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#5 The School for Perfection

Tailwheeler’s Journal #5:
School for Perfection
Many years ago a writer created tremendous excitement with a bestselling book. The book was “Jonathon Livingston Seagull” and the writer was Richard Bach.
The “Bird Book” was followed by several others, including “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”. Bach was THE aviation writer of his time, although his themes were universal and concerned with life as much as flying. He took his place in a line of great aviation writers including Earnest Gann, Antoine d’St Exupery and, my favorite, Neville Shute. Shamefully, there are now many young pilots who have never heard of Richard Bach or any of those others.
During his peak years of popularity, Bach published a book that didn’t get the acclaim of his others. It was called “A Gift of Wings” and was a collection of short stories that he had written for aviation magazines. Among those stories were “Found at Pharisee” and “School for Perfection”. They were fantasies featuring a dashing bandit pilot named Drake and his henchmen. The outlaws operated out of a hidden cave/hangar complex and ran a school which taught flying from its most basic and elemental parts. “Found at Pharisee” was delightfully told in the first person by a pilot who exemplified minimum standards training, who thought safety lay in blind obedience to the regs (wow, do I meet a lot of THOSE) and through whose outraged eyes we met the band of outlaw pilots. The outlaws scoffed at any regulation. They preferred common sense and the mastery of flying skills. They would have nothing to do with the minimum standards of flight instruction or mechanics’ licensing.
“School for Perfection” featured the school seen through the eyes of a dispirited flight instructor who had just lost a student. Drake’s school rejuvenated him. These stories had a huge influence on my career and particularly my approach to flight instruction.
The outlaws may have attained perfection in the art of flying, but none of us will ever reach it in the pilot operations we practice. However, it seems to me that as long as we seek that perfection, we will continue to improve our flying skills and achieve a level of competence far beyond minimum standards.
Satisfaction with minimum standards will always be the subject of my primary “rant” and it may just be Richard Bach’s fault.
You can order “A Gift of Wings” from Amazon.com and other sources. I just ordered a few to stock in my little store at Sunriver Soaring. It belongs in every real pilot’s library.
Happy reading,
Brian

2 comments to #5 The School for Perfection

  • Garrett

    What are your favorite Neville Shute books?

    • brian

      I guess that “In the Wet”, “Trustee from the Tool Room” and “The Breaking Wave” are among my favorites, but honestly, I’ve never read a Shute book that I didn’t like. It fascinates me that his style rivets me even when his storytelling seems to lead nowhere! I’m currently collecting first edition Neville Shute books. He is the only author who’s first editions I collect, although I do have fairly complete collections of others. Interestingly, his style has had very little influence on my own. Bach, on the other hand, has probably been a greater influence on me, but I’m pretty sure that Shute had an influence on Richard Bach. Young aviators these days don’t know who either of them are. What a shame.

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