Len Morgan by airplane
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Fifty years ago, life was simple: aircraft rentals were $10 per hour and the latest technologies in trainer aircraft were nose wheels and VORs. And before there was “Aeronautical Decision Making” (which still sounds to me like a TV game show) we were taught “judgment,” an ominous term with biblical undertones. “Maintain thy flying speed, lest the earth reach up and smite thee,” said my first CFI. “Good judgment comes from experience,” said the early aviators, “and experience comes from poor judgment.”

Fifty years later, I still hear the voices of those Ancient Pelicans who had learned in taildraggers or biplanes—many of whom had flown in the big war. Though they are long retired, their hard-won wisdom still instructs us today, such as these nuggets.

Preflight. Checklists for the exterior walk-around are fine (especially in more complex airplanes), but the main thing as you walk around the plane is to look at the plane. Look for anything that’s different, anything that doesn’t look right. A wavy-potato chip appearance on the belly indicates a really hard landing. A gap between the lower engine cowling (where it connects to the fuselage skin) means a broken engine mount. Anything that “doesn’t look right” is not right, whether on the checklist or not.

Student with CFI

Make sure your preflight inspection involves real inspection.

During my Air Force instructor days, a student went out to his assigned T-37, walked around it, and climbed over the side. An old sergeant (you know the type: lots of stripes on the arm, cigar butt jutting out from his lips) strolled over and quietly asked, “Lieutenant, what are you doing?”

“Hi Sarge, I’m going out on my third solo flight,” he said eagerly. The sergeant asked, “Uh, did you notice that this airplane is actually on jacks?” What? “You know,” said the student later, “I did notice that this plane seemed taller than the other ones I had flown.” But there was nothing on the checklist that said, make sure the tires are actually touching the ground.

Start and taxi. An engine that doesn’t sound right is not right, no matter what the little instruments say. If the aircraft won’t move forward, don’t be a “chock-jumper,” shut it down and deal with it. A Bonanza pilot had failed to untie the tail, which was attached to a tire filled with concrete, and he taxied out dragging that anchor behind him. With full power the Bonanza went down the runway and got into the air—but at that very moment the CG went way back, and the airplane whiplashed onto the runway. Later, the pilot said to the man with the clipboard, “The old bird just didn’t feel right—taxied like a truck.” Dude, if it taxies like a truck, don’t take off—taxi back to the truck stop!

Departure. History shows that most piston engine failures occur in the first 15 minutes of flight (excepting fuel starvation and exhaustion). The Ancients had all seen engines cough and choke (as have I, in both piston and turbine engines), so they actually contemplated where they were going to land if the prop stopped shortly after takeoff. I like to turn crosswind at 400 feet and look back at the runway. From crosswind, I can bend it around and land at mid-field.

Prior to that turn, if it quits, I’m landing somewhere between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. Go up high and practice it someday; set up a climb and chop the power as you pass a cardinal altitude. You’ll lose 400 feet before you can finish the U turn—and then you’d be offset to one side (unless there’s a parallel runway). So the Ancients said, “600 feet minimum or we’re not going back.”

Cruise: Even with all of our high-tech gizmos, nothing beats the “Mark One Version Two Eyeball” for seeing what the weather is really doing, right here, right now. No PIREP for turbulence is as good as a SEAT-REP, or the feeling you get when small objects start flying around the cockpit. The Pelicans also liked to be as high as practical.  “Altitude is life insurance,” they said, so why not carry some?

The Ancient Pelicans also pushed us neophytes into IFR school. We went under the hood having never played a video game, so it was all “pitch, bank, and puke” for a few hours. The Pelicans had seen far too many pilots succumb to the “short, carefree life of the scud-runner.” I live near the mountains, and we often remind visiting scud-runners that “the mountains don’t move. They just stand there, secure in the knowledge that CFR Part 91 gives them the right of way over all aircraft.”


Can you cross that mountain? The only way to know is to climb above the altitude of the pass first.

Crossing the mountain passes Pelican-style is simple: do not ever point the aircraft at terrain and think you will climb over it. Rather, get above the altitude of the pass, and when you can see the valley beyond the ridgeline, only then do you approach it, at a 45-degree angle. This way, you already know which way to run if the winds get ugly. Sometimes they get ugly at the last minute, as you hit the down flow coming over the pass. Remember, skipper, you are a very small trout swimming upstream in a very large river of air flowing over that pass.

How do you notice carburetor ice? Answer: a drop in RPM. But, with a constant-speed propeller, the governor will compensate and hide that drop for some time. Manifold pressure should drop, but what I discerned one night, cruising along in IMC on a cool New Mexico night, was a fine vibration of the instrument panel. The old Pelicans taught that any anomaly in sound, feel, smell, or sight (even if the gauges were all “in the green”) was worth investigating. At first I thought it was just “automatic rough,” that perception you conjure up flying on a dark night (or over water.) But a quick pull on the carb heat knob told the truth! And carb heat works a lot better… while the engine is still generating heat.

Ice. Having a little bit of ice is like being a little bit pregnant. Gordon Baxter didn’t care for ice either, and wrote, “Once your wings ice up (or frost up), you are flying a plane with a unique airfoil—and one that has never been tested.” Follow Richard Collins’s advice: “Treat ice like it was smoke in the cockpit. Do something now!”

I consider myself “ice current,” because once I have seen that scary stuff in flight, I am good for at least another ten years before I need to see it again. It was bad enough on the Cherokee’s leading edge one morning that my cruising speed went down ten knots. I remembered from aerodynamics class that when ice causes one’s cruising speed to drop, one’s stall speed is inversely creeping up—and you don’t want the two to meet in the middle. I shot down final that day at full power, fast as I could go, and during the flare it quit flying while the airspeed was still in the green. After my knees stopped shaking, I was able to drive the rental car the rest of the way home.

Thunderstorms. Want to live to a ripe old age? Follow these two simple rules:

  1. Do not fly into a thunderstorm.
  2. Do not fly near, next to, or under a thunderstorm.
Thunderstorms over Pacific

Rules about flying in thunderstorms are simple: don’t.

One day in the flight office, a young pilot mentioned, “Man, it’s bad out there. I was bouncing around and at one point, almost flew into this greenish looking cloud.” George Dale, a true Pelican who had flown over the China-Burma hump in C-46s, stopped in his tracks and turned around. “Son, don’t ever fly into a green cloud—that’s hail you were seeing!” Author Ernest K. Gann explained the facts of life in thunderstorms this way: “A pilot may earn his full pay for that year in less than two minutes. At the time of incident he would gladly return the entire amount for the privilege of being elsewhere.”

Radios. Pay attention not only to your calls but to other chatter as well—and learn to listen between the lines, as did this DC-3 pilot did who departed Austin while leaving a trail of gray smoke. Tower had casually asked, “Douglas Eight Nine Uncle Mike, are you skywriting?” The pilot answered: “No… WHY?!!”

And what action do you take when you hear, “Traffic at 12 o’clock, one mile, opposite direction, your altitude.” Me? I am turning right, and going down (not up). Pull the nose up and you are blind; the Ancients said “go down and you can see 12 o’clock level.” Plus, I can go down quicker than up. And please, do not key the microphone and say, “uh, okay, ah, we are looking.” Twelve o’clock at a mile? That’s as scary as “bandits at six o’clock high.” Moving beats looking. By turning turn right, you keep the traffic on your left, out the pilot’s side window.

Say you are on left downwind, approaching mid-field, and some bozo announces, “Bentwing 123 entering downwind at mid-field.” That guy is belly-up to you. Same deal: go down and right. If you turn left, you’ll be belly up to him also! Regardless of your particular horoscope sign, at that moment your new sign is YIELD. Give him the whole downwind at pattern altitude. Find him before he finds you.

Navigating. “The primary means of navigating,” said the Pelicans, “are pilotage and dead reckoning.” Everything else was a refinement or a backup. This was long before the era of the magenta line, but still true: “pilotage” means looking from the map to the ground, and checking your progress. “Deduced reckoning” means calculating from true to magnetic, factoring in wind, airspeed, distance.  If you are cruising along and your plan doesn’t match your avionics’ plan, something is amiss. Perhaps an unforecast wind? A NAV radio tuned incorrectly? Is the CDI icon still on GPS when you intended VOR?

I was walking across the ramp with a student in Austin, Texas, one day, and we had to pass around the left side of a huge Lockheed Lodestar that had just loaded up a bunch of people and was about to start. “Hey,” the pilot called out to us from his little storm window. Then, in a softer voice, “Which way is Lubbock? Don’t point!” Well, at least he was thinking about that before lurching off into the Texas sky.

Emergencies. Remember Apollo 13’s infamous radio call, “Houston, we have a problem…”  The nerdy ground controllers flew into a panic, but NASA flight director Gene Kranz brought order to the chaos by commanding, “Work the problem, people.” That’s great advice for any pilot facing an unplanned event and a rise in blood pressure. Keep calm, and work the problem!

Annunciator panel lit up

When the lights start flashing, don’t rush.

By the 1970s, the Air Force had distilled its checklist for handling any emergency into three steps, memorized and recited verbatim by all of us student pilots:

  1. Maintain aircraft control.
  2. Analyze the situation and take appropriate action.
  3. Land as soon as practical.

Today’s pilots might want to have that tattooed on their wrist, for quick reference. A C-141 pilot taught me, in any crisis, do take time to sort out all possible actions. Then do the most important one first. “If everything is priority,” he said, “then nothing is priority.”

Oh, those ancient ones were well-acquainted with Mr. Murphy and his laws: vacuum pumps and alternators only fail in IMC; sudden runway closures occur only at airports with a single runway; and if everything seems to be going along fine, you’ve obviously overlooked something.

Most odd situations are “semi-emergencies,” and require thoughtful, not frantic, action. Okay, an engine failure in a twin on takeoff leg requires a bit of hand-ballet (identify, verify, feather, gear up, flaps up) but most things (a wisp of smoke, an odd sound, a needle in the yellow) call for some careful thought before some reckless action.

Lindbergh himself was heard saying, “Danger is relative, and inexperience can be a magnifying glass.” Gray-haired Pelicans had seen co-pilots jerk the gear up too soon, or neophytes feather the good engine instead of the failed one (allowing the crew to log a few minutes of glider time while pleading with either engine to re-start).

Problems only worsen when the “brain-stick” interconnect fails, and the hand moves quicker than the mind. A good tip for preventing premature manipulation of a handle or switch, came from Thomas Block, retired airline pilot and columnist. “Mentally plant a cactus bush,” suggested Block, “on any lever, knob, or switch that must be handled with extraordinary care, since any misuse of them can easily produce extraordinary problems.” Fly the plane first. And work the problem. Odds are, you’ll end up with a good story to tell at the bar.

Ground school. Learn the systems: how the fuel flows through the plane, how engines get their spark, what actually makes the wheels come down. What happens if the audio panel fails? How long will battery power give you comm ability? How does that propeller pitch control actually do its thing? Know the plane so that as you operate it, you and the plane become ONE—as Lindbergh famously said, “we” flew the Atlantic.

Fuel system

Do you understand all the details of that diagram?

Riding in the back of a crowded crew bus on a T-38 flight line, several of us overheard a “check pilot” grill his student orally as they rode out to fly the practical phase. The examiner queried him, “Trace a drop of JP-4 from the beginning until it flows through the plane and comes out the back of the tailpipe as exhaust.” His intrepid student replied, “Well, in the beginning, there were these dinosaurs…”

Seriously, on the ground with your CFI, there are no stupid questions. Once, during gunnery school transitioning into the F-4 Phantom II, we were doing weight and balance. With a bunch of bombs hanging on external stores, I just could not make the math work—nothing was adding up. So, up went my hand in class, and I innocently asked, ”How much does a 500-pound bomb weigh?” Oh yeah, they all doubled over with laughter, but I had the last laugh: it turns out a 500-pound bomb (with the casing)  weighed 575 pounds—so there!

You must master this kind of detail—and especially the technical vocabulary. To fly in the soup, you must absolutely know the difference between MDA, MEA, MRA, and MXA. As Mark Twain remarked, “There is a big difference between the terms lightning and lightning bug.”

Landing. The Ancients liked to do full-stall landings, so when the tires kissed the runway, the wings had let go of their lift. Their three point landing can still be accomplished in a tricycle gear plane—if you understand that the three points refer to two main gears and the tail!  Hold it off the concrete until you reach a nose-high, near-climb attitude, and the two main wheels will touch while the nose remains in the air. This is absolutely the case with Cessnas; not so much with some new birds.

Pelicans would continue to keep some back pressure on the stick—keeping weight off the nose wheel—after touchdown. If you drop the stick pressure, the nose wheel slams down, the plane jerks left and right, and in many aircraft you get the dreaded “shimmy dance.” This is because the nose wheel was not designed to support weight while going that fast.

Taxiing. General aviation planes were designed to fly upwind, not to taxi downwind. Lightweight and high-wing planes resemble sailboats when the wind comes over the tail—and more so when turning with a quartering tailwind. Ask any three-year-old about how easy it is to tump over his tricycle while turning sharply. Many a prop and wingtip strike made a grownup pilot look like a three-year-old.

One of my more embarrassing moments came after my student passed his checkride, but was reproved by the examiner for his taxi speed. “I don’t know your CFI,” said the Pelican, “but tell him he taxis too damn fast.”

But at least I wasn’t like that fellow who panicked after running his military transport into the ditch at high speed. He was immortalized by this understatement from the accident report: “The board felt that the pilot’s action in failing to order evacuation of the aircraft and in being the first to deplane was not in keeping with accepted practices for aircraft commanders.”

Len Morgan by airplane

Len Morgan, legendary airline pilot and writer, was one of the Old Pelicans.

Few of us are master birdmen, so our best bet is to keep on learning. “Show me a pilot who has stopped learning about flying,” said one Pelican, “and I’ll show you an accident waiting to happen.” Former Braniff Pelican Len Morgan (of the DC-3 days) was right when he wrote, “An airplane might disappoint any pilot, but it’ll never surprise a good one.”

One single attribute often separates the real aviators from those who just plod through the skies machine-like. And that attribute: a love for flight. Ernie Gann again: “Flying is hypnotic and all pilots are willing victims to the spell. Their world is like a magic island in which the factors of life and death assume their proper values. Thinking becomes clear because there are no earthly foibles or embellishments to confuse it.” Gann bemoaned those pilots who operated their aircraft with no more love than they would have for a rented car. “Such people leave a stain on the sky,” he wrote.

Let us give the last word on this to Richard Bach, and land this article with his thoughts upon landing one day: “My airplane is quiet, and for a moment I am still an alien, still a stranger to the ground.” May you become that stranger: a true aviator, a lifetime learner and a lover of flight. How better could you honor those Ancient Pelicans who showed us all how to ascend into the rarified life of a pilot.

James Walters
Latest posts by James Walters (see all)
50 replies
  1. Dale Hill
    Dale Hill says:

    Jim, great piece of writing, which should be required reading for neophytes as well as those of us with gray hair. One tip I gave my students and wingmen was, “When the Master Caution Light illuminates, keep one hand on the stick and wind the clock with the other.” This would ensure that the wrong engine wasn’t shut down, the wrong fire handle wasn’t pulled, or the wrong verbiage was transmitted to others who could give aid provided they know what the real problem is!

      • Jim miller
        Jim miller says:

        I food as many pelicans in my day an older copilot eagle to learn I was, mostly guys from United around Chicago and I never flew with one of them, that one trip that I didn’t learn something they’re great bunch of pelicans I’m really sad to see them all gone by now.

  2. Cal W. Tax
    Cal W. Tax says:

    Masterfully written and advice that should be read by all. Your experience and history show that you have listened to the old Pelicans and now ARE ONE!!
    Well done!
    Check six.

  3. David Ward Sandidge
    David Ward Sandidge says:

    Nice look back down memory lane… The one thing I wish I had spent more time on after more than fifty years of aviating is weather – local weather from a myriad of localities. The locals yokels from all over the country can tell you much about the weather patterns in their specific areas of the world, but how much do I, as an aviator, know about those “normal weather patterns” in those regional areas? What time of year does it rain the most, usually? When does the wind blow from the east instead of from the west, normally? Stuff like that. I wish I had collected and collocated more data over the years for myself.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    No WAY do I believe the T-38 story, no way. I went through USAF pilot training, and flew the T-37, and by the time we “soloed,” there is just no way a student pilot would do such a bad walkaround, no way he or she would have THAT bad a habit pattern. Kind of a funny story, though. Thet “sergeant” part? There were no enlisted guys on the ramp, they were all civilian contractors when I flew, in 1986, but maybe they did in “the old days.”

    • Kelly Miller
      Kelly Miller says:

      I went to UPT in 1983 at Sheppard, and we had contract maintenance, but I think the rest of the training bases went to contract maintenance in the mid 80’s. The T-37 story seems stretched a little, but the T-37 was used in training since the 1950’s, so who knows?

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Yeah, me again. You say “I like to turn crosswind at 400 feet and look back at the runway. From crosswind, I can bend it around and land at mid-field.”

    Guess what? I can get to 400 feet AGL before the end of the runway. But let’s say I climb out shallower, and turn crosswind at 400 feet–probably STILL won’t be very far off the departure end of the runway. And MANY student pilots, and their instructors, are climbing to 300 feet below pattern altitude, I noticed, then turning crosswind.

    You turn at 400 feet, you’ll be inside them and under them, and oops.

    • Gary
      Gary says:

      Those are the ones that also turn base at two miles. Keep your pattern close enough that you can make it to the airport if (or when) the engine quits.

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      How come I know that if I turn “early” in a busy pattern I can cause a traffic conflict? Because I read about it. NO! I did it, more than once, but not very many times. It doesn’t take all THAT much to scare me–I turned crosswind early to avoid being over, say, some houses or rough ground, and whoa–there’s a guy in my one-clock or two-o’clock, on downwind. First thought–hey, what is he doing THERE?!

  6. Mike Dalecki
    Mike Dalecki says:

    Wow. This is the single best article I’ve ever read on here, hands-down.

    I’m a relatively new pilot (96 hours !), passed checkride 3/20. I’m a retired college professor and I know my field VERY well. But it was a little disorienting to realize, after earning my certificate, that it appears there is more I don’t know about flying than what I do. A lot more.

    That’s why I love articles like these. They’re not a substitute for actual experience, but they do give me mental capital I might draw upon if and when things go south in an airplane.

    And green cloud = hail? Who knew? Not me, but now I do.

    PS: probably seems pretty low-time for someone at this stage, but I had rotator cuff surgery after separating my rights shoulder and had about 6 months out of the cockpit. But I’m back!

    • Jim walters
      Jim walters says:

      Yes, and today’s military fliers have a new colorful expression for that “head up…” situation. They remark that the pilot suffered a “helmet fire,” LOL

  7. Myles Buhlig
    Myles Buhlig says:

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read in recent times. I was trained by a ancient pelican (WW2 instructor) his training has proved invaluable as I now approach my 50 years of flying 47 as a professional, barnstorming, law enforcement low level, crop duster, Airline Captain and instructor, Flightsafety international instructor and manager, TCE, currently a corporate Captain. You hit directly on the finer points the pelicans demonstrated and preached. Cheers!

  8. Ian Quinn
    Ian Quinn says:

    Thanks Jim
    Can only repeat the others and say that this is an excellent article and one of the best I’ve ever read.
    Started flying in the mid 1960s and looking back I was fortunate to have ‘ancient pelicans’ from the WWII era keeping an eye on me.
    All the writers you mention were ‘must read’ back in the day and all had the the most important attribute, as Ernest Gann said ‘a love for flight’…

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

    Great article, going to send to my son in law pilot who is an excellent pilot (Baron) I Just sold my Cirrus last December @78yrs old & hung up the headset! Got my private in 1975 on GI bill, wanted to fly Navy but flunked the math to get into OCS My best instructors were old pelicans! On my first flight before we took off he yelled over the Beech Sundowner engine “remember flying a plane can be very unforgiving”

  10. Michael J Kosta
    Michael J Kosta says:

    Very nicely written. Perhaps this should be required reading for ALL pilots. Hours in the log book do not necessarily translate to being a good pilot.

    I was fortunate enough to learn from a Pelican who flew his Piper PA-18-90 Super Cub for his job as a pipeline pilot. I was one of the fortunate few of the eight people he instructed. He needed to have students get him into situations he would never get in himself! I learned more from him than I would have from multiple other instructors as his life was flying. Example: we landed in a wheat field the first hour we were up! Changed my life. He charged $12 duel (which he considered a good deal) and $10 solo (which he considered a rip-off!)! That was in 1972. He also convinced me, at the ripe old age of 21, that if I wanted to learn to fly, I needed my own airplane. What? Me? But we found two J-3 Cubs for sale and I postponed college to buy the best of the two. And he was right: that airplane (and his constant sage advice, to this day) taught me how to fly. And it is still teaching me! That airplane is sitting in my hangar, flown very frequently. Did I mention I was one of the fortunate few? It is a hangar mate with the RV-4 I built, completed and flown in 1992. My 3600+ hours are pretty evenly divided between the two: best of both worlds. My Pelican instructor is still flying his PA-12 in his mid 80’s! His hours? More than most airline pilots and nearly all in rag-wing taildraggers.

    I could comment on my experience with nearly all the subjects discussed here but there is just too much. I have found problems on preflight and mine are routine and thorough: no check list. My landing sites on departure are well know and thought out. Mental: land straight ahead; land straight ahead. I have had engine failures in flight. Rule #1: take your own pulse first. I routinely practice engine-out procedures in both airplanes and know what fields line up with what part of airplane that assure me I will make that field: that one out from the jury strut: no; inside the jury strut: yes. If you practice enough, an emergency is just returning to a practiced routine. “An airplane might disappoint any pilot, but it’ll never surprise a good one.” Know your airplane; know yourself.

    I could go on….. Bottom line: pilots should learn from this article and evaluate their own flying and see how it matches up. Learn from those who have the background. Listen rather than talk. Watch what other pilots do. “Learn from the mistakes of others; you don’t have time to make them all yourself.” Knowing how to fly is a true GIFT that most are not given.

  11. Ward Brien
    Ward Brien says:

    Thank you for taking your time to write this article. Im in process shaking the rust off and the information is invaluable.

  12. Steven
    Steven says:

    Great article! Thank you! My flight instructor was a very experienced retired airline Captain (and his father was one of the very early airline pilots, starting in the late 1920’s), who used to say he had made every mistake in the book except killing himself. I’ll always remember him telling me “if the plane isn’t doing what you want it to do, do more of it!” (when I was applying the controls tepidly on landing). It’s great to learn from the highly experienced!

  13. Kenny
    Kenny says:

    Great article! My DPE on the PP checkride was a Pelican. I still remember that part of the checkride 44 years ago when he had me holding heading and altitude under the hood, and also doing standard rate turns left and right. He then said “Take off the hood” as he pulled the throttle to idle and said “You just lost your engine. Where are you going to land?” I searched and was proud to point out a nice pasture ahead of us. He said “I have no doubt that you could land there, but what about the airport that we are directly over?” Great lesson in thinking before you act. That lesson served me well over the years.

    • Don W.
      Don W. says:

      Let me guess. You learned to fly around Dallas Tx… My private DPE pulled the exact same stunt, and I’d even been warned by my instructor that he was known for it. When he pulled the power as I was stowing the hood, I banked hard left and right looking for the airfield I was sure would be there — Nothing. So I picked out a likely looking field and… well you guessed it. The airfield was right under the belly, and I hadn’t had enough bank angle in the low wing Grumman to see it :-)

  14. Chris
    Chris says:

    Great read, many good take aways. I have been flying and learning now for 50 years. I was taught by old pelicans, what they taught me then hold true today. As a 35 year retired airline captain if I don’t treat my sweet super Cessna 150 tail dragger with the respect I gave wide body airliners she will humble me..

  15. Larry A Hendrickson
    Larry A Hendrickson says:

    Excellent article, full of wisdom.

    You mentioned Old Pelican George Dale. I took my commercial and instrument flight tests (they were called that back then) with him around 1971 at Austin Mueller Airport. I’d also mention two other Old Pelicans who worked for the FAA, among other places — Pete Campbell and Tiner Lapsley, who were part of pioneering the weekend flight instructor renewal course.

    Thanks for the reminder of “those who have gone before”.

  16. Bartr
    Bartr says:

    I was so lucky to have learned to fly from these “old pelicans”, including my father who instructed for the USAF from 1954 to 1961 after service in WWII. I treasure the hours I spent with them every time I call “clear prop”. When I fly cross country to this day I hear my dad in the back seat saying “ when I say 2500 ft and 225 degrees I don’t mean about 2500 and 225. Do it right or quit.” Consistency and precision are the hallmark of a good pilot and you’ll see it demonstrated whenever things go SNAFU. “ I like to fly high, it gives me more time to pick out the farm I’m going to buy.” Love and miss you every day dad.

  17. Suresh Kumar Bista
    Suresh Kumar Bista says:

    Very simply written and easy to understand. Thank you for this post. I have read a book by Ernie Gann “fate is the hunter”. Wonderful stories. Earlier, I used to read stories posted by Captain Len Morgan in ‘FLYING’. Later I bought his book ‘A view from the cockpit’ signed by him. He was amazing.

  18. Tom Matowitz
    Tom Matowitz says:

    I agree with earlier replies citing this as the best article to appear in Air Facts. Early on I was profoundly influenced by men who learned to fly in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. The knowledge and mindset I absorbed from them still lingers. I honor their memory and miss them still.

  19. Jim Guleke
    Jim Guleke says:

    Jim Walters, well said and well written. This is a splendid aviation article, combining both good stick–and-rudder advice, humor, history and summonsing forth wonderful memories.

    After reading it, I had to pull out and review the entries in my first logbook from 1968 and 1969, which had not been opened in years, but wherein is recorded my initial flight training at Ragsdale Aviation at Robert Mueller Airport in Austin, flying Cessna 150s, 172s and 182s from the Longhorn Flying Club flight line. “Ancient Pelican” and slow-talking George Dale signed me off in my logbook for my Private Pilot Flight Test, and Tom Webb gave me my checkride. We did not have headsets then, but I could and can still hear George’s distinctive voice in my mind. Over the years flying around Austin and through the Central Texas airspace, I always could pick out George’s radio calls when he and I happened to be on the same frequency.

    Other Pelicans flocked at Bobby and Pearle Ragsdale’s FBO on the north side of the airport and at Robert and Emma Browning’s Browning Aviation across the field, with CFIs like Bruce Lynn, Dan McGinnis, Jim Latimore, and Dale Lovell, all of whom I flew with and who imparted to me great wisdom, which sage advice has allowed me to become an old pilot and not just a bold pilot.

    Thanks again for the article.

  20. Rick
    Rick says:

    Great article! Now I finally understand the final line in the movie “The High and the Mighty”–‘So long you ancient pelican’.

    I learned to fly in 1975 and everything in the article brings back memories. I had a tremendous instructor, Mary Hallman, and she taught me just about everything in the article. For example, after pre-flight, she would have me walk away from the plane and look back at it to make sure everything looked right, no chocks, no tie-downs, etc.

  21. Bob Singal
    Bob Singal says:

    What a great article!
    As a kid, I couldn’t wait for the next flying magazine, and I would flip to Len Morgan’s column before anything else. He and those of his generation seemed ten feet taller than anyone else.

    As an adult and a physician, it has been my privelege to have many of these Pelicans come through the office. Needless to say, all work stopped for 30 to 60 minutes as I would switch from Dr. to little kid again, I listening to any stories or tales of wisdom that they cared to offer up. I once had a Luftwaffe pilot and an army air corps flying Fortress pilot in ajoining rooms!

    I still have one late 80s Pelican who swears he’s going to get me my Taildragger endorsement as soon as the annuals his Luscombe!

  22. JOhn T
    JOhn T says:

    Mike Dalecki wrote “Wow. This is the single best article I’ve ever read on here, hands-down.” I’ll add the word “superlative!!!” with exclamations. I’ve read thousands of articles over the last 40 + years and 4100 hours of all GA flying I’ve learned a few things… one is to recognize even youngsters like you James Walters, who have earned the title of ‘Ol Pelican. I agree with many others who have commented that reading your wonderful essay this morning was a highlight to remember. It IS the best summary, the most accessible writing, and the most beautiful essay I’ve read on this thing we call ‘flying’. Thanks! Please do it again!!!

  23. Chris Glaeser
    Chris Glaeser says:

    No kidding, one of the best articles written in the past 20 years.
    I love the quotes; there are many more.
    Chuck Yeager “life is too short to make all the mistakes yourself!”
    My favorite personal quote: “just because you’re cleared to land, doesn’t mean it’s safe to land”.

    • Rick
      Rick says:

      How true this is! I was in a C172 and was “cleared to land” at BIA. I reported “over the river”, which is common for this airport. The tower came back and said I was 2nd behind a heavy Delta, but there were no planes in front of me. As I looked around again, sure enough, a 727 was above and behind me. I was on short final at around 400-600′. The 727 pilot had no way to see me because they landed with quite a nose-up attitude. I immediately pealed out to the right and told the tower “I thought I was cleared to land”. The controller apologized and I completed my turn and landed.

  24. A.R. Minkel
    A.R. Minkel says:

    I was soooo excited to see your article and to have some great memories from Reese come flooding back.
    In your next great literary expose … could you write about the autopilot mode of the Rambler American Base Ops
    Station wagon or the impact resilience of the passenger actuated Rambler autobrake and driver door impact
    dynamics? It is one of my favorite stories … and …. there was so much more to that Whole Boondoggle Classic.

    Have thought of you often. God Bless … would love to hear from you.

  25. Dean Zakos
    Dean Zakos says:

    Interesting article. Loved seeing the old names and quotes from many of the writers who once graced the pages of Flying magazine.
    There is science and art in aviation. We need the science, but I have always loved the art. The Ancient Pelicans understood the art and used it to make us better flyers.
    Thanks for the refresher.

  26. Cary Pao (Ex-E Flight)
    Cary Pao (Ex-E Flight) says:

    AR sent me this article and I must say a very Sierra Hotel piece of work! Some great lessons I can use to get me back into the game. I’d love to see other articles you’ve written and catch up.
    [email protected]

  27. LB
    LB says:

    After 40 years and over 25k hrs, I still heed the advice of the first old pelican I flew with, a cantankerous Captain. I said Sir what advice can you give me from all your many years of Flying. he said ” Don’t F*** Up”
    Best advice I ever received.


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