View Full Version : 'Airmanship'

2nd Aug 2014, 09:37
We all know what it means, I'm sure.

However, when did the term 'airmanship' first appear, and how widespread did it become before the modern era?

And we can all think of times that pilots chose poorly, such as the crashes of aces Douglas Bader, Don Gentile, 'Cobber' Kain and 'Bluey' Truscott all from beating up an airfield and misjudging it - the last two losing their lives, the first his legs.

But how much was that seen at the time (1930s, 1940s) as poor airmanship at the time, and was that the term used? Or was a lack of 'discipline' regarded as the reason, perhaps excused by the 'high spirits' that figher pilots were supposed to have?

Serious questions on a very difficult to encompass area - have at it, please. Any period / date references to 'airmanship' particularly welcome.


2nd Aug 2014, 10:16
That is necessary if Britain is to take the same rank in airmanship as she did in seamanship. And these facts remind us that, in respect of these developments of modern life and activity with...

Flight March 27th 1909

2nd Aug 2014, 12:03
Thanks! I think I'm running into an issue that what was meant by 'airmanship' used to be flying skill and not really the additional risk assessment and management regarded as critical today. Hmmm.

Interestingly there seems to be plenty of references as early as the 1900s, but something was going on in the 1810s, too! I think that meaning of 'airmanship' meant 'getting it to go where you aimed'... :)

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Agaricus bisporus
2nd Aug 2014, 13:50
I'd be much more interested to know where it's gone.

2nd Aug 2014, 13:54
"what was meant by 'airmanship' used to be flying skill and not really the additional risk assessment .........."

The distinction was implied in your original post but I would argue that the two meanings are essentially inseparable.
A 'feat of airmanship' would require sound airmanship? - Whereas a contrary outcome may well have resulted from a "lack" of airmanship.

I've heard it said that an excess of 'airmanship" may be an attempt to mask a lack of confidence/knowledge - and what at first sight might seem an apparent lack of 'airmanship' may simply reflect the benefit of experience. - Interesting question though... especially when applied to Airline Flying of the 1930's - great feats of Airmanship were demonstrated despite what could now be seen as some pretty appalling Airmanship. (no implied criticism or lack of respect BTW!)

Maybe all airmanship really is just about learning from other peoples experiences. i.e. it must be taught.

2nd Aug 2014, 14:18
Yes, my previous wasn't that accurate. Better might be that you could render the change is that in the modern era the 'superior pilot uses his superior judgement to avoid using his superior skills'; whereas in the earlier period - let's say 1900-1950, it was more about how many superior skills you could be seen to use!

More comment welcome.

2nd Aug 2014, 17:47
I'd be much more interested to know where it's gone. - the problem is that in order to find out you need to know what you are looking for........................:)

2nd Aug 2014, 20:25
“We all know what it means, I'm sure.”
I’m not so sure; individually we have our own definition, a set of values, etc, but these are not necessarily common or aspects which can be shared with other groups.
Thus -
“ - the problem is that in order to find out you need to know what you are looking for...”

Having been trained by HM finest I am confident that I was ‘taught’ airmanship – or at least the means to develop and improve it; yet some 35 flying years later I still struggle to define it according to situation or circumstance without example.
Airmanship depends on tacit knowledge, difficult to impart and best acquired through example from others or individual experience in appropriate situations.

“i.e. it must be taught” I would not start with this view. It has to be learnt, which is not the same, but where to start and with what, and for aspects which might only be defined by experience, very personal, and dependant on opportunity.
HM training provided opportunity and the means to learn, to reflect, and adjust, which I hope that I am still doing.
Thus Airmanship might represent a collection of common values, a professional culture, requiring everyone to participate, but each differently and always learning.

I recall this presentation many years ago, still relevant according to Kern’s definition, but sadly dated as the industry moves on. Airmanship. (www.scribd.com/doc/235700185/Professional-Safety-Airmanship)

3rd Aug 2014, 03:11
Maybe easier to define 'seamanship' first, then apply the same principles to aviation?

I expect that's the real root of the word anyway.

3rd Aug 2014, 07:33
Rule one. Don't start your engine with the tail pointed into the hangar.

Sleeve Wing
3rd Aug 2014, 09:40
Following the gist of alf5071h's post,

>>>>“i.e. it must be taught” I would not start with this view. It has to be learnt, which is not the same, <<<<, I would totally agree.
I have been fortunate through the whole of my career to have learned from a vast array of 'instructors'.
As 'alf' mentioned, my first influence was also one of HM's finest.
He was a young creamie who was brilliant with some aspects, particularly accurate handling and book SOPs. He lacked in others though through his own lack of experience. I only learned those failings later on.
IMHO we learn all the time, from basic instructors through PAIs/AWIs, squadron mates, airline captains ( good and 'god' !) and latterly even from one's students.
The whole issue is one of awareness, whether it be spacial, technical, personal. "Best practice" does not necessarily come out of a book. Oh, and it's certainly not the same as the the new industry of CRM (;))
Good airmanship develops with experience, observation and application.
Eventually I'll know if I'm doing it right, I suppose !

3rd Aug 2014, 10:26
Simplicate and add more lightness , is a very old slogan

Good airmanship surely, at its simplest, comes down to
competence. Every procedural component across aviation's
broadest canvas can be listed and broken down into
sub-headings to the point where the wood can no longer
be seen for the trees.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.

If my pilot is competent I know it will naturally follow that
he will be cautious, confident and capable in every conceivable
situation. He will have a particularly high threshold in the
avoidance of stress. He will be intolerant of slackness.

Yet on the other hand, he will be guarded about making value
judgements when he encounters the man who constantly insists
on perfection.

The perfectionist can be a danger if he denies that there are
times when expediency and compromise are called for.

The young and competent pilot will as a rule exhibit a maturity
beyond his years.

3rd Aug 2014, 10:29
Airmanship is all about 'Judgement'. End of.

3rd Aug 2014, 10:48
Some great points, but there's a bit of drift, which appears to be on hobby horses ~ to mix metaphors.

We are in Hist & Nost, not flight instruction.

I'm curious about the heritage of the term (and yes, seamanship comes up regularly, but a hard link would be nice - if unlikely) and how it may have changed over time, not how the "yoof of toda" etc...


3rd Aug 2014, 11:19
Take a look at Wolfgang Langewiesche
and Guy Murchie . . . they may give
you some clues

when you are done with the origins of
airmanship . . . .. . maybe take a look
at another shipping context -

Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip
That they took me into the partnership.
And that junior partnership, I ween,
Was the only ship that I ever had seen.

3rd Aug 2014, 14:39
... horsemanship, seamanship, craftsmanship - roadcraft.
Could it just be semantics.

3rd Aug 2014, 22:56
I hadn't known you could use Google Books like that--great new tool. But the standard first call when looking at history of words is the Oxford English Dictionary, which gives:

1859 N.Y. Times 7 July 4/3 In the voyage of Messrs. Wise and La Mountain..we see all the elements of what we suppose we must call airmanship.
1879 Scribner's Monthly Feb. 580/2 An entirely new profession—that of airmanship—will be thoroughly organized.
1937 P. Noël When Japan Fights vi. 159 Flying in Japan will always have extra hazards which only good airmanship will surmount.

Don't know about the 1859 usage, but the 1879, by talking of a "profession," implies something more than technical skill, I think.

Happy hunting

6th Aug 2014, 06:04
At BA 'Airmanship' courses are run for all staff Flight to Ground Handlers to ensure all are aware of the vulnerability of a/c on the ground and the need for professionalism at all times around an aircraft.

7th Aug 2014, 15:10
'The application of one's superior judgement to ensure that, a short time later, it is not necessary to demonstrate one's superior skill'

It would be interesting to word-search a historical set of flight safety material (such as the RAF's Air Clues) to see when the term 'airmanship' entered common usage. My bet would be during the late 1940s, when the peace-time loss rate of the early jets became an issue that made some financial eyes water.