Friday, September 04, 2009

The Right Stuff?

A Guy Who Should Know Dep't:
Ever since Tom Wolfe's book was published, the question I'm asked most often and which always annoys me is whether I think I've got "the right stuff." I know that golden trout* have the the right stuff, and I've seen a few gals here and there that I'd bet had it in spades, but those words seem meaningless when used to describe a pilot's attributes. The question annoys me because it implies that a guy who has "the right stuff" was born that way. I was born with unusually good eyes and coordination. I was mechanically oriented, understood machines easily. My nature was to stay cool in tight spots. Is hat "the right stuff?" All I know is I worked my tail off to learn how to fly, and worked hard at it all the way. And in the end, the one big reason why I was better than average as a pilot was because I flew more than anybody else. If there is such a thing as "the right stuff" in piloting, then it is experience.

Yeager, Charles E.; Yeager, p. 319

I don't think it hurts to have considerable drive and the wisdom to learn from experience, either, but I note that General Yeager's life offers example after example that the guy with the most experience wins and the guy who doesn't give up is the one who lives to fly another day. Pretty sure there's a lesson or two there for all of us.
* I left off this footnote! These trout are found in the High Sierras and, possibly, Arizona. The story of how some ended up in AZ can be found in his book and yes, it's one of the sort that keeps Scully and Mulder busy.


Ed Rasimus said...

It's always nice to see some self-effacing introspection coming from a fighter pilot, but as someone else who has engaged in the subject of introspection and flying fighters, let me add that folks like Yeager and Olds also possessed an innate confidence in their own abilities which gave them the remarkable courage to do remarkable things.

Karl Richter was a similarly fearless hero who never would have thought about whether or not he possessed Mr. Wolfe's stuff.

There are Fighter Pilots and pilots who fly fighters. One is an attitude toward life and challenges, the other is merely an assignment. You transition from the one to the other on the day that someone else tells you that you are a Fighter Pilot.

Yeager is still kicking, and we're working right now to see if we can get him to contribute a cover "blurb" for my collaboration on the Robin Olds biography to be released next May.

BTDT--got the T-shirt.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that the "Right Stuff" Tom Wolfe referred do didn't have as much to do with ability as it did a coolness and calmness under pressure and extreme circumstances.Some of the natural panic people fell in extreme circumstances can be overcome with training and experiance but some folks (Mr. Yeager included)it comes naturally.Of course that coolness means nothing if you don't have the knowledge of what to do when the excrement hits the oscillator


reflectoscope said...

Remarkably wide information processing channels certainly help, too.


Roberta X said...

All true, and there's no mistaking the successful pilot's innate ability and necessary self-confidence. I read the General, however, to be pointing out no amount of suitabilty and luck can substitute for time spent finding out what really works. The guy who can touch-type his airplane wins. I think this applies to other things as well -- and while the converse is also true (no amount of practice is gonna overcome my lousy eyesight, for example), time spent doing still counts. If my processing time is slower, having muscle memory for the task at hand can help minimize the time lost.

If you go do the thing and have even a little knack for it, doing it more will make you better at it.

Few of us will ever be remarkable. Most of us can be competent if we are willing to work at it. (IMO, Fighter pilots -- the ones who are still around afterward to tell the tale -- have both the inborn prerequisites and the will).

Lorimor said...

I don't know if there's anyone quite like Chuck Yeager.

Ed Rasimus said...

For the good Fighter Pilot, the airplane is simply an extension of the mind. It is even beyond "touch-typing". It goes where you think it to and the systems fall to hand and feed data to you almost without considering the action.

The current state of the art has information being integrated and fed from numerous sources and presented to the operator through virtually all sensory channels. The goal is total situational awareness--full spherical coverage spanning immediate past, present and future options.

Despite all that it still takes a spirit, courage and confidence that is inherent and generally can't be taught.

Yeager is special, but not unique. There have been many remarkable men in the business. His career spanned three wars and his influence on aviation makes him noteworthy.