By: Michael E.Marotta
E-mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
What is the culture of aviation? In what ways do pilots think,
talk, and act differently from other people? What is good
etiquette in aviation? When is a pilot behaving in a non-aviation
or anti-aviation manner? What mechanisms inform us of aviation's
unwritten rules and by what means is our behavior corrected when
it strays from the expected or normal?
One way to draw an outline of aviation culture is to look at its
virtues. We all might want to be virtuous according to every
standard. However, humility is simply not a virtue in aviation.
Bragging is not a virtue, either, and displaying humility is not
necessarily wrong. However, nothing in aviation implicitly
demands and specifically rewards humility -- even though a good
dose of it might be a blessing. Other virtues, such as charity or
fidelity also might be nice to have, but aviation does not
require them of you.
The virtues of aviation are those positive character traits that
are implicitly demanded and specifically rewarded by the nature
of aviation. They are: Intelligence, Self-Control, Independent
Judgement, and Honor. Within these overlapping spheres are other
concepts, often shades of meaning with arguable differentiations
The primary virtue of any human. More than being born "smart" it
means using what you have. Intelligence is thinking things through,
knowing a tool when you see one and knowing when and whom to ask for
help. Accompanying Intelligence are honesty, foresight, wisdom.
Aviation is scary. The question is whether or not you are ruled by
your viscera. Other aspects of this are courage, fortitude, pride.
The first Federal regulation of flying is that you can break any
rule in order to maintain or achieve safety. This derives from the
indisputalbe fact the pilot is in command. Objectivity, conjectivity
and integrity are corollaries.
The above are personal virtues. These here are social virtues.
Generally speaking, the unequivocal nature of aviation -- the fact
that you can get killed -- is the source of these honorable
Other aspects of Honor are responsibility, trustworthiness,
forthrightness, magnanimity, respect, courtesy, and humor.
As an attribute of intelligence, honesty means more than not
lying to other people. It means recognizing the "primacy of
existence" -- in other words admitting what you know to be true
(about the plane, about the weather, about yourself) no matter
how much you wish it were not.
Pride is an aspect of self-control. Ultimately, pride may be
considered the source of self-control. In either case, the pride
referred to is not just the external show of proper respect for
your own achievements but the inner strength that causes and is
rewarded by self-control.
Integrity makes independent judgement possible. Not all pilots
practice it, but aviation rewards it, nonetheless. Integrity is
being who and what you are. Independent judgement requires the
objectivity (honesty) of recognizing the facts. Conjectivity is
the virtue of being willing to try something -- especially when
you are in trouble -- to see if the effect is beneficial to you.
The list of social virtues under Honor stem from the fact that no
one else's opinion of you is as important as your own opinion of
yourself. We tend to gloss over this. We are shy and we do not
like to brag. The bottom line is that every flight is a test
flight. Flying is unequivocal: you cannot argue the facts away.
We are reality-based and this colors all of our relationships.
To act dishonorably, or irresponsibly, or disrespectfully is to
fall from grace. Can you imagine pulling into an FBO station
late at night, refueling, and before you take off, stealing the
coffee maker? The thought is ridiculous -- but for most people in
most times and places the thought (if not the deed) is very real.
Can you imagine having a line jockey tell you about a problem
with your plane and then making the problem "go away" by
belittling the jock for not being a pilot? We do not act like
that. We act like angels because we live in the sky.
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