Back in the 1990s, I covered the regional and start-up aviation business at the now-defunct Commuter/Regional Airline News. I used to do special reports and white papers for our subscribers. I did a roundtable with representatives of all the regional aircraft and engine manufacturers, and I needed to break up some white space.
I had stumbled on Dave English’s Skygods Great Aviation Quotes, and was able to liberally sprinkle that and future reports with citations from his website. It’s still my go-to place when I’m looking for a quote.
English, an Airbus A320 pilot for a major airline, started the website back in 1995, using Netscape Gold 2.0. He recalls seeing lists of quotes floating around web lists and he created his own, based on aviation stories he wrote.
“The list took off because people started writing in with contributions. There were no ads or Google back then,” English recalls. “I had no idea how big it would become. I got an email from Len Morgan, a monthly columnist at Flying and the author of several books. He loved the list and said it should be a book.”
The parent company of Aviation Week, McGraw Hill, published his book, Slipping the Surly Bonds: Great Quotations on Flight, in 1998. He also wrote The Air Up There: More Great Quotations on Flight, in 2003.
“Morgan has passed away, but I owe him a debt of gratitude because he showed how it worked. Slipping the Surly Bonds was an early version of the website,”says English. “Since then, people have said more cool and funny things. The website is now the more complete collection.”
English spent time creating the quote categories, trying to differentiate them to see what worked and what didn’t. “There was no great taxonomy or philosophical division in creating them. I cover everything from fighter pilot to airline to space to astronomy quotes,” he explains. “You can also search by name. And people using it have helped, because they do corrections and additions.”
How does English decide what makes the cut? “I have to like the quote,” he says. “There’s no committee or official charter. If the quote has historical significance or if it seems to encapsulate something important, I include it.”
English normally updates the website when he sees something interesting or someone sends in a quote. “I can add quotes anytime, ranging from 2-3 times a week up to once a month,” he says. “There’s a Facebook page that works really well and takes care of the spammers.
I asked English to cite his 3 favorite aviation quotes. “There’s a lot of the fun in finding new ones that are revealing and short. One I got a few days ago was from Gov. Rick Perry,” he says. “At Texas A&M, he wanted to be veterinarian and did his undegrad years in animal science and got grades of Cs Ds and Fs in chemistry. So he said in a speech: ‘Four semesters of organic chemistry made a pilot out of me.’ He became a C130 pilot in the Air Force.”
Second, English says he’s reading The Hunters, by James Solter, and it’s superb writing. “Solter, talking about taking off and leaving ground, said ‘It was still an adventure, as exciting as love, as frightening.’”
The third one, says English, comes from Mark Twain,’ “The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be? It is the same the angels breathe,’” he notes. “Twain had no great knowledge of the stratosphere or to be at 35,000 feet, but you can sense he understood it with that quote.”
So since I asked English for his favorite three quotes, I need to return the favor and do the same:
I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things . . .
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Once you get hooked on the airline business, it’s worse than dope.
— Ed Acker, while Chairman of Air Florida
This is a nasty, rotten business.
— Robert L. Crandall, CEO & President of American Airlines.
So — what are some of your favorite aviation quotes?