High Flight, reloaded

2 12 2010

Those of you who take even just a passing interest in aviation must have heard of the poem “High Flight”, written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an airman who died during World War II. The poem is an homage to the miracle of flight, and a tribute to the love of aviation. It is often read at pilots’ funerals, and then-President Ronald Reagan quoted from it at the memorial to the NASA astronauts who died in the Challenger Space Shuttle accident in January, 1986: “They have slipped the surly bonds of earth… and touched the face of God.”

Love the view from here... and there.

It is a beautiful and solemn poem.  But despite all its solemnity, someone has found a way to lighten the mood. I don’t know how long “High Flight, with FAA Supplement” has been on the internet – for all I know it’s 20 years old already and I just discovered it. I’d like to share it with you here if  you are not familiar with it. It is very funny, especially for those who have had to deal with the U.S. aviation authorities lately.

I recently had the unique pleasure of making the acquaintance of not only the FAA but also the German (LBA) and Swiss (BAZL) civil aviation authorities as well. Even if you are not a pilot (who should understand what the reams and reams of regulations all mean) you will get a mild appreciation for the bureaucracy that flying has become. The sky is ruled by rules, and as a pilot you need to be able to quote every single one of them verbatim.

And oh boy, if you have the nerve to actually violate one of them, you are in BIG TROUBLE. (Like I was a few months ago. Blog fodder for another day.)


High Flight, with FAA Supplement

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth(1)
And danced(2) the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed(3), and joined the tumbling mirth(4)
Of sun-split clouds(5), — and done a hundred things(6)
You have not dreamed of — Wheeled and soared and swung(7)
High in the sunlit silence(8). Hov’ring there(9),
I’ve chased the shouting wind(10) along, and flung(11)
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious(12) burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights(13) with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle(14) flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space(15),
Put out my hand(16), and touched the face of God.


1. Pilots must insure that all surly bonds have been slipped entirely before aircraft taxi or flight is attempted.
2. During periods of severe sky dancing, crew and passengers must keep seatbelts fastened. Crew should wear shoulder-belts as provided.
3. Sunward climbs must not exceed the maximum permitted aircraft ceiling.
4. Passenger aircraft are prohibited from joining the tumbling mirth.
5. Pilots flying through sun-split clouds under VFR conditions must comply with all applicable minimum clearances.
6. Do not perform these hundred things in front of Federal Aviation Administration inspectors.
7. Wheeling, soaring, and swinging will not be attempted except in aircraft rated for such activities and within utility class weight limits.
8. Be advised that sunlit silence will occur only when a major engine malfunction has occurred.
9. “Hov’ring there” will constitute a highly reliable signal that a flight emergency is imminent.
10. Forecasts of shouting winds are available from the local FSS. Encounters with unexpected shouting winds should be reported by pilots.
11. Pilots flinging eager craft through footless halls of air are reminded that they alone are responsible for maintaining separation from other eager craft.
12. Should any crewmember or passenger experience delirium while in the burning blue, submit an irregularity report upon flight termination.
13. Windswept heights will be topped by a minimum of 1,000 feet to maintain VFR minimum separations.
14. Aircraft engine ingestion of, or impact with, larks or eagles should be reported to the FAA and the appropriate aircraft maintenance facility.
15. Aircraft operating in the high untrespassed sanctity of space must remain in IFR flight regardless of meteorological conditions and visibility.
16. Pilots and passengers are reminded that opening doors or windows in order to touch the face of God may result in loss of cabin pressure.

(Thanks to http://www.skygod.com/quotes/flyingjokes.html#high)



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