, or engage in any other gainful occupation at airplane controls. They are sportsmen at best.

Since these so little affect the industry, we are not concerned with them. The making of a first-class flying man takes at least two years of instruction and requires an outlay of at least four thousand dollars.

The Army Air Corps flying school has trained more fliers than any other school in this country; ninety per cent of all airline pilots and all military pilots are graduates of this course of instruction. For this reason the methods of instruction at this institution are borne in mind in discussing the subject of pilot training in these pages.

Your career as an airline pilot depends on good flight training.

Airplane flying training is divisible into three major subdivisions: primary, advanced, and special stages or phases. The primary stage is designed to impart pilot skill. The student in this course merely learns how to steer the air vessel. In the advanced stage he is taught how to do work with the plane. Flying judgment, experience, and additional pilot skill are imparted.

The special phase is the postgraduate course and includes instrument flying, airline operation, and transport or multi-engine operation for the civil flier, and for the military pilot it includes work with a tactful unit of the Army Air Corps designed to make the student a finished fighting airman in one of the four branches of Army Air Force operation: Pursuit, Bombardment, Attack, or Observation.

Primary instruction, as its name implies, is the initial phase. Here the initiate enters the mill. The system employed has the principal feature of the old apprenticeship methods used by the ancient gilds.

An experienced flying instructor has five students and an airplane. He personally imparts or supervises all the flying instruction these men get during the primary stage.

The first flight given is for familiarization. The student is a guest aboard the plane. He should be an intelligent observer, for the next time it takes the air he will have a hand in its control. This flight is designed to acclimate the initiate to the first rude shocks of leaving mother earth.

In the earlier days, in fact during the intensive war days, many students reported for training who had never been in an airplane before. At that time these familiarization rides had a real advantage. Now, however, most candidates have flown in commercial aircraft and it is not unusual to find those who have fortified themselves with civil pilot instruction before reporting.

These flights do have one advantage even now, since they accustom the prospective flier to the type of plane in which he will receive his early lessons.

Primary dual instruction.

At the beginning of the second period of instruction, the student is placed in the cockpit and shown the operation of the controls. Aircraft steerage is a three-dimensional operation; hence there are three controls in the cockpit, maneuvering three sets of surfaces on the plane.

There is a “stick” which rises vertically between the pilot’s legs so that its top is in a comfortable position for the right hand. A movement of this stick fore and aft actuates the elevators on the tail of the plane. A movement forward on the stick causes the elevators to deflect downward, making the plane dive. A movement to rear on this control causes a converse upward movement of the elevator surfaces, making the plane climb.

The student’s feet rest on a horizontal bar on the floor of the cockpit. This is called the rudder bar. It is hitched to the rudder in the tail group, a vertical surface, which when moved from side to side causes the nose of the plane to change direction around its vertical axis. When the right foot is pushed forward, the rudder moves to the right, where it encounters the air stream and tends to give way to the left, causing the nose of the plane to be pushed to the right.

After the controls, their position, method of operation and effect are carefully explained to the student and he is allowed to work them several times, the instructor explains the relation between the controls and the necessity for working them at the same time.

If the rudder is applied without a dropping of the wing on the same side at the same time, the plane is said to skid. This is a demonstration of centrifugal force. Skidding is accompanied by unpleasant sensations for the occupant of the plane. He is thrown up against the side of the cockpit, there is a rush of air against the side of the face.

On the other hand, if the wing on the side of the plane toward which the turn is to be accomplished be dropped, this exposes the wing area to the wind and tends to hold the plane in place, preventing the skid. The degree of rudder application determines the amount which the wing must be dropped to make a non-skid turn.

It takes considerable practise to get this adjustment down to the point where the operation of the controls becomes automatic and the pilot does not have to devote conscious attention to them.

Curtis Jenny used in wartime training.

Before the take-off on this, the second flight in the instruction stage, the flying teacher shows the student the engine controls, how to start the engine, how to stop it, how to accelerate or decelerate its power. He also indicates the position of the gasoline cocks and gages. The engine instruments are then pointed out and explained.

These gages are “health meters.” They show how the engine is functioning and are the first harbingers of trouble. On the primary planes, which are the simplest in type, there are the following instruments: a gage to show the oil pressure and temperature, a tachometer, an ammeter or other ignition instrument, and a fuel-pressure gage.

The student will probably be given one or two practise periods of engine starting. Some instructors include in this period taxying of the airplane. This is the normal mode of transit of the plane on the ground. It is necessary to learn the peculiarities of taxying in order to handle the plane on the ground and as a primary stage in take-off.

Then comes the first dual flight. The instructor will, of course, control this first take-off, altho he will probably allow the student to hold his hands lightly on the controls during its operation. The beginner will then be taught to observe the simplest form of maneuvers. Some time will be spent by him in learning the “feel” of the controls, gained from the simplest steering processes. There will be gentle climbs, slight turns and flat-angle glides.

All of these maneuvers will be executed with various engine speeds to show the student how dependent the plane is upon the application of power. Generally, the first period will not last more than an hour and will be concluded with four or five landings.

The landing of an airplane is one of the vital features of its operation. More accidents occur at this stage than in all others combined. The student must become familiar with the gliding angle and with the feel of the controls when the engine is reduced to idling speed. Also he must learn to judge altitude above barriers as the landing area is approached.

The landing regulations and airdrome rules are explained; these include airplane right-of-way and the method of passing aircraft in close proximity in the air and on the ground, etc. Successive flights in this initial phase merely serve to instil in the student a feeling of confidence. He must be taught to operate the plane’s controls largely subconsciously, that is, with little concentration.


At this point it is well to note one essential difference airplane pilotage has over many other forms of human endeavor. Generally those succeed in most walks of life who possess powers of concentration, the ability to fix the attention undividedly upon one detail to the exclusion of others for the time being.

That mental fixation is sure death in the air game. Let us assume that the pilot is concentrating on a landing. He must watch his rate of descent, his angle of glide; but if he puts his whole attention on this phase to the exclusion of all others, he may fly into an airplane in the air, his engine may be misfiring, he may be skidding—any one of ten or fifteen concomitant conditions may be in existence crying for immediate attention and correction or certain disaster awaits.

There are many important details, all of which must get attention simultaneously if the airplane is to be flown safely. This ability to divide attention or to transfer it at frequent intervals must be taught in the elemental stage of flight instruction. If the student is mentally inelastic and cannot thus accommodate himself, he is not the flying type and must be eliminated for his own protection.

Early in flight instruction, the student is given spins. The so-called “tail-spin,” the normal position a plane assumes when it is falling free and out of control, is the bugaboo of early pilot experience. The student has heard about its fatal aspects.

Most crashes include this freakish airplane attitude at some stage in the descent. The young flier has read or heard on numerous occasions of planes falling in spins, or of the difficulty of getting some planes out of spins. He has developed an especial horror for the word and its connotations.

As a matter of fact, however, there is now no mystery about airplane spins. Modern well designed planes can be put in them, and they can recover from them by a definite operation of the controls.


The attitude which the plane assumes while spinning is uncomfortable, and serves to terrify the uninitiated. The plane points its nose straight toward the earth, the tail whips about the direction of descent in circles, there is generally a periodic or whipping motion, the pilot finds himself pushed over into one corner of the cockpit; hands and feet tend to fly off the controls, dust and dirt fly off the floor and into the pilot’s face—the whole experience is unpleasant.

To make a bad matter decidedly worse, the student finds that the controls, if operated in their normal method, have no effect. They can be moved all over the cockpit without stopping the spin immediately, or apparently without any effect. They do not feel natural, they have not as much pressure of the air upon them as in normal flight position, and consequently feel light.

Airplane controls are designed to give maximum effect when the air stream is flowing over them from front to rear, from leading edge to trailing edge. When a plane is spinning, the air is moving over the control surfaces from one side to the other, hence their lack of effect.

The instructor will explain the whole subject of spins to the student. He will debunk them. Then he will take the plane up, have the student watch the operation of the controls when the plane goes into a spin, and also their operation to bring the plane out of one.

Planes generally fall into spins when they lose flying speed; speed is lost when the nose of the plane is held on the horizontal or above without power sufficient to give forward progress. After the instructor has done a few spins, this attitude of the plane will no longer frighten the student. He will see how easy it is to overcome the spin, right the plane and put it back on an even keel.

Next, he will be told to put the plane in a spin himself and recover from it. At first the instructor will help him when necessary. It is well to give this stage of the instruction at this point, rather than in the maneuver or acrobatic stage where it really belongs, for it is a safety precaution in case the student loses flying speed and falls into a spin during his concentration on some other maneuver in, his novice career.

Class of cadets in airplane section.

This primary stage in pilot instruction will continue until the instructor finds the student has progressed to a point where he will be reasonably safe alone. Some students with especial flying aptitude are permitted to “solo” or fly alone after five hours of dual instruction. Others require as much as twenty hours of flying with an instructor in the back seat for safety and tutelage. Those who require more before the necessary degree of confidence and pilot skill is developed are generally dropped from further instruction.

Now comes the high light of the student pilot’s early career in the sky. Few fliers ever forget their first solo. Generally this opportunity will come near the end of a dual flying instruction period. Usually it will come quite unexpectedly.

Instructors have various methods of acquainting the fledgling with the news that he is about to be “turned loose.” Some very successful instructors say, with grim dour visages and a very displeased air, “Well, you are so terrible that I am really afraid to fly with you any longer. If you insist on killing yourself, I think I had better climb out.” With that discouraging preface, they leave the rear cockpit and tell the startled student to “take it around alone.”

This method is apparently followed to prevent the student from developing overconfidence. Other instructors merely give a few last well-chosen instructions about the student’s habits during the past flying period—a few cautions—and then wish the young man well.

This first flight normally will consist of a take-off, climb to a few hundred feet, a circle of the field, and a landing. After one or two solo landings, the student is dismissed for the day and allowed to think over his startling experience.

Wishing well to a cadet before first solo.

After the embryo flier begins going up alone he is set to doing simple maneuvers designed to increase his confidence and skill in operating the controls. He will do “figures of eight,” so named because the maneuver involves a turn to the right followed immediately by a turn in the opposite direction. This calls forth the maximum use of the controls in the minimum of time, thus tending to develop subconscious operation.

The student will be required to do 180-degree turns (half circle), with power on and off; then he will be set to doing 360-degree turns at various degrees of bank. At frequent stages the instructor will board the plane again for a check ride or to explain further any maneuver the pilot is finding difficulty in executing properly, or any on which he is not making normal progress.

After some fifty to seventy-five hours in this primary stage, spent purely in learning the technique of airplane operation in its simplest phases, the student moves to the second half of the primary instruction.

Here he is taught acrobatics, loops, Immelman turns, wingovers, and barrel rolls. These maneuvers call for more force on the controls and are designed to increase confidence; they further tend to make the Student realize that he must be master of the vessel; he must fly it, not let it fly him.

The more he kicks the plane about in these stunts, the more he comes to realize that it is a simple, inanimate machine over which he has absolute control. It loses its mystery, complexity, and terror for him as an instrument of idiosyncrasies and certain death.

During this “B” stage of primary instruction the pilot is required to make strange field landings. Up to this point all his landings have been in the large field where his first lessons occurred. Now he is taught how to approach fields with which he is unacquainted, and how to select a field of unprepared soil in an emergency. This is a valuable and practical part of the course and one with a definite technique which must be followed.

Newest type of plane used in Army training.

There comes next another thrilling chapter in the student’s career. This is cross-country flying. Heretofore all the flying has been done over the same familiar terrain. Now the student must fly over strange areas to a nearby village, land in a new field; he must employ a map and compass.

Only short cross-country trips, fifty to one hundred miles, are made at this stage, but they have a definite value and serve to break the monotony of routine and vista.

Interspersed and sandwiched in between these acrobatic lessons and cross-country flights come hours spent still pounding away at practise in turns, eights, landings and takeoffs, all designed to increase precision and confidence. Generally, about fifty hours are consumed in this section of the course.

We come now to the second of the three major subdivisions of flight instruction, commonly called the Advanced Course. Several drastic changes occur; a new instructor comes on the scene, a new airplane becomes the trial horse—one with more power, larger, faster, and requiring a heavier and surer hand on its controls for successful operation.

Up to this point in his career, the embryo pilot has been absorbing the simplest rudiments of pilot steerage. His whole endeavor has been concentrated upon taking an air chariot off the ground, controlling its progress through the air, and bringing it back to earth safely. Now he reaches a crucial time in which his viewpoint changes. He is told that an airplane has no place in the sky unless it can do useful work there.

The advanced stage finds the pilot controlling the airplane, too, but at some gainful endeavor. For military pilots, this includes instruction on Pursuit, Bombardment, Attack, or Observation types, i.e. one of the four subdivisions of air-force fighting aircraft.

For the civil pilot, this advanced stage includes flying practise in the many civil types at the various kinds of work these planes perform. There is the small fast sporting type, for which there must be a definite technique. There is the light transport type, carrying four or five passengers. This is usually the student’s first introduction to cabin pilot- age, possessing very different and strange conditions for the pilot over the open cockpit type which was the primary trainer.


Next will come the large, multi-engined transport type. This introduces several new conditions—dual engine control, dual plane controls for the co-pilot, necessitating flying the plane while sitting on one side of the cockpit, and new flying characteristics built inherently into the plane.

The last of the stages of flying instruction—the Special Flying phase—is really a postgraduate course. It did not exist either in the earliest courses or in those employed during the World War. It has become necessary because of the many improvements and developments both in aircraft manufacture and in the extended scope of aircraft utility and operation.

The special section includes instrument or blind flying, instrument landings, night navigation, cloud or fog flying, use of the robot pilot, and airline operation. There was no possibility for the instrument flying of landing course until technical instruments were developed by which such flying and such landings could be executed safely. Likewise there was no necessity for such a course until it became essential that airplanes operate on definite and positive schedules, like trains and boats, in all kinds of weather, day or night.

The air mail gets the credit for the inception of this all-important side of aircraft pilotage. When the airplane took up the ambitious program of competing with railroad and steamship in the scheduled delivery of government mail, it stepped right out of its former role of promiscuous, haphazard, or intermittent methods of operation.

It became necessary to maintain flight schedules and time tables. This requirement led pilots to begin taking great chances in fog and foul weather at night. Early it was well established that this could not be done without fatality unless special instruments were developed. As usual, the inventor was not slow to catch up.

Now all modern passenger and mail planes carry instruments which make plane operation safe in any weather, and darkness is no handicap. Flying planes by instruments when the horizon disappears has many essential differences from normal pilotage. It takes from fifteen to thirty hours of instruction to impart to an old and well-trained flier the essentials of this new method.

Flying cadets receiving radio instruction.

Airline operation has many features which the pilot must learn, too. These are generally taught by the copilot method. The novice is put in a cockpit, seated beside the experienced pilot. He rides there hour after hour, flight after flight, learning by experience.

Gradually he takes over part of the work, always under the guidance and watchful supervision of the first pilot. In this way new airline pilots are developed. The robot pilot, a mechanical, gyroscopic device for plane steerage, and the use of radio also become familiar in this way.

This brief survey of the subject of pilot instruction should serve to show that the art of flying is not the simple, courageous, carefree, chance occupation of irresponsible adventurers. The airplane is no longer a plaything for the thrill seeker. It is a new means of transport, a new transit medium for cargo, a new weapon for warfare.

The men who fly airplanes have a profession. It takes years to acquire the skill and experience required; it costs thousands of dollars to give that training. The Federal Government has stepped in with its definite supervision, stiff requirements, heavy penalties and complete licensing system to compel those who would tour the skies to put skilled and well-trained operators at the controls.

First-class mail and airline pilots drew $1000 to $1200 per month at the peak in 1929, and even today their salaries are over $500 per month in most cases—greater than for many members of the salaried professional groups.

What will you be flying? Top: Martin Bomber used by the Army Air Corps to carry the mail in 1934. Bottom: Douglas transport used on commercial airlines.

The time has passed when a yearning to tour the skies, matched with a careless disregard for personal safety and a few dollars, made it possible to take up flying instruction. There will always be degrees of pilot competence. There may be men who are safe to fly alone—to steer their own craft for pleasure—without any thorough course such as we have described.

On the other hand, the men who sit in the control cabins of huge airliners, the men who carry the mails and steer the great cargo ships, will always be graduates of these long, complete, and expensive courses. Those who do the work in the air will be transport pilots licensed and supervised by the Federal Government. That is well. Hazard in the air will always be primarily due to pilotage errors; conversely, safety aloft must be placed to the credit of pilot skill.

Flying hazard, strange as it may seem, does not always vary directly with hours of flying or pilot skill. There are exceptions, however. The student who is just starting his training faces one of the most dangerous periods of his career. He is very apt to be nervous, a trifle afraid, and very doubtful as to the actions of the plane and his own ability to master it. His very ignorance may place in jeopardy his own life and that of his instructors.

There are instances in which a student freezes to the controls, grasps the stick like grim death, loses all control of his thoughts and actions. In most cases, the stick is pulled back and the plane goes into a spin. The instructor must then break the student’s hold on the stick to regain control of the plane. In some cases he is able to release the stick by force; in others, it has been necessary to strike the student over the head and knock him out. Such instances, fortunately, are quite rare.


For the remainder of his dual and the first part of his solo flying, the student is comparatively safe; but after a few hours he forgets his caution. He becomes overconfident and knows more about flying than he will ever know again. He has then reached the most dangerous period of his flying career. Fortunately, such a mental attitude does not last long. A crash or near-crash usually brings him back to normal and he has only the usual risks to encounter.

As pilots increase their flying hours, their experience enables them successfully to meet hazardous conditions which formerly would have been disastrous. They seem to be able to sense the danger or trouble before it happens and thus to take the necessary steps to come through safely.

Today we have pilots who have passed the 10,000-hour mark, and they are still alive because they have learned continually from their own and others’ experiences. They have been cautious, but still have exercised daring when necessary. They have retained their skill at the controls regardless of fatigue, exhaustion, or unusual incidents or surroundings. They were always on the alert.

Ambitious youngsters looking longingly toward the skies should not be deceived. There is no royal road, no get-rich-quick, Jack-and-the-bean-stalk pathway to the upper elements. Airplane control is an art. It should be learned thoroughly or left completely alone.

Airline executives have long since learned that there is no economy in employing poorly trained pilots; hence there is no room in the profession for such misguided enthusiasts, and no hope can be extended them for a career in the air. There is no substitute for training and experience for those who operate air chariots.

Army Air Corp training turns out fine pilots for airlines and the military. Graduation day air parade for Army fledglings at Randolph Field.
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