Ex Libris

Pilots don’t read very much.

Just ask any chief pilot or flight ops head and they’ll tell you that pilots don’t read NOTAMS or memos – or e-mails, for that matter!

However, when it comes to recreational reading, it may be a different story – certainly in my case.

I have a veritable library of “flying” books, ranging from the whole set of Ernest K Gann’s books, to many biographies and histories. I must have indicated as much somewhere in one of my posts, as about two years ago Pen and Sword contacted me to suggest that I should perhaps read some of their publications for possible review. Their logo includes the heading “Bringing you Closer to the Past” – which explains their catalogues of special interest publications. Long story short – after battling the SA postal service, I finally received From the Spitfire Cockpit to the Cabinet Office.

A typical Pen and Sword offering, this is the memoirs of the late Air Commodore JF “Johnny” Langer, CBE AFC DL. A career Royal Air Force pilot, he joined the RAF towards the end of WW2 and, as pilots could wait for up to a year for a flying posting , volunteered to fly gliders in India, preparing for airborne assaults in Burma. Later in his career he would return to the far East in various postings – the final time overseeing the creation of the Singapore Air Force.

JF Langer book

Post war he served on fighters, first in Germany and later commanding No 43 (F) Squadron – the famous “Fighting Cocks” at Leuchars. As a Group Captain he commanded RAF Valley and later became Director of Flying Training. In this position he set up the original Red Arrows in Gnats and saw their transition onto Hawks.  Of particular interest is his co-chairing of the multi-national committee to bring the Tornado into service, and his responsibilities in introducing the Hawk trainer into the RAF (and the US Navy).

Retiring after 37 years of RAF service, he served as Civil Aviation Security Adviser to the UK Government.

That’s the very short summary.

The book itself is typical of a self-written memoir, full of minutiae and sometimes quite long-winded. Bearing in mind that he wrote these memories down over three years while already in his eighties, it is easier to understand where the sometimes quaint and often almost archaic descriptions come from. Be prepared to decipher many bits of “RAF-speak” and a military attitude to most situations described – the writing often reminds one of a staff paper, but at least with some typically dry British humour thrown in here and there! At times he almost touches on ribaldry (he quite bluntly lists some of his youthful sexual conquests), but constantly one senses an understated but very detailed approach to the typical peace-time career of an air force pilot. This said, he is never shy to make mention of some of his achievements as a pilot and sportsman!

One issue, about which he minces no words, is his dislike of military personnel who did not meet his demanding expectations. He is particularly scathing about some senior officers whom he regarded as obstructive to his career advancement. His aim was to end his career as an Air Vice Marshall (AVM) – something he did not achieve.

Air Commodore Langer remained active in retirement, still acting as a tour guide at Kelmscott Manor in the Cotswolds well into his eighties.

From the Spitfire Cockpit to the Cabinet Office covers a period from the end of WW2 to the first military jets, through the Cold War and the Victor series, to the modern fast jets and the security threats to modern airliners. If military and aviation history is your cup of tea – then you will thoroughly enjoy this book!

Featured Image: World of Aircraft Design; WordPress.com.







On MAMILs and Jekyll & Hyde

While reading a recent Sunday paper, I added a new word to my vocabulary: MAMIL (Middle Aged Men in Lycra).

Around the area where I reside, MAMILs flourish – they thrive on the beautiful scenery and the abundance of coffee shops. They also seem to hunt in packs, but not silently and stealthily as one would expect – rather garish and brash colours give away the expensive stores their apparel was bought from, and loud conversation gives away their actual occupations (mostly finance and stocks).

Somehow, when I watch TV coverage of le Tour, the small, rather emaciated professional cyclists look – well, professional. MAMILs mostly look like beached whales on thin wheels, tottering into trendy coffee shops. When will they learn that tight lycra pants were probably not intended for the male anatomy?

When they actually ride, the Jekyll and Hyde personalities emerge: Apparently placid men in boring eight-to-five jobs suddenly turn into hooligans. The road rules, which they would (more-or-less) abide by when driving their BMW’s, Range Rovers and McLarens, are suddenly redundant. Now they are free to terrorise other road users – riding five abreast, hogging lanes, shouting abuse at anyone daring to come too close or show some irritation. Some MAMILs actually take to bashing on cars and threatening those who dare to stop at a red light in the lane they would like to occupy.

The fact is, you actually cannot be Jekyll and Hyde, not unless you happen to have a very serious personality disorder. You are either the one, or the other and the way you behave on a bicycle will indicate how you would behave in a car, in your day-job, as a father, husband…. In short, you may adjust your behaviour to suit certain situations or environments, but it does not change who you are.

This is an area of concern and new study in aviation Human Factors. We have accepted that behaviour style analysis can assist pilots and crew to understand themselves and others a little better – thus creating an environment where appropriate behaviours should assist in ensuring safety.

Now, however, we are considering other influences and personality becomes a focus area. Just compare the psychometric tests of, say twenty years ago, with those used by some airlines today: Chalk and cheese.

Modern psychometrics look for certain competencies (see ICAO competencies) in pilots. One would expect the basic technical knowledge and hands-on flying skills to be there – it is interesting, though, that only four of the nine required competencies are based on traditional flying skills: Flight Path Management (Manual and Automated) and Knowledge and Application of Procedures.

The other five required competencies are Human Factors skills: Communication, Problem Solving & Decision Making, Situational Awareness, Leadership and Teamwork, and Workload Management.

These competencies can obviously be enhanced by training and experience, but by ensuring that pilot candidates display these competencies, their training and successful integration into a safety culture is made easier.

The problem of Jekyll and Hyde still exists, however. If you display a disdain for rules and regulations in one aspect of your life – you will show the same disdain in other aspects. The FAA Risk Management Handbook mentions that Human Behaviour studies indicate that there is a direct correlation between disdain for rules and aircraft accidents.


From: FAA Risk Management Handbook.

Bottom line is, whatever you wear and whatever your choice of Sunday morning transport, you cannot hide who you really are! And, if you happen to be a pilot – imagine others’ surprise at your law-breaking behaviour.

Would you let your wife and children fly with someone displaying a disdain for rules and regulations?

(Featured image from The Human Cyclist – WordPress.com)