172 landing
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
4 min read

Craig Warner’s article, When a simulated emergency becomes all too real, got me thinking about my rules of flying. Mr. Warner’s article caused me to go rummaging around my scribblings to review the list of rules I use. The following are a collection of rules or sayings I have collected, borrowed, and forgot to return later—filing off the serial numbers or just stolen over the years. They come from different times, from a variety of situations, and from pilots I have known and flown with. Some of the rules you may already know of (such as the first one). I give credit to pilots and maintenance magicians who originally told the rules to me.

Mr. Warner provided a list of his rules, which are a valuable aid when flying or instructing. With the Rules of Flying, I do know if you break or try to bend them slightly, you will die. That much is certain. To quote aviator Jimmy Buffet, “evolution can be mean.”

So, let’s begin.

1. Fly the plane.


3. If you cannot do rule #2 do rule #1.

4. When in doubt, don’t.

5. Never let someone on the ground do your thinking for you while you’re in the air. That also reads: do not bust your ass, and do not let anyone else bust your ass either.

6. Knob fiddling will get you killed.

7. Check six.

8. The flight is not over until the chocks are set.

9. Twenty four hours from bottle to throttle. (It was originally reported this was 24 feet.)

172 landing

It’s never too late to go around.

10. Never be too proud to go around.

11. Any aircraft will kill you if it gets half a chance.

12. At some time, you are going to realize it is time to walk away from it.

13. Never stop flying the airplane to fly the mic.

14. Never believe your own PR. That reads: never let your mouth overload your capabilities.

15. A ride in an airplane and a free meal are two of the three things a pilot never turns down. (Dick Rutan, 1994.)

16. If you’re up to your ass in gomers, you’re in combat.

17. You are never stuck in an airplane until you have been at full power for five minutes. (Chuck Yeager, regarding the taxi procedures of the F-111.)

18. Always use industrial strength deterrent. (Example: if you think you should declare an emergency, you’re over-thinking the situation, and no you are not bothering ATC in doing so.)

19. Remember to feel sorry for pilots who never had a chance to ware Nomex. (Reference rule 31)

20. It is better to be noticed and be a smoking hole, than to be a smoking hole and never be noticed (Lt. C. Denny LT, aka Cooter)

21. If you are unsure, the claymore is pointing toward you.

22. Fighter pilots always need more tail. (General Pete Everst on stability and control of the YF100.)

23. It was (is) a mistaken idea that if you have Air Force wings you cannot die. (Scott Crossfield on the X-2’s dynamic instability.)

24. The only flight time that counts is straight up and straight down. (J. Stuart Holder, world speed record in an F-106.)

25. You can try to turn a bad approach in to a good landing. That’s what those dents on the fantail of aircraft carriers are from. (Told to me by an old LSO on a dark night in the O club… Also see rule 10.)

26. There are three things you can not use in aviation: the runway behind you, the altitude above you, and a 10th of a second ago. (It was also reported to me that another thing was that was also equally useless is a navigator with the rank of Major.)

27. In aviation you are your own savior. (Reference rule #34)

28. If it has wheels or wings on it, it’s going to give you trouble. (Cooter; perhaps modified slightly to maintain a G-rated article.)

29. Being a student pilot means never having to say you’re sorry.

30. Life begins at Mach one.

31. If God meant man to fly, he would have been born with baggy green skin. (see #19)

32. It is better to seek forgiveness that gain permission. (All test pilots from all times)

33. Never let aviation interfere with your flying.

34. Technology will not save your ass.

35. You spend all day killing idiots. And there is always one more. (Rafael Gomez Sajardo, LAX aircraft maintenance manager for IBER with 35 years’ experience.)

36. Always have an infinite capacity to be wary. (J. Archibald, TWA flight engineer, professor of systems engineering and the only student pilot with 20,000 hours of flight time when he obtained his private pilot certificate; also builder of Stits Playmat N77JA.)

37. The only time you have to much fuel is when you’re on fire.

38. Never do aerobatics in an airplane that is older than you are.

If you can add to the list, please feel free to do so.

Skip Stagg
33 replies
  1. Skip Stagg
    Skip Stagg says:

    Very Good! you will find that quote in my previous story regarding the “An Engineering Approach to the Impossible Turn”

  2. Dale Hill
    Dale Hill says:

    Regarding # 9. Twenty four hours from bottle to throttle. (It was originally reported this was 24 feet.) I always heard it was don’t drink within fifty feet of the airplane and don’t smoke within 24 hours.

    One rule I always told my students (OV-10, T-38, A-10 and F-16) after punching off the ‘Master Caution’ light, wind the clock. That keeps your hands from doing something stupid like feathering the wrong engine, etc.

  3. J Thomas Purifoy, Sr.
    J Thomas Purifoy, Sr. says:

    Got my private in 1975 on GI bill immediately moved up to “retractable” before we flew a Beech Sierra the first time my instructor told me there are two kinds of retractable gear pilots “those who have landed with the gear up & those that are going too” fortunately I never did

  4. Mort Gutman
    Mort Gutman says:

    I was only a captain, but a rated navigator-bombardier (back in the old SAC in a BUFF). This was long before anybody thought of GPS. But we had lots of love when we managed to be low on fuel, over nothing but Pacific Ocean, coming back from ‘Nam, and yet found Guam…and on time.

    • Skip Stagg
      Skip Stagg says:

      I was “privileged” to observe you handy work from what I thought would be a discreet distance. WOW was i surprised, glad you found that island on your return flights

  5. Lyman
    Lyman says:

    Thanks , Skip. How about this gem? “If you crash and die because you flew in awful weather, rest assured your funeral will be CAVU”.

  6. John Wright
    John Wright says:

    Me when I was Bonanza pilot to 747 captain: “what I fly is Mickey Mouse compared to what you fly”
    Captain: anytime you are over 10′ off the ground it’s not Mikey Mouse

    • Jamie
      Jamie says:

      I’ve seen that one too, but that one doesn’t work if you don’t have in-flight hull coverage! Which is not too unusual for homebuilts as I understand it.

  7. Paul
    Paul says:

    Many years ago while waiting in the lounge at Vancouver for Canadian customs to go through my plane, read a poster on the wall, if I remember it correctly: A superior pilot uses his superior judgement to avoid situations that might require his superior skill.

  8. Tex Hull
    Tex Hull says:

    Never pass up the opportunity to use a urinal. Similarly, never pass up the opportunity to check the oil and fuel levels while still on the ground.

  9. John Canavan
    John Canavan says:

    Seeing the remark about navigators in #26 reminded me of something my dad (USAF Russian linguist on RC-130s & 135s) used to say. While going through SERE school at Fairchild, they had a nav in their group, so everyone agreed they’d follow the nav. The way dad told it, he stopped following the nav after he fell in the same hole three times-nav was leading them in circles. I grew up hearing “Never follow an Air Force navigator on the ground.”

  10. Karl Gashler
    Karl Gashler says:

    From my years in the F-16:
    “Speed is life”
    “Lose sight, lose fight”
    “Fly good and don’t suck”
    “Go ugly early”

    • Dale Hill
      Dale Hill says:

      As a Viper IP my favorite was, “First one to the Whiteboard wins the debrief!”

      As an A-10 driver with our 30 MM cannon, we wore T-shirts under our fight suits that read, “Ugly but hung!”

  11. Kern Stump
    Kern Stump says:

    The first briefing for new copilots…
    “Good judgement is the result of experience…experience is the result of bad judgement”

  12. Dale Hill
    Dale Hill says:

    On my way to Vietnam, I picked up a poster on Fisherman’s Wharf in SF. It had a biplane wrapped around the upper branches of a tree. The caption read, “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.” — Attributed to Captain Alfred Gilmer Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London.

    It reminded me to always be careful when flying (especially at Mach 2), not to exceed my capabilities and strive to arrive in my mind at least five minutes before my aircraft got to the same point in time and space (didn’t always work out that way, but it kept me from doing some stupid things — at least for the second time!).

    Type that phrase in your search engine, and you will see the poster. I had it for years until it got destroyed in a move made at the end of my AF career.

  13. Stan Newman
    Stan Newman says:

    It’s by far better to be on the ground wishing you were up there; than being up there wishing you were down there. Been in both places too many times. and it’s s true. 98 year old WWII Brown Shoe P-51 flyboy. (“Those were the days…!)

    Old Black Cloud

  14. Steve
    Steve says:

    “If you don’t know what you are doing, don’t do it fast.”
    “Unless you are on fire, or pointing at the ground, at the first sign of trouble, wind your watch”

  15. Rich R
    Rich R says:

    rules for wingman: join up and shut up…only exceptions: “lead you’re on fire” and at the bar “I’ll take the (nice personality) one”

    “better to die than to look bad”…lesser known corollary…”but you can do both”

  16. Ingo
    Ingo says:

    A few I would add if you are in the air-to-air business:
    1. Go fast
    2. Fight dirty
    3. Check six (already mentioned)
    4. Never turn on a merged plot.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *