I'd like to share one passage that because of a small aside in the middle of a sentence has stuck with me for years.
Of course it is conceivable that a perfectly maintained airplane, perfectly trimmed and flying in smooth air, might continue to fly straight ahead indefinitely simply because it would never be disturbed, would never get that first slight deflection from straight flight which starts the spiraling. But it is also conceivable that a pencil, stood on its point, might be so perfectly balanced and so completely shielded from all disturbances that it would stand on its point indefinitely. Both things are philosophically possible; both are so highly improbable as to be practically impossible. And anyway, the stability of a thing, just like that of a man, does not consist in its being shielded from all disturbances and thus preserving a precarious balance; it consists in the ability to recover from disturbances that inevitably will occur, and to regain lost balance.
Indeed, the laws of physics have not changed. It seems like a lot of people are turned off by old books, when I've found that my experience has often been the exact opposite --- for subjects like maths and electricity, the very old books had a way of explaining things that makes them quite easy to understand and perhaps even better than the new ones which simply glance over a subject and almost assume knowledge.
That's not the reason people might be hesitant to read a book from the 1940s. Technology changes a lot, and maybe things changed in airplanes to make it obsolete, maybe not. That's why that comment was necessary.
I occasionally read accounts of flying the first generation of airplanes (or replicas), and it does seem to have been rather different then, not so much in first principles as in the craft of making it work.
If I am remembering this correctly, some pilots of piston-engined transport aircraft had difficulty transitioning to jet airliners, a problem addressed by an influential and well-regarded book (Davies, "Handling the Big Jets", 1967?) which, among other things, recommended putting aside the "throttle for height, stick for speed" principle.
 See, for example, https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1967/1967%20-%...
I'm not sure what prevents oscillation; nor how pitch is stablized (pointing downwards vs pointing up), but I've found hang gliders very stable.
The V shape thing you mentioned for hang gliders is also true for most light planes. It’s a self stabilizing thing. I think what prevents th oscillation is that as it comes to level, the amount of upward force from the other wing equalizes.
I hopped on a six or eight passenger tour plane operating from the grass field at Grand Marais Airport in Michigan around 1993. I was in the first row behind the pilot. There were high, gusty winds off Lake Superior and the pilot had to really work the yoke and throttle. It was almost athletic; the pilot was reacting to strong wind gusts -- big deflections of every control surface every second or two -- and yet the plane felt rock stable; if you had closed your eyes you could not have known there was this amazing pilot working it that hard. This went on from the moment he cleared the trees till just before touchdown. Really astonishing.
Around 2003 I took another flight in a Schweizer sailplane out of Boulder Municipal Airport in Colorado. I was amused by how the pilot somehow knew exactly where to find lift. He would deliberately fly along ridge lift, entering and exiting like there were signs in the sky; never a doubt where to find it even though the foothills were so far below there was no obvious correlation between the contours and the lift.
I think piloting is far removed from just about everything else. Non-pilots don't even suspect things that experienced pilots take for granted.
So a VFR pilot is trained in some of the basic instrument reading things needed for low visibility flight. But there’s a lot more expertise involved in safely flying instruments than in visual flight. Precise, mentally demanding procedures, multitasking. VFR pilots are also required to learn about why instrument flying is so much more difficult. A big part of the reason is spatial disorientation. Your senses tell you one thing while the instruments tell you another. And the scary part is that when the equipment fails, sometimes it’s your senses that are more correct. Pilots either blindly following their senses when their senses are wrong, or ignoring their senses when their instruments are wrong— both of those kill people.
To compare flying in a real small plane versus a simulator: When you go into a stall in a small plane, the feeling of dropping feels a lot like a roller coaster, with your stomach coming up into your mouth. That woozy feeling is much the same. And certain kinds of weather can cause a similar rapid change in elevation even without you changing the attitude of the plane. The small plane is so much more (potentially) wild than a big jet, it’s a bit more like being in a flying lawnmower. A simulator does teach lots of the skills you need to know, and is especially useful for establishing muscle memory for things like instrument scans and other procedures. Then doing that in a real plane is like doing the same thing, but on a wild roller coaster, and with the full knowledge that if you mess up you’ll die.
You should go for a ride! Tons of places offer very cheap introductory flights where you get to take the controls for a bit during that first flight.
Basically, you close your eyes while the instructor tosses the airplane all over the sky for a couple minutes in an attempt to get your inner ear fluid sloshing around to disorient you, then puts the airplane into a state where, e.g., you're in a deep stall, nose up, turning left, then instructs you to open your eyes and determine the airplane's attitude from reading the instruments. Once you have the attitude correctly described, then you return it to straight & level using instruments.
This was actually some of the most fun I had during pilot training. It was like a puzzle under stress (you only have so long before you hit the ground) figuring out what the airplane was doing and describing how to get out of the situation.
The point of teaching this to VFR students is to prevent the "178 seconds" situation so you will hopefully have enough instrument experience and calmness to turn the airplane around and get back into clear air.
The point of the article is to drive home the point that using your normal human instincts and feelings will kill you in that situation. You can be completely inverted and feel just fine. Only trusting what the instruments say will get you out of trouble (edit: and cross checking them to be sure you don't rely on a failed instrument).
And actually, the situation can deteriorate faster than you realize. I recall days with my instructor where, while it was technically VFR flight, it was so hazy that I spent a lot of time using instruments because I couldn't see the horizon very well.
In the U.S. we are required to give at least 3 hours of instrument training for Private Pilot license. There is no such requirement for Sport Pilot or Recreation Pilot License
In my experience teaching hundreds of private, instrument, and commercial pilots 3 hours is not enough to develop any kind of instrument proficiency. For people who take the instrument rating course it usually takes around 20 hours to develop minimal instrument proficiency. Simulator training helps a lot when done with a qualified instructor who understands how to teach instruments in a sim (unfortunately many don't). But even the students who nail the sim portion often struggle in the real aircraft when they are faced with task saturation.
There's some physiology to explain this, but one key point is that once you're in a coordinated turn, even a descending one, your weight is still going straight down the vertical axis of the seat. So, you'll think you're doing fine, and possibly even pull the turn tighter (the graveyard spiral), and fixate on things other than the attitude indicator and your plummeting altitude.
A similar and more modern take on these same fundamentals of flight dynamics titled "See How It Flies" is freely online at https://www.av8n.com/how/ — enthusiastically recommended.
Of additional potential interest to smart folks who like to read is the fact that the author's son is of note as well; he's written a lot of really great long-form journalism, often but not exclusively about aviation as well, both in high-profile magazines and in book form. He's on the short list of authors whom I read automatically.
Seek out "The Crash of EgyptAir 990," which ran in the New York Review of Books in 2002. It's STELLAR, but then his work across the board is especially solid.
Of his books, I think my favorites are "Inside the Sky," about flight, and "The Outlaw Sea," about shipping. "The Atomic Bazaar" is also great, if terrifying.
> The so-called "elevator" is really the airplane's speed control, the throttle is really
its up-and-down control. This is hard to believe but is one of the keys to the art of piloting.
When I read it as a student pilot, I found the book to be oddly written, but so applicable. That one sentence will do wonders for final approach and landings!
> At the very heart of winged flight lies the banked turn, a procedure that by now seems so routine and familiar that airline passengers appreciate neither its elegance and mystery nor its dangerously delusive character. The author, a pilot, takes us up into the subject.
During a ground lesson, I'd show the student the picture and say "of course, it's not like you'll have a building like that actually next to the runway!." They'd agree, then I'd point out the window at this building, right next to the runway.
While not to everyone’s taste, the style of writing is approachable and distils many somewhat technical concepts (for folks with a poor physics background) into very easily understandable passages.
The book is centred around on more how to fly an aircraft, rather than how an aircraft flies, but covers both equally well, and is quiet a refresher in all the current flight training manuals and regulations that one has to go through.
The first of those is almost as good as Stick and Rudder.
If you already have a 4 year degree and a relatively stable financial situation then I’d say go for it! Major airlines are hiring like crazy and just about anyone without skeletons in their closet should be working for a major over the next 10 years because of mandatory retirement.
An intro flight will cost about $200.