Flight, something that comes so natural to creatures like birds and insects has fascinated humankind for centuries. There have been many attempts at putting human beings in the sky, many which have failed. The first recorded instance of modern flight was in 1783, with Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier and the first ever hot-air balloon flights. Then the truly first powered flight was by Henri Giffard in 1852 and his steam-powered airship. Clement Ader was the first to fly a manned powered, heavier than air machine in 1890, and then, in 1903 the famous Wright Brothers took to the air at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. These innovations have led to the planes that we have today, capable of transporting many people back and forth, or flying faster than the speed of sound!
As amazing as the history of flight has been, there has been plenty of darker parts within, filled with mishaps and unfortunate accidents. It's enough to make people fear flying. For most, flying can be avoided in our day to day lives, but for other people it is crucial. There are people who have to travel for work where other modes of transportation are inconvenient. Pilots especially can't let any fears of flying get to them since it's their job!
One way they cope with any anxiety towards flying is believing in certain superstitions. No matter how out there some of them are, believing in this superstitions is a way for pilots to kind of take control of what may or may not happen to them while they do their job. Today we bring you 25 flying superstitions that pilots actually believe.
This superstition might sound a little strange to most, but there are pilots out there that take this one very seriously.
A former WWII pilot, Dave Toomey recalled a fellow pilot who took this superstition seriously, as he recalled in an interview with Air & Space Magazine.
One day before a mission he allowed his photograph to be taken and then his plane was attacked, barely making it back. "Barely made it back on one engine. After that, if someone ever took a picture of him, he wouldn’t fly that day", Toomey remembers.
We all know that a good way to start anyone's day is with a good meal that feels a person feeling full and gives them the energy they need. For some pilots it isn't just important that they eat a good meal, they have to eat the same meal before every flight.
For some pilots, it's a comfort food that helps put them at ease before flying. And for others, it's a way to guarantee that they don't get sick while they're on the job since they'd already been familiar with what they ate.
This superstition seems more like a social faux pas to avoid. Most pilots will never talk about plane crashes in the cockpit and will get pretty upset if anyone does. There isn't an exact origin to how this became a superstition but if we had to take a guess its because most people would consider it in bad taste to talk about a plane crash while on a plane.
It might seem to some like a pilot was asking for bad karma.
Even if the plane is still on the ground, most pilots will avoid talking about plane crashes.
This superstition is usually done by pilots who have flown or have trained with a Cessna model plane. A Cessna is a type of small plane that was often used for private and military flights. Cessna was one of the smallest planes and many pilots weren't used to the way the wings sat on the plane.
They would hit their foreheads on the edge of the wing, leaving a diamond-shaped forehead mark on their skin.
Airliners.net, a forum for pilots has a few of them admit to doing this very ritual.
Sometimes the origins of superstitions get lost as time goes on, and no one exactly knows why or how it became one.
Some pilots will never walk in front of the engine of the plane, always ducking under the intake or the exhaust when they need to get inside of the plane.
The reason for it? Some pilots actually believe that walking in front of the engine and letting it "see" a pilot will make it want to end the pilot! How wild is that?
Gum, depending on where it is gum is either a delicious treat that is fun to chew and blow bubbles with or the bane of a person's existence when it is stuck to something. Chewing gum can certainly calm a person down.
During WWII many pilots would chew gum and some would even take their chewed gum and place it on the wings of their planes.
It was a way to "tip the scales of luck in their favor" by tipping the weight of the plane a little. We don't think commercial pilots can do that nowadays, though.
For pilots, the weather can really affect whether they have an easy flight or a rough one. If the weather is bad enough pilots won't even be permitted to fly, so it would make sense that most pilots hope for good weather.
A lot of pilot superstitions center around weather and many pilots believe that pointing at the sky will trigger bad weather.
They also believe in only addressing the sun when complimenting good weather conditions. No one knows exactly where this superstition came from, but when it comes to the weather why tempt fate?
Sometimes repetitive routines can bring people comfort. If a person puts their keys in the same spot every day, then they are sure to never lose their keys right? For pilots, repeating the same set of rituals as they do pre-flight checkups can both offer comfort and help them keep track of what they've already done.
Pilots don't need any sudden changes that could potentially ruin their flight. It could be as simple as eating the same meal before every flight or listening to the same music.
This pilot superstition ties in with the other ones where pilots prefer to keep the same routines before a flight, rather than try something they hadn't before. Sticking with something they know that works is more comforting than taking a chance on something they are unfamiliar with.
And since oil is pretty important to a plane (it is not going to go anywhere without it), most pilots probably think it is better to err on the side of caution and stick to what they know.
There are a lot of superstitions out there for passengers on planes. One of the most believed ones is that touching the plane offers a bit of good luck, like passengers are thanking the plane for its services and asking it to get them to their destination safely.
Pilots share this same thought process with passengers though they like to touch the nose of the plane specifically.
Pilots also tend to develop a deep bond with planes that they fly frequently, giving it "special attention" or even sometimes an affectionate nickname.
When it comes to flying everyone knows that there are some official rules for flying and 'unofficial' rules to flying. These unofficial rules are often tips about airplane etiquette that passengers should follow to make the flight easier on themselves and everyone around them. Even pilots have rules, some that are often humorous.
One of these "rules of the air" is to stay out of clouds, warning that the "silver lining" in the clouds could be another airplane going in the opposite direction.
Which might explain why some pilots believe its bad luck to see a plane coming from another direction.
Pilots who have experience with a Cessna model of a plane have a bit of a unique experience. Cessna planes were notorious for unlocking from their positions. Which isn't something any pilot would want, as it could send the pilot and co-pilot jerking forward.
So pilots who have flown a Cessna wiggle back and forth in their chair, fondly dubbed as the "Cessna Butt Wiggle", to make sure the chair is locked in place. This little ritual has even managed to say with pilots who end up flying other planes.
The number 13 is considered to be bad luck in many Western cultures. There are a number of speculations as to why it is considered to be such an unlucky number, from Biblical to mathematical.
There's even one about it being related to the Norse God Loki!
Whatever the origin to the bad luck that surrounds the number 13, quite a few people take it seriously. Including pilots. Even some airlines don't like to mess with the number 13. When numbering their gates they will skip 13 entirely.
For those who aren't pilots, or at least really into planes, what part of the plane is the fuselage might leave a person stumped. The fuselage is the main part of the airplane, where the cockpit is and where all the passengers are seated.
According to AviationCV, one superstition dealing with the fuselage of a plane is that scratching it makes it more durable.
The whole plane is covered in a "skin" of, usually, titanium alloy. The skin is less than an inch thick but it is pretty durable.
There are a lot of signs that are considered to be good luck to different cultures. In Western cultures seeing a rainbow is considered to be good luck. Why are rainbows considered to be signs of good luck?
One reason is Biblical with a rainbow being a sign of peace. So it isn't unusual to think that a lot of pilots would consider flying over a rainbow to be a sign of good luck. At the very least it is a pretty sight for anyone who gets to see it happen.
There are a lot of parts that go into making a plane the amazing piece of technology that it is. There is the engine and the wings of course, and there is also the wheels of the plane.
Even though planes fly, it is pretty important that the wheels on a plane are in good condition.
The wheels on a plane both help it take off and land, and something wrong with them could lead to trouble. That could be what led to the superstition of kicking the tires of a plane, from pilots checking on them.
All over the world, there are people who think that certain items carry special "powers" to them. Often these items are called talismans or good luck charms, believed to either be charged with or bring about good luck to anyone who has one.
A good luck charm can be anything, like a four leaf clover or even some type of coin. A lot of pilots carry a lucky charm with them as they fly, as an extra boost of "good luck" and to make sure nothing goes wrong during the trip.
It always helps to offer words of encouragement to someone working hard. Anyone who has worked with another person or work on a team of people knows that a good pep talk can really boost the productivity and efficiency of a team. Could the same be applied to object such as a plane?
Some pilots seem to think so, as some will talk to their planes as they go through pre-flight checks, encouraging it for a safe and smooth ride. Maybe offering a little thanks to a plane every once in a while will make a trip go by easier.
This superstition ritual is another one that comes from the WWII days. A lot of pilots who smoked would often only smoke half of a cigarette before a flight and then save the other half for when they got back.
It was done by non-smokers as well, they would eat half of a meal and then return to the rest once they got back safely. It was done to give pilots just one more "incentive" to make it back alive, give them something to "look forward to".
Certain superstitions occur in some cultures and not in others. For example, black cats are considered to be a sign of bad luck in most Western cultures, but it is a sign of good luck in Japan.
When it comes to pilot superstitions, pilots from Russia will try to avoid saying the word "last" when talking about flying.
It is considered to kind of "summon bad vibes" when talking about flying. So pilots will go out of their way to work around saying it, using words like "concluding".
Pilots, whether it is for commercial, private or military flying all have to spend great lengths of time away from their family and loved ones. The distance can be hard on both the pilot and all the people that they leave behind, so most will often bring along items that remind them of home.
Pilots, especially back during WWII would often keep photos of family and other loved ones in their hats. The thought was that their loved ones would be watching over them from above.
This might be one of the "stinkiest" superstitions for a pilot to have, but many pilots have an article of clothing that they believe is "lucky" that they don't wash.
It was especially prevalent in WWI and WWII where pilots wouldn't wash their scarves, "often using them until they fell apart and turned completely black from sweat and oil".
Washing a lucky item would wash away all of their luck. Lucky articles of clothing is not something that just pilots believe in. There are quite a few athletes that believe in it too.
The reason behind this one is certainly a sad one. Especially during WWII, many pilots felt like they may lose their lives and never return to their families. So often, before a mission, many would tidy up their living spaces and leave behind notes for loved ones.
As depressing as this ritual may be, some pilots do this as a way to prepare for the worst, in hopes of keeping it from happening. But, according to an article by Disciples Of Flight, some pilots believe doing so tempts fate.
Okay, well we can see how whistling inside a plane might not be so great on the ears, but most people probably wonder why some pilots won't whistle on a plane. There are quite a few whistling superstitions from all over the world, a lot of them that think whistling will attract bad spirits.
In the United Kingdom, there is a superstitious belief in a group of mysterious spirits known as the "Seven Whistlers" that are a really bad omen.
In Russia whistling is thought to bring poverty and whistling on a ship is thought to encourage storms!
As scary as it can be to experience turbulence it is a fairly normal part of flying and most pilots assure passengers that it is nothing to worry about. As long as passengers sit down and put on their seatbelts when the seatbelt light comes on. A lot of pilots actually rub the seatbelt light a little before pressing it if they experience persistent turbulence.
They do it to"‘let the plane know’ they are about to do this in hopes the turbulence will abate," a military and commercial pilot said during an interview with a writer from Disciples Of Flight.
Resources: AviationCV.com, Airliners.net, DreamsTakingFlight.com, AirSpaceMag.com, HartzellProp.com, DisciplesOfFlight.com