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Airmanship is skill and knowledge applied to aerial navigation, similar to seamanship in maritime navigation. Airmanship covers a broad range of desirable behaviors and abilities in an aviator. It is not simply a measure of skill or technique, but also a measure of a pilot’s awareness of the aircraft, the environment in which it operates, and of his own capabilities.[1]

Airmanship can be defined as:[2]
  • A sound acquaintance with the principles of flight,
  • The ability to operate an airplane with competence and precision both on the ground and in the air, and
  • The exercise of sound judgment that results in optimal operational safety and efficiency.

The three fundamental principles of expert airmanship are skill, proficiency, and the discipline to apply them in a safe and efficient manner.[3] Discipline is the foundation of airmanship.[4] The complexity of the aviation environment demands a foundation of solid airmanship, and a healthy, positive approach to combating pilot error.[5]

The actions of Captain Alfred C. Haynes and the crew of United Airlines Flight 232 are often cited as an exemplar of good airmanship.[6] They were able to maintain control of their crippled McDonnell Douglas DC-10, bringing it to a survivable "controlled crash" in Sioux City, Iowa, after a complete loss of all flight controls following an engine failure in July 1989. They did this by improvising a control scheme on the spot using differential engine thrust on the two working engines.[7] Captain Haynes credited his Crew Resource Management training as one of the key factors that saved his own life, and many others.[8]

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board occasionally cites poor airmanship as a contributing factor in its determination of probable cause in aviation accidents, although it is implicit in many of the pilot error causes it often uses. For example, in its report on the December 1, 1993, fatal crash of Northwest Airlink Flight 5719, the NTSB determined the "failure of the company management to adequately address the previously identified deficiencies in airmanship" was a contributing factor.[9] More recently, in the February 2, 2005 business jet accident at Teterboro Airport, NTSB investigator Steve Demko, speaking about the probable cause, said determining an aircraft's weight and balance before takeoff is "basic airmanship," a "Flying 101 type of thing."[10] And in the 2006 New York City plane crash that killed New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, the NTSB cited "inadequate judgement, planning and airmanship" in its probable cause determination.[11]

A "failure of airmanship" was also cited by Maurice Baril, investigating the Tarnak Farm incident in Afghanistan, where the pilot of a U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcon mistakenly targeted a 500 pounds (230 kg) laser-guided bomb on training Canadian troops in April 2003, killing four of them.[12] Airmanship covers operation of the aircraft and all its systems, so in military usage, this includes the weapons systems of combat aircraft.


  1. ^ DeMaria, Chris, CFI (2006-11-09). "Understanding Airmanship". Aviation Channel. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  2. ^ Airplane Flying Handbook. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.: U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. 2004. pp. 15–7 to 15–8. FAA-8083-3A. Archived from the original on 2011-04-05. 
  3. ^ Kern, Anthony T,; Kern, Tony (1997). Redefining Airmanship. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 21. ISBN 0-07-034284-9. 
  4. ^ Kern, Anthony T,; Kern, Tony (1998). Flight Discipline. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 3. ISBN 0-07-034371-3. 
  5. ^ Lankford, Terry T. (1998). Controlling Pilot Error : Weather. Introduction by Tony Kern. McGraw-Hill Professional. pp. xvi. ISBN 0-07-137328-4. 
  6. ^ Galison, Peter (2000). Atmospheric Flight in the Twentieth Century. Berlin: Springer. pp. xi. ISBN 0-7923-6037-0. 
  7. ^ Kern, Anthony T,; Kern, Tony (1997). Redefining Airmanship. McGraw-Hill Professional. pp. 283–301. ISBN 0-07-034284-9. 
  8. ^ Haynes' Eyewitness account Archived 2013-10-26 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ "NTSB brief of accident DCA94MA022". 1994-12-27. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  10. ^ Collogan, David (2006-11-06). "NTSB Critical Of Failures In Challenger Overrun At TEB". Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  11. ^ "U-turn to blame for Lidle crash, NTSB says". AM New York. Tribune New York Newspaper Holdings, LLC. Associated Press. 2007-05-02. p. 04. The NTSB declared yesterday that the cause was 'inadequate judgement, planning and airmanship.' 
  12. ^ "Pilots blamed for 'friendly fire' deaths". BBC News. 2002-06-28. Retrieved 2007-03-01.