An Instructor’s Message to his Pupil (by Brian Thomas)

Welcome to the wonderful world of aviation. For the next few months, you and I are going to share a relationship unique in its context and content. It will be similar to all the experiences you have shared with any of your teachers before and yet it will be vastly different. The reason for this is simple. What your other teachers have taught you has resulted, to a great extent, in what you are. What I shall teach you will be a matter of life and death. You see, flying is a serious business – an artistic science if you will – which requires the complete and unflinching dedication and industry from those who practice the art, and if you do so with complete and selfless zeal, it is the nearest thing to bliss. Keep this in mind and never forget why you are here. It is for the very good reason that you have been touched by the magic of flight and if you work at it, I assure you will soon know the reason why birds sing.

In the course of our journey together, I will reveal to you just the very basics of the art of flying. The rest you will learn over the years. The best classroom is the cockpit and the longer time you spend in there the more you learn. And the process is continuous and unending. The day you hang up your flight bag you will not have learnt all there is to learn about it; so don’t ever think you know it all. If you ever feel you do, maybe it is time to turn in your wings.

During the next few months, you might, at times, feel the rough edge of my tongue. Be still and know that when I yell, it is for you to remember something that might one dark night save your life. Equally, if I pat your back, do not think you have mastered the act. It just happens to be one of your good days – you will have many bad days in your career, believe me. Through the highs and lows, never lose sight of the fact that your goal and mine is the same – we both want you to wear the golden wings one day and wear these with pride because you have earned them, not bought, stolen or inherited them.

I shall watch your progress closely, now and in the future. If you are restless today about a manoeuvre and you toss and turn in bed at night wondering what it is that you are doing wrong, let me assure you, I shall also be tossing and turning in bed wondering what it is that I am not doing right to teach it to you correctly. In the future, when you do well and get all the credit I shall be satisfied and know in my swelling chest that I did my job. But, God forbid, if you should one day go away to that big airport in the sky, I shall forever live with the guilt of what it was that I left out in your education that resulted in your death. Because, my young friend, it is a fact that all human error accidents have their foundations in the training establishments. So rather than have your blood on my hands, I shall, at times, wield the whip. So never doubt my intentions whether the distance between you and me is wide or narrow. Remember, I do care, more than you think.

Repayment? I don’t need any. The fact that you will never forget me is all the reimbursement I need and someday, you will sit here and say these very words to a pupil of yours and in doing so understand me a little better. This is what makes this relationship so unique. It is based on the principle of passing the baton from one generation to another without faltering or belittling its awesome significance. So let us go now and get into our gear. We have got to learn a great deal together and have fun doing it – both you and I.

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Lt Cdr Brian Thomas, QFI

This story was originally written by my dear friend and instructor Lt Cdr Brian Thomas for Naval Aviation’s Safety Journal ‘Meatball’ in the late nineties. He is one of the most venerated flying instructors from Indian Navy’s helicopter stream and many of us had the good fortune of passing through his hands. He is currently Lead Pilot at Air Methods, USA.

Digitized & reproduced with the author’s permission on the occasion of Teacher’s Day in India. 

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