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Things Have Come a Long Way

Posted 1 years 293 days ago ago by Admin

A friend of mine recently sent me a copy of a letter addressed to all copilots at American Airways dated 25 October 1930.  

When I read it, I realized how far we’ve come in 92 years in the crew resource management world. In fact, quite a lot of what I read, I found shamelessly politically incorrect when compared to today’s thinking in our aviation world.  

Here is the unedited letter exactly as it appeared:


Every man in an organization has a certain part to play and duty to perform.  The first pilot is delegated the responsibility of keeping the ship in safe flying condition; the traffic department has the responsibility of ordering the ships in and out and making certain that everyone in the operations department performs his duty.  Even with all this division of authority into the above named competent departments, there are still many SMALL CHORES which have been left undone, and for this reason and none other, there has created in the aviation industry a demand for THE CO-PILOT.

There are now fourteen co-pilots in the Southern Division of American Airways, Inc., whose flying time ranges from 400 hours to 2500 hours.  Regardless of how much flying time a co-pilot has had, it is necessary that all co-pilots be regarded alike in their superiors, THE FIRST PILOT.  Your job is to do many things which other employees do not want to do.  Your immediate superior is the first pilot. His wants are your orders—he is king—you are his faithful and alert servant. You are on probation always; your working hours are from now on and your pay is small. Your advancement is uncertain and there are thousands of other first pilot aspirants striving to get your job at even less money and more work. You are not employed because of your flying ability and by your employment you are not employed because of your flying ability and by your employment you are not assured ever of having a run of your own as first pilot.

The pilot with whom you now have the privilege of flying largely controls your destiny. If you handle these many details assigned you, many of which are unpleasant, and if you prove to be of value to him and to others, you may assume that you will have the privilege of remaining as co-pilot for him until some years to come, at which time you will have learned much from your associations and flying experiences with him; and you will have won for yourself recognition by the company and all, as a gentleman and as an experienced co-pilot worthy of promotion.

You were not employed to do the flying, not only because you are not considered capable but because far better pilots, the finest in the world, have been employed for that work and if you are permitted to take the controls at any time you may consider this a special favor on the part of the first pilot. A co-pilot who does his job well, makes very little noise and listens attentively to his superiors and will in time demand and receive recognition for his services.

As co-pilot, there is something which really is worth working for and which can be attained but first IT MUST BE EARNED. As long as you do your work well and conduct yourself strictly as a co-pilot, this company will regard you really as an important department of the organization and you will find many very good friends among those with whom you are working. You are going to be asked to do many personal favors for the older pilots but always keep in mind that these same older pilots are at some time later going to be in a position to do many and greater favors for you.

If you know yourself to have an excess of pride, swallow it: if you have personal faults, overcome them: always make a neat and pleasant impression on your passengers and upon those with whom you work and live.

Trusting that you are successful in your enterprise of becoming A GOOD CO-PILOT,

Sincerely yours,



American Airways was a common brand used by a number of independent carriers back then. These included Southern Air Transport in Texas, Southern Air Fast Express (SAFE) in the western United States, Universal Aviation in the Midwest that operated a transcontinental air/rail route, Thompson Aeronautical Services  operated a Detroit-Cleveland route, and Colonial Air Transport in the Northeast. 

Like many early carriers, American Airways earned its keep carrying U.S. Mail. By 1933, American Airways operated a transcontinental route network serving 72 cities, mostly in the Northeast, Midwest and Southwest.

As I read this letter I was reminded of the sayings: ‘Whipping will continue until morale improves” and “No good deed goes unpunished.” Or more to the point, “We’re not happy until you’re unhappy.”

But reading into the spirit of this letter addressed to the hapless copilots working in this company, makes me think they are all but wearing gags over their mouths and being fed bread and water and that they should be overjoyed for the opportunity to bow down in reverence and give unrestrained homage to an almighty captain or ‘first pilot’ as Mr. Wallace referred to them. 

In many of the organizations I’ve worked for there was always the threat from management with a supervisor or chief pilot saying, “You know, I’ve got a hundred resumes in my desk drawer if you don’t like the way we do things around here.”  This letter reminds me of that threat. In fact Mr. Marshall says as much when he cautions in his letter:

 “You are on probation always. Your advancement is uncertain and there are thousands of other first pilot aspirants striving to get your job at even less money and more work.”  

Man, I’ve heard that before!  

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way. In fact, operators in the helicopter world are scrambling to find pilots. In the airlines perfectly serviceable aircraft sit on the ramp idle losing revenue because airline companies can’t find the men and women to fill the pilot seats. The time has now come for management to bow down to the pilots to try and entice them to work for their company. Oh, how far we’ve come and to that I say hallelujah!


About Randy:
Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected].

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