Great Aviation Quotes: Quotable Flyer: Pilot and Flying Quotations
Table of Contents  |  Own the Books  |  Share  |   Facebook Page  |  DaveEnglish.com


Combat

 

Good flying never killed [an enemy] yet.

— attributed to Major Edward 'Mick' Mannock, RAF, ranking British Empire fighter ace of W.W. I. 61 victories.

Once committed to an attack, fly in at full speed. After scoring crippling or disabling hits, I would clear myself and then repeat the process. I never pursued the enemy once they had eluded me. Better to break off and set up again for a new assault. I always began my attacks from full strength, if possible, my ideal flying height being 22,000 ft because at that altitude I could best utilize the performance of my aircraft. Combat flying is based on the slashing attack and rough maneuvering. In combat flying, fancy precision aerobatic work is really not of much use. Instead, it is the rough maneuver which succeeds.

— Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, GAF, aka Karaya One, the World's leading ace, with 352 victories in W.W.II. Jagdgeschwader 52.

Men were going to die in the air as they had for centuries on the ground and on the seas, by killing each other. The conquest of the air was truly accomplished.

— René Chambe, Au Temps des Carabines, 1955.

Up there the world is divided into bastards and suckers. Make your choice.

— Derek Robinson, Piece of Cake, 1983.

A top World War II ace once said that fighter pilots fall into two broad categories: those who go out to kill and those who, secretly, desperately, know they are going to get killed—the hunters and the hunted.

— General Nathan F. Twinning, USAF

You lived and died alone, especially in fighters. Fighters. Somehow, despite everything, that word had not become sterile. You slipped into the hollow cockpit and strapped and plugged yourself into the machine. The canopy ground shut and sealed you off. Your oxygen, your very breath, you carried into the chilled vacuum, in a steel bottle.

— James Salter, The Hunters, 1956. 

I belong to a group of men who fly alone. There is only one seat in the cockpit of a fighter airplane. There is no space alotted for another pilot to tune the radios in the weather or make the calls to air traffic control centers or to help with the emergency procedures or to call off the airspeed down final approach. There is no one else to break the solitude of a long cross-country flight. There is no one else to make decisions.
I do everything myself, from engine start to engine shutdown. In a war, I will face alone the missiles and the flak and the small-arms fire over the front lines.
If I die, I will die alone.

— Richard Bach, Stranger to the Ground, 1963.

The more mechanical becomes the weapons with which we fight, the less mechanical must be the spirit which controls them.

— Field Marshal Archibald P. Wavell.

I mean, I had fast motor cars and fast motor bikes, and when I wasn't crashing airplanes, I was crashing motor bikes. It's all part of the game.

— Sir Harry Broadhurst, RAF, 12 victories WWII.

I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm's way.

— Captain John Paul Jones, in a letter to le Ray de Chaumont, 16 November 1778.

The hunters are the ones who go out and kill. Maybe one out of ten good fighter pilots will be one of the hunters.

— Jack Ilfrey, USAAF, 8 victories WWII.

To the aircraft I aim, not the man.

— Francesco Baracca, Italy's leading ace of WWI, in Italian "è all'apparecchio che io miro non all'uomo," the prancing horse emblem he sported on his aircraft was used by Enzo Ferrari on his cars. Corpo Aeronautico Militare, 34 victories WWI.

You don't think much of the individual, because you don't think you've hit him and you hope that he will bail out or something; it's the aeroplane you've hit . . . normally it was more of a game if you like, you were outwitting and shooting down another aircraft, you were simply hitting metal.

— Wing commander Pete Malam Brothers, RAF, 16 victories WWII. Imperial War Museum Sound 7462.

It was war. We were defending our country. We had a strict code of honor: you didn't shoot down a cripple and you kept it a fair fight.

— Captain Wilfrid Reid 'Wop' May, RFC, 13 victories WWI.

I hate to shoot a Hun down without him seeing me, for although this method is in accordance with my doctrine, it is against what little sporting instincts I have left.

— James McCudden, VC, RFC, 1917.

My habit of attacking Huns dangling from their parachutes led to many arguments in the mess. Some officers, of the Eton and Sandhurst type, thought it was 'unsportsmanlike' to do it. Never having been to a public school, I was unhampered by such considerations of form. I just pointed out that there was a bloody war on, and that I intended to avenge my pals.

— Captain James Ira Thomas 'Taffy' Jones, RFC, 37 victories in 3 months W.W.I.

Fight on and fly on to the last drop of blood and the last drop of fuel, to the last beat of the heart.

— Baron Manfred von Richthofen.

Fighting in the air is not sport. It is scientific murder.

— Captain Edward V. 'Eddie' Rickenbacker, USAS, 'Fighting the Flying Circus.'

The first time I ever saw a jet, I shot it down.

— General Chuck Yeager, USAF, describing his first confrontation with a Me262.

Of all my accomplishments I may have achieved during the war, I am proudest of the fact that I never lost a wingman.

— Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, GAF.

It was my view that no kill was worth the life of a wingman. . . . Pilots in my unit who lost wingmen on this basis were prohibited from leading a [section]. The were made to fly as wingman, instead.

— Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, GAF.

The wingman is absolutely indispensable. I look after the wingman. The wingman looks after me. It's another set of eyes protecting you. That the defensive part. Offensively, it gives you a lot more firepower. We work together. We fight together. The wingman knows what his responsibilities are, and knows what mine are. Wars are not won by individuals. They're won by teams.

— Lt. Col. Francis S. "Gabby" Gabreski, USAF, 28 victories in WWII and 6.5 MiGs over Korea.

There is a peculiar gratification on receiving congratulations from one's squadron for a victory in the air. It is worth more to a pilot than the applause of the whole outside world. It means that one has won the confidence of men who share the misgivings, the aspirations, the trials and the dangers of aeroplane fighting.

— Captain Edward V. 'Eddie' Rickenbacker, USAS.

And I have yet to find one single individual who has attained conspicuous success in bringing down enemy aeroplanes who can be said to be spoiled either by his successes or by the generous congratulations of his comrades. If he were capable of being spoiled he would not have had the character to have won continuous victories, for the smallest amount of vanity is fatal in aeroplane fighting. Self-distrust rather is the quality to which many a pilot owes his protracted existence.

— Captain Edward V. 'Eddie' Rickenbacker, USAS, 'Fighting the Flying Circus.'

Nothing makes a man more aware of his capabilities and of his limitations than those moments when he must push aside all the familiar defenses of ego and vanity, and accept reality by staring, with the fear that is normal to a man in combat, into the face of Death.

— Major Robert S. Johnson, USAAF.

The duty of the fighter pilot is to patrol his area of the sky, and shoot down any enemy fighters in that area. Anything else is rubbish.

— Baron Manfred von Richthofen, 1917. Richtofen would not let members of his Staffel strafe troops in the trenches.

Anybody who doesn't have fear is an idiot. It's just that you must make the fear work for you. Hell when somebody shot at me, it made me madder than hell, and all I wanted to do was shoot back.

— Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF.

The most important thing in fighting was shooting, next the various tactics in coming into a fight and last of all flying ability itself.

— Lt. Colonel W. A. 'Billy' Bishop, RCAF.

In nearly all cases where machines have been downed, it was during a fight which had been very short, and the successful burst of fire had occurred within the space of a minute after the beginning of actual hostilities.

— Lt. Colonel W. A. 'Billy' Bishop, RCAF.

You must take the war to the enemy. You must attack and go on attacking all the time.

— Major Willy Omer François Jean Coppens de Houthulst, Belgian Air Service, 37 victories W.W.I..

I fly close to my man, aim well and then of course he falls down.

— Captain Oswald Boelcke, probably the world's first ace.

Aerial gunnery is 90 percent instinct and 10 percent aim.

— Captain Frederick C. Libby, RFC.

I had no system of shooting as such. It is definitely more in the feeling side of things that these skills develop. I was at the front five and a half years, and you just got a feeling for the right amount of lead.

— Lt. General Guenther Rall, GAF.

When one has shot down one's first, second or third opponent, then one begins to find out how the trick is done.

— Baron Manfred von Richtofen.

I put my bullets into the target as if I placed them there by hand.

— Capitaine René Paul Fonck, French Air Service, 75 victories W.W.I..

You can have computer sights of anything you like, but I think you have to go to the enemy on the shortest distance and knock him down from point-blank range. You'll get him from in close. At long distance, it's questionable.

— Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, GAF.

I am not a good shot. Few of us are. To make up for this I hold my fire until I have a shot of less than 20 degrees deflection and until I'm within 300 yards. Good discipline on this score can make up for a great deal.

— Lt. Colonel John C. Meyer, USAAF.

Go in close, and when you think you are too close, go in closer.

— Major Thomas B. 'Tommy' McGuire, USAAF.

I opened fire when the whole windshield was black with the enemy . . . at minimum range . . . it doesn't matter what your angle is to him or whether you are in a turn or any other maneuver.

— Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, GAF.

As long as I look into the muzzles, nothing can happen to me. Only if he pulls lead am I in danger.

— Captain Hans-Joachim Marseille, Luftwaffe.

Everything in the air that is beneath me, especially if it is a one-seater . . . is lost, for it cannot shoot to the rear.

— Baron Manfred von Richthofen

I started shooting when I was much too far away. That was merely a trick of mine. I did not mean so much as to hit him as to frighten him, and I succeeded in catching him. He began flying curves and this enabled me to draw near.

— Baron Manfred von Richthofen

A fighter without a gun . . . is like an airplane without a wing.

— Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF.

I'm waiting to be told how cobras, hooks, or vectored thrust help in combat. They're great at air shows, but zero energy is a fighter pilot's nightmare. Shoot your opponent down and his number two will be on your tail thinking it's his birthday — a target hanging there in the sky with zero energy.

— Ned Firth, Eurofighter

See, decide, attack, reverse.

— Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, GAF.

So it was that the war in the air began. Men rode upon the whirlwind that night and slew and fell like archangels. The sky rained heroes upon the astonished earth. Surely the last fights of mankind were the best. What was the heavy pounding of your Homeric swordsmen, what was the creaking charge of chariots, besides this swift rush, this crash, this giddy triumph, this headlong sweep to death?

— H. G. Wells, 'The World Set Free,' 1914.

I was a pilot flying an airplane and it just so happened that where I was flying made what I was doing spying.

— Francis Gary Power, U-2 reconnaissance pilot held by the Soviets for spying, in an interview after he was returned to the US.

The Yo-Yo is very difficult to explain. It was first perfected by the well-known Chinese fighter pilot Yo-Yo Noritake. He also found it difficult to explain, being quite devoid of English.

— Squadron Leader K. G. Holland, RAF.

. . . my pilot pointed to his left front and above, and looking in the direction he pointed, I saw a long dark brown form fairly streaking across the sky. We could see that it was a German machine, and when it got above and behind our middle machine, it dived on it for all the world like a huge hawk on a hapless sparrow.

— James McCudden, VC, RFC.

Fighting spirit one must have. Even if a man lacks some of the other qualifications, he can often make up for it in fighting spirit.

— Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF.

I never went into the air thinking I would lose.

— Commander Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, USN.

Speed is life.

— Anon., popularized by Samuel Flynn, Jr., USN.

Speed is the cushion of sloppiness.

— Commander William P. 'Willie' Driscoll, USNR.

It is probable that future war will be conducted by a special class, the air force, as it was by the armored Knights of the Middle Ages.

— Brigadier General William 'Billy' Mitchell, 'Winged Defense,' 1924.

Most healthy young men or women from sixteen to forty years of age can be taught to fly an ordinary airplane. A great majority of these may become very good pilots for transport- or passenger-carrying machines in time of peace; but the requirements for a military aviator call for more concentrated physical and mental ability in the individual than has ever been necessary in any calling heretofore.

— Brigadier General William 'Billy' Mitchell, 'Skyways,' 1930.

Their element is to attack, to track, to hunt, and to destroy the enemy. Only in this way can the eager and skillful fighter pilot display his ability. Tie him to a narrow and confined task, rob him of his initiative, and you take away from him the best and most valuable qualities he posses: aggressive spirit, joy of action, and the passion of the hunter.

— General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe.

Aggressiveness was a fundamental to success in air-to-air combat and if you ever caught a fighter pilot in a defensive mood you had him licked before you started shooting.

— Captain David McCampbell, USN, leading U.S. Navy ace in W.W.II.

The smallest amount of vanity is fatal in aeroplane fighting. Self-distrust rather is the quality to which many a pilot owes his protracted existence.

— Captain Edward V. 'Eddie' Rickenbacker.

Fly with the head and not with the muscles. That is the way to long life for a fighter pilot. The fighter pilot who is all muscle and no head will never live long enough for a pension.

— Colonel Willie Bats, GAF, 237 victories, W.W. II.

The air battle is not necessarily won at the time of the battle. The winner may have been determined by the amount of time, energy, thought and training an individual has previously accomplished in an effort to increase his ability as a fighter pilot.

— Colonel Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington, USMC, 26 victories, W.W. II.

The experienced fighting pilot does not take unnecessary risks. His business in to shoot down enemy planes, not to get shot down. His trained hand and eye and judgment are as much a part of his armament as his machine-gun, and a fifty-fifty chance is the worst he will take — or should take — except where the show is of the kind that . . . justifies the sacrifice of plane or pilot.

— Captain Edward V. 'Eddie' Rickenbacker.

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind . . . Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.

— Joseph Heller, Catch 22, 1955.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

— Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay).

A good fighter pilot, like a good boxer, should have a knockout punch . . . You will find one attack you prefer to all others. Work on it till you can do it to perfection . . . then use it whenever possible.

— Captain Reade Tilley, USAAF.

He must have a love of hunting, a great desire to be the top dog.

— Sergei Dolgushin, Russian Air Force, 24 victories WWII.

Know and use all the capabilities in your airplane. If you don't, sooner or later, some guy who does use them all will kick your ass.

— Dave 'Preacher' Pace, USN.
 

You fight like you train.

— U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, TOPGUN.

Fight to fly, fly to fight, fight to win.

— U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, TOPGUN.

The first rule of all air combat is to see the opponent first. Like the hunter who stalks his prey and maneuvers himself unnoticed into the most favourable position for the kill, the fighter in the opening of a dogfight must detect the opponent as early as possible in order to attain a superior position for the attack.

— General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe.

If you're in a fair fight, you didn't plan it properly.

— Nick Lappos, Chief R&D Pilot, Sikorsky Aircraft.

The British were sporting. They would accept a fight under almost all conditions.

— Gunther Rall, Luftwaffe, 275 victories.

It's just like being in a knife fight in a dirt-floor bar. If you want to fix a fella, the best way to do it is to get behind him and stick him in the back. It's the same in an air fight. If you want to kill that guy, the best thing to do is get around behind him where he can't see you . . . . and shoot him.

— Captain William O'Brian, 357th Fighter Group, USAAF.

A squadron commander who sits in his tent and gives orders and does not fly, though he may have the brains of Soloman, will never get the results that a man will, who, day in and day out, leads his patrols over the line and infuses into his pilots the 'espirit de corps.'

— Brigadier General William 'Billy' Mitchell, USAS.

The greater issues were beyond us. We sat in a tiny cockpit, throttle lever in one hand, stick in the other. At the end of our right thumb was the firing button, and in each wing were four guns. We aimed through an optical gunsight, a red bead in the middle of a red ring. Our one concern was to boot out the enemy.

— Group Captain Peter Townsend, RAF.

Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the change in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur.

— Giulio Douhet, 'The Command of the Air.'

I saw the lightnings gleaming rod.
Reach forth and write upon the sky
The awful autograph of God.

— Joaquin Miller, 'The Ship In The Desert.'

There was only one catch and that was Catch22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask, and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.

— Joseph Heller, 'Catch22.'

We were stripped down, even the turrets were removed. You were light and real fast, though. Our 12th squadron motto was 'Alone Unarmed Unafraid.' As you can imagine, this actually translated into something more like, 'Alone Unarmed and Scared Shitless.'

— Theodore R. 'Dick' Newell, Korean War pilot, 12th TAC Reconnaissance Squadron, on flying the reconnaissance version of the B-26.

We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their airplanes because? It's obscene!

— Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in the 1979 movie 'Apocalypse Now.'

Yea though I fly through the valley of the shadow of death... I fear no evil ... for I fly the biggest, baddest, meanest, fastest motherfucker in the whole damn valley.

— Anon.

In blossom today, then scattered:
Life is so like a delicate flower.
How can one expect the fragrance
To last forever?

— Vice Admiral Ohnishi, Kamikaze Special Attack Force

No guts, no glory. If you are going to shoot him down, you have to get in there and mix it up with him.

— General Frederick C. 'Boots' Blesse, USAF.

I don't mind being called tough, because in this racket it's the tough guys who lead the survivors.

— General Curtis LeMay, USAF.

Watching the Dallas Cowboys perform, it is not difficult to believe that coach Tom Landry flew four-engines bombers during World War II. He was in B-17 Flying Fortresses out of England, they say. His cautious, conservative approach to every situation and the complexity of the plays he sends in do seem to reflect the philosophy of a pilot trained to doggedly press on according to plans laid down before takeoff. I sometimes wonder how the Cowboys would have fared all this years had Tom flown fighters in combat situations which dictated continuously changing tactics.

— Len Morgan, 'View from the Cockpit.'

Everything I had ever learned about air fighting taught me that the man who is aggressive, who pushes a fight, is the pilot who is successful in combat and who has the best opportunity for surviving battle and coming home.

— Major Robert S. Johnson, USAAF.

I think that the most important features of a fighter pilot are aggressiveness and professionalism. They are both needed to achieve the fighter pilot's goal: the highest score within the shortest time, with the least risk to himself and his wingman.

— Colonel Gidi Livni, Israeli Air Force.

The aggressive spirit, the offensive, is the chief thing everywhere in war, and the air is no exception.

— Baron Manfred von Richthofen

Eyesight and seeing the enemy first, or at least in time to take correct tactical maneuvers was very important. However, most important is the guts to plough through an enemy or enemies, and fight it out. There are no foxholes to hide in . . . there is no surrendering. I know of no Navy fighter pilot in the war who turned tail and ran. If one did, he would lose his wings and be booted out of the service for cowardice.

— Richard H. May, USN

There are only two types of aircraft — fighters and targets.

— Doyle 'Wahoo' Nicholson, USMC.

Do unto the other feller the way he'd like to do unto you, an' do it fust [sic].

— E. N. Westcott, 'David Harum.'

The essence of leadership . . . was, and is, that every leader from flight commander to group commander should know and fly his airplanes.

— Air Vice-Marshal J. E. 'Johnnie' Johnson, RAF.

A speck of dirt on your windscreen could turn into an enemy fighter in the time it took to look round and back again. A little smear on your goggles might hide the plane that was coming in to kill you.

— Derek Robinson, Piece of Cake, 1983

There are pilots and there are pilots; with the good ones, it is inborn. You can't teach it. If you are a fighter pilot, you have to be willing to take risks.

— General Robin Olds, USAF.

Today it is even more important to dominate the . . . highly sophisticated weapon systems, perhaps even more important than being a good pilot; to make the best use of this system.

— General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe.

An excellent weapon and luck had been on my side. To be successful, the best fighter pilot needs both.

— General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe.

One of the secrets of air fighting was to see the other man first. Seeing airplanes from great distances was a question of experience and training, of knowing where to look and what to look for. Experienced pilots always saw more than the newcomers, because the later were more concerned with flying than fighting. . . . The novice had little idea of the situation, because his brain was bewildered by the shock and ferocity of the fight.

— Air Vice-Marshal J. E. 'Johnnie' Johnson, RAF.

Only the spirit of attack borne in a brave heart will bring success to any fighter aircraft, no matter how highly developed it may be.

— General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe.

The man who enters combat encased in solid armor plate, but lacking the essential of self-confidence, is far more exposed and naked to death than the individual who subjects himself to battle shorn of any protection but his own skill, his own belief in himself and in his wingman. Righteousness is necessary for one's peace of mind, perhaps, but it is a poor substitute for agility . . . and a resolution to meet the enemy under any conditions and against any odds.

— Major Robert S. Johnson, USAAF.

To be a good fighter pilot, there is one prime requisite — think fast, and act faster.

— Major John T. Godfrey, USAAF.

Mark Twain said, "Courage is the mastery of fear, resistance to fear, not the absence of fear." At times the nearness of death brings an inexplicable exhilaration which starts the adrenaline flowing and results in instant action. The plane becomes an integral part of the pilot's body, it is strapped to his butt, and they become a single fighting machine.

— R. M. Littlefield, 'Double Nickel — Double Trouble.'

Being a stealth pilot is one of the most labor intensive and time constrained types of flying that I know. We have very strict timing constraints: to be where you are supposed to be all the time, exactly on time, and that has to be monitored by the pilot. For example, during a bomb competition in training in the US, I dropped a weapon that landed 0.02 seconds from the desired time, and finished third!

— Lt. Col. Miles Pound, USAF

Two phrases are stamped on the key ring that every new 'Bandit' (a pilot who has soloed in an F-117) receives:
Stealth Equals Death.
When it absolutely, positively has to be taken out overnight.

Ode To The P-38

Oh, Hedy Lamarr is a beautiful gal, and Madeleine Carroll is too,
But you'll find if you query, a different theory amongst any bomber crew
For the loveliest thing of which one could sing (this side of the pearly gates)
Is no blonde or brunette of the Hollywood set -
But an escort of P-38s.

Yes, in the days that have passed,
when the tables were massed with glasses of scotch and champagne,
It's quite true that the sight was a thing of delight us,
intent on feeling no pain.
But no longer the same, nowadays is this game
When we head north for Messina Straits
Take the sparkling wine-every time,
just make mine an escort of P-38s.

Byron, Shelley and Keats ran a dozen dead heats
Describing the views from the hills,
of the valleys in May when the winds gently sway
In the air it's a different story;
We sweat out our track through the fighters and flak
We're willing to split up the glory
Well, they wouldn't reject us, so heaven protect us
and, until all this shooting abates,
Give us courage to fight 'em - one other small item -
an escort of P-38s.

— Frederic Arnold, 'Kohn's War.'

I didn't turn with the enemy pilots as a rule. I might make one turn - to see what the situation was - but not often. It was too risky.

— General John C. Meyer, Vice-Chief of Staff, USAF.

It is generally inadvisable to eject directly over the area you just bombed.

— USAF Manual

Nothing is true in tactics.

— Commander Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, USN, first American ace in Vietnam.

We were too busy fighting to worry about the business of clever tactics.

— Harold Balfour, RAF. W.W.I fighter pilot and British Under-Secretary of State for War.

Beware the lessons of a fighter pilot who would rather fly a slide rule than kick your ass!

— Commander Ron 'Mugs' McKeown, USN, Commander of the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School.

For most of the time carrier aviation is more challenging than flying in a spacecraft

— Astronaut James Lovell

Fighter pilots, above all else, know who among their peers are hunters and who are hunted. They absolutely will not fly into a tough combat situation with a wingman they don’t trust and not all men make the cut. Where we work is a vicious place. I’ll attempt to describe it, but the full comprehension comes only in a sky full of hot metal and smart missiles that all seem to be looking at you. You’re in a machine that is so fast and powerful that you intuitively know that if death comes, it will be full of hot fire. Frail human that you are, you will be shredded to pieces. Worst of all, you’ll be alone in a fierce place where your comrades cannot hold you while you die. That is the real environment of a fighter pilot.

— Jerry R Caddick

The ordinary air fighter is an extraordinary man and the extraordinary air fighter stands as one in a million among his fellows.

— Theodore Roosevelt

... a fighter pilot must be free to propose improvements [in tactics] or he will get himself killed.

— Commander Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, USN.

When I took over my wing [in Vietnam], the big talk wasn't about the MIG's, but about the SAM's ... I'd seen enemy planes before, but those damn SAM's were something else. When I saw my first one, there were a few seconds of sheer panic, because that's a most impressive sight to see that thing coming at you. You feel like a fish about to be harpooned. There's something terribly personal about the SAM; it means to kill you and I'll tell you right now, it rearranges your priorities ... We had been told to keep our eyes on them and not to take any evasive move too soon, because they were heat-seeking and they, too would correct, so I waited until it was almost on me and then I rolled to the right and it went on by. It was awe inspiring ... The truth is you never do get used to the SAM's; I had about two hundred fifty shot at me and the last one was as inspiring as the first. Sure I got cagey, and I was able to wait longer and longer, but I never got overconfident. I mean, if you're one or two seconds too slow, you've had the schnitzel.

— General Robin Olds, USAF.

Every day kill just one, rather than today five, tomorrow ten . . . that is enough for you. Then your nerves are calm and you can sleep good, you have your drink in the evening and the next morning you are fit again.

— Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, Luftwaffe.

The closest modern equivalent to the Homeric hero is the ace fighter pilot.

— W. H. Auden

To become an ace a fighter must have extraordinary eyesight, strength, and agility, a huntsman's eye, coolness in a pinch, calculated recklessness, a full measure of courage—and occasional luck!

— General Jimmy Doolittle

The most important thing for a fighter pilot is to get his first victory without too much shock.

— Colonel Werner Moelders, Luftwaffe. He got his first victory, and 114 others.

It is true to say that the first kill can influence the whole future career of a fighter pilot. Many to whom the first victory over the opponent has been long denied either by unfortunate circumstances or by bad luck can suffer from frustration or develop complexes they may never rid themselves of again.

— General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe.

It is wonderful how cheered a pilot becomes after he shoots down his first machine; his morale increases by at least 100 percent.

— Captain James Ira Thomas 'Taffy' Jones, RFC, 37 victories in 3 months W.W.I..

I gained in experience with every plane shot down, and now was able to fire in a calm, deliberate manner. Each attack was made in a precise manner. Distance and deflection were carefully judged before firing. This is not something that comes by accident; only by experience can a pilot overcome feelings of panic. A thousand missions could be flown and be of no use if the pilot has not exchanged fire with the enemy.

— Major John T. Godfrey, USAAF.

As a fighter pilot I know from my own experiences how decisive surprise and luck can be for success, which in the long run comes only to the one who combines daring with cool thinking.

— General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe.

The most important thing to a fighter pilot is speed; the faster an aircraft is moving when he spots an enemy aircraft, the sooner he will be able to take the bounce and get to the Hun. If you have any advantage on him, keep it and use it. When attacking, plan to overshoot him if possible, hold fire until within range, then shoot and clobber him down to the last instant before breaking away. It's like sneaking up behind someone and hitting them with a baseball bat.

— Duane W. Beeson, P-51 pilot, 4th Fighter Group.

Months of preparation, one of those few opportunities, and the judgment of a split second are what makes some pilot an ace, while others think back on what they could have done.

— Colonel Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington, USMC.

How this can happen is a mystery to us.

— Lieutenant-General Ray Henault, Canada's Chief of Defence staff, regards the friendly fire deaths of four Canadian soldiers by a USAF F-16 in Afghanistan, 18 April 2002.

Success flourishes only in perseverance — ceaseless, restless perseverance.

— Baron Manfred von Richthofen

If he is superior then I would go home, for another day that is better.

— Colonel Erich 'Bubi' hartmann, GAF.

If I should come out of this war alive, I will have more luck than brains.

— Captain Manfred Baron von Richtofen, in a letter to his mother upon being decorated with the Iron Cross.

I was struck by the joy of those pilots in committing cold-blooded murder . . . Frankly, this is not cojones. This is cowardice.

— Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the UN, 1996, regards Cuban fighters shooting down unarmed American Cessnas.

I scooted for our lines, sticky with fear. I vomited brandy-and-milk and bile all over my instrument panel. Yes, it was very romantic flying, people said later, like a knight errant in the clean blue sky of personal combat.

— attributed to W. W. Windstaff, an alleged pseudonym of an American pilot flying with the British RFC.

There’s something wonderfully exciting about the quiet sing song of an aeroplane overhead with all the guns in creation lighting out at it, and searchlights feeling their way across the sky like antennae, and the earth shaking snort of the bombs and the whimper of shrapnel pieces when they come down to patter on the roof.

— John Dos Passos, letter written in Bossano, Italy while serving in the American Red Cross Ambulance Service to his friend Rumsey Marvin. 18 February 1918.

It was no picnic despite what anyone might say later . . . . Most of us were pretty scared all the bloody time; you only felt happy when the battle was over and you were on your way home, then you were safe for a bit, anyway.

— Colin Gray, 54 Squadron RAF, W.W.II.

There is no question about the hereafter of men who give themselves in such a cause. If I am called upon to make it, I shall go with a grin of satisfaction and a smile.

— Lieutenant David Endicott Putnam, America's first 'Ace of Aces,' in a letter to his mother. He was shot down by German ace Georg von Hantelmann. 12 September 1918

Won't it be nice when all this beastly killing is over, and we can enjoy ourselves and not hurt anyone? I hate this game.

— Captain Albert Ball, RFC, in letters to his father and fiancée. Ball was the first British ace idolized by the public, 44 victories when killed in action. 6 May 1917.

After a scrap I usually drink my tea through a straw.

— Derek Robinson, Piece of Cake, 1983.

The heavens were the grandstands and only the gods were spectators. The stake was the world, the forfeit was the player's place at the table, and the game had no recess. It was the most dangerous of all sports and the most fascinating. It got in the blood like wine. It aged men forty years in forty days. It ruined nervous systems in an hour.

— Elliott White Springs, 13 victories WWI.

. . . It is as though horror has frozen the blood in my veins, paralyzed my arms, and torn all thought from my brain with the swipe of a paw. I sit there, flying on, and continue to stare, as though mesmerised, at the Cauldron on my left.

— Ernst Udet, ‘My life as Aviator,’ 1935.

I counted them all out and I counted them all back.

— Brian Hanranan, carefully worded broadcast regards the number of British aeroplanes involved in (and potentially lost in) the raid on Port Stanley. BBC news, 1 May 1982.

I suppose I'm as good as the next guy, but that's about all. Only reason I'm still flying while a lot of other great guys are gone is because I've had the breaks so far. I believe though, that the breaks are going to continue my way. The minute a flyer gets the notion that his number is up, he's finished. I start out, and know I'm coming back, and that's all there is to it.
Fear? You bet your life. But it's always on the way up. Then you get to thinking about a lot of things, but that all leaves you as you reach combat. Then there's a sense of great excitement, a thrill you can't duplicate anywhere. Then there can be no fear, no thought of life or death, no dream of yesterday or tomorrow.
What you have at that moment is — well, it may sound strange, but it's actually fun. The other guy has his chance, too, and you've got to get him before he gets you. Yes, I think it is the most exciting fun in the world.

— Lt. Col. Robert B. "Westy" Westbrook, USAAF, one of the leading aces of the Pacific, 'Los Angeles Examiner,' 20 June 1944.

It got more exciting with each war. I mean the planes were going faster than hell when I was flying a Mustang, but by the time I got to Nam, it scared the piss out of a lot of guys just to fly the damn jets at full speed. Let alone do it in combat.

— Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF.

He who has the height controls the battle.
He who has the sun achieves surprise.
He who gets in close shoots them down.

— anon.

Dicta Boelcke

  • Try to secure advantages before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you.

  • Always carry through an attack when you have started it.

  • Fire only at close range, and only when your opponent is properly in your sights.

  • Always keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.

  • In any form of attack it is essential to assail your opponent from behind.

  • If your opponent dives on you, do not try to evade his onslaught, but fly to meet it.

  • When over the enemy's lines never forget your own line of retreat.

  • For the Staffel: attack on principle in groups of four or six. When the fight breaks up into a series of single combats, take care that several do not go for one opponent.

— Hauptmann Oswald Boelcke, 1916. Germany's first ace, died in 1916 with 40 victories.

Whatever Boelcke told us was taken as Gospel!

— Baron Manfred von Richthofen

I will be like Boelcke.

— German pilots' motto

Ten of My Rules for Air Fighting

  • Wait until you see the whites of his eyes.
    Fire short bursts of 1 to 2 seconds and only when your sights are definitely 'ON.'

  • Whilst shooting think of nothing else; brace the whole of the body; have both hands on the stick; concentrate on your ring sight.

  • Always keep a sharp lookout. "Keep your finger out"!

  • Height gives you the initiative.

  • Always turn and face the attack.

  • Make your decisions promptly. It is better to act quickly even though your tactics are not the best.

  • Never fly straight and level for more than 30 seconds in the combat area.

  • When diving to attack always leave a proportion of your formation above to act as top guard.

  • INITIATIVE, AGGRESSION, AIR DISCIPLINE, and TEAM WORK are words that MEAN something in Air Fighting.

  • Go in quickly - Punch Hard - Get out!

— Flight Lieutenant Adolphus G. 'Sailor' Malan, RSAAF, August 1941.

Navy Aviators live on the line between bravery and stupidity, science and idiocy. One day you're planning a complicated twenty-eight-jet air strike over Afghanistan, the next your buddies are urging you to take a shit on a Dubai boulevard after your tenth Jack Daniels. It has always been that way, fly hard, get drunk, and chase skirt. . . . naval aviators had the capacity to instantly toggle between the heroic and the moronic.

— Stephen Rodrick, The Magical Stranger, published May 2013

Because operators are based thousands of miles away from the battlefield, and undertake operations entirely through computer screens and remote audio-feed, there is a risk of developing a 'PlayStation' mentality to killing.

— Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, report to the UN Human Rights Council, 2 June 2010.

 

 

 

I also have a list of Air Power quotations. Combat strategy rather than combat operations.

Search my whole quotation database:

Aviation Quotes  |  The Books  |  Share  |  Links  |  Inner Art of Airmanship  |  Contact Me  |  DaveEnglish.com

facebook    twitter

© 1996-2014