I Could Never Be So Lucky Again: Jimmy Doolittle autobiography

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by flyingcheesehead, Jan 1, 2019.

  1. flyingcheesehead

    flyingcheesehead Touchdown! Greaser!

    Feb 23, 2005
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    So, I'm reading this right now, and highly recommend it. There's quite a lot of behind-the-scenes insights into aviation development in the interwar period, the buildup before WWII, the raid, and the 15th and 8th Air Forces... And I still have 200 or so pages to go!

    There's a quote in the book that I really like - I have been saying for a long time that "You have to push the envelope to become a better pilot, but only push one corner at a time." I like the way Doolittle put it, though with a bit less brevity:

    "It is a truism that the most important thing in flying is to learn your limitations and stay within them. I knew the wisdom of this from a previous night flight while flying 'contact'* from Cleveland to New York. On that occasion, the weather was gummy and I had been checking each revolving beacon as I passed it. When I came to the hills west of Elizabeth, New Jersey, a beacon failed to show up. As a consequence I almost ran into the low hills. I threw out a landing flare and landed. A farmer came out and asked why I'd landed. I explained that I'd been unable to check on the beacon. He advised that it had been out for about six weeks - and that the mail plane had just passed over. This was the first time I'd ever been 'flown over'. The tendency to take off and push on was strong. I reasoned that the mail pilot knew the beacon was out and knew the terrain better than I. He was flying within his limitations when he flew on, I'd be flying beyond mine if I followed.

    "I stayed on the ground until morning and thereafter was a better pilot. I had realized that the pilot who flew within his limitations would probably live to a ripe old age, whereas the pilot who flew beyond them would not. I also knew that different pilots had different limitations. This had been pointed up a few years before at McCook when we had few facilities and little ground equipment to do environmental testing on new airborne devices. It was therefore necessary to test them out in flight, and the test pilots spent many hours flying around the airfield to see how a new device held up under the accelerations, vibrations, and changes in temperature and pressure experienced in flight. Lieutenant Alex Pearson always spent these hours practicing precision flying; for instance, holding constant speed and altitude. As a result, he became extremely proficient and could fly a better speed course and do a better sawtooth climb than any of the rest of us.

    "I spent the hours flying low in the vicinity of McCook Field and on the main air routes in and out, memorizing the terrain. I knew every high building, tree, silo, windmill, radio tower, and high tension line in the area. I could therefore fly in - or under - adverse weather safely when other equally experienced pilots did not fly. This was not because I was a better or more daring pilot than my colleagues; constant practice had simply expanded my limitations. The trick was to learn your limitations, gradually expand them, but never go beyond them."

    * VFR, I think, based on context elsewhere

    Good stuff.
    Tarheelpilot and GRG55 like this.