This is the “entry page” for my paper on the slow adoption of better flying methods in WW 2. Please link to this page, rather than to the actual PDF, which I will be updating.  Here is the paper itself. (July 19 version)

In the late 1930s, US military aviators in the American Army and Navy began using aviation checklists. Checklist became part of a new paradigm for how to fly, which I call Standard Procedure Flying, colloquially known as “flying by the book.” It consisted of elaborate standardized procedures for many activities, checklists to ensure they key steps had been done, and quantitative tables and formulas that specified the best settings, under different conditions, for speed, engine RPM, gasoline/air mixture, engine cooling, and many other parameters. This new paradigm had a major influence on reducing aviation accidents and increasing military effectiveness during World War II, particularly because of the rapidly increasing complexity of military aircraft, and the huge number of new pilots. The full paper can be downloaded by clicking here. Despite the benefits of Standard Procedure Flying for both safety and efficiency, by the end of WW2 only a few air forces had fully embraced it. This paper describes the highly varied adoption patterns of different forces (click on

Some of the delays in adoption were due to  pilots’ desire for autonomy and their dislike of military discipline. Experienced pilots generally preferred to use their own craft skills and decision making. Also, different flying styles were better for different military missions, such as fighters versus bombers. But today, all large military and civilian aviation organizations use Standard Procedure Flying. When  properly implemented, it is unambiguously superior to the older methods.

Slow adoption during WW2 cost many lives. Worst affected was probably the German Luftwaffe, whose new pilots suffered accidents rates of about 100 percent per year,  partly as a result of its antiquated flying paradigm. The British Royal Air Force and the US Navy were also slow to make full use of the new technology. Ironically, the US Navy published the first known formal checklist, in May 1937. I discuss why the ethos of Navy pilots and commanders, and the type of fighting it did during WW2, kept it from making the change to Standard Procedure Flying.

The paper is in draft form. I’m sure sections of it will upset many aviation enthusiasts, because it presents a rather negative picture of most of the WW2 combatants. War is needless waste, and  WW2 brought death on a huge scale. But it’s painful to read about all the pilots who might have survived, or at least lived a few more months. Please send me comments, either by posting here or emailing me. Thanks!

To point other people to this paper, please send them to this page, not the direct PDF document. A shortlink to the page is:    I will be uploading new versions of the PDF over the next month or so, as well as other chapters of my book.

The story also has lots of implications for health care, which I’m working on next.

Keywords: Military aviation, aviation safety, World War II, WW2, flying technique, quantitative flying, flight discipline, B-17, B-29, Luftwaffe, NATOPS, jet conversion, strategic bombing, flight training, USAAF, aviation culture, Battle of Midway, 8th Air Force;
craft versus science, art to science, technology diffusion, technology adoption, checklists, standard procedures.

(Note: This page has become a spam magnet, so I am closing the comments.)


  1. Pingback: Poor flight discipline and use of checklists in different WW2 AFs (20% accidents!)

  2. Having read a number of WWII pilot’s memoirs, I was struck by the number of fying accidents reported in the German accounts (296Verlag) – an the lack of them in British (Rawnsley, Wellum, Dundas) and US (Bud Anderson) accounts. Looking foreward to reading your paper!

  3. I didn’t know that – I have read only about 3 Luftw. memoirs, all in translation due to my ignorance of German. Is there are German/English language forum where I could get more information about what is in the German accounts? It’s anecdotal, but by tracking the descriptions of the accidents it may be possible to see a pattern.

  4. Yes, the booklet is very clear even though I can’t read the words. According to one of the autobiographies I read (probably Gunther Rall), this may have been some of the only “how to fly well ” documentation written. And it was written 5 years into the war (June 1944), and informally by a mid-level officer. Why the aversion to written and standardized advice? Of course, the RAF also seemingly had little beyond the short Pilots’ Notes. But at least the RAF had them.

  5. Pingback: Mid War Allied production rates: Trained Pilots VS Aircraft Built.

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