Take a Look; It’s in a Book

FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff
4 min readSep 5

By James Williams, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine

If you are a child of the 80s or 90s, you may remember the titular phrase above from the opening of “Reading Rainbow,” the edutainment TV show that promoted literacy to kids. Reading opened up the world to kids from any background, and thanks to public libraries, often at basically no cost. Thanks to my mother’s career as a librarian, I spent quite a bit of time in public libraries checking out various books.

The sheer amount of knowledge that was a short stroll away in even a small library was staggering. But therein lies the problem. How do you find what you’re looking for? In the library, you would start with the card catalog. For the younger folks who may not have ever seen one, it was a series of cabinets with a card for each book organized by subject using a classification system. This is usually either the Dewey Decimal or the Library of Congress system in the U.S. Once you learned the system, you could skip the card and just wander through whatever section interests you to browse the available stock.

The internet changed many things, but one of the biggest was the immediate access to so much information on a wide variety of subjects. Instead of getting in your car and going to the library, you can simply sit down at your computer or even just pull out your phone. But we still have the same problem, how do you find what you’re looking for?

New Media, Same Problem

With the arrival of the internet, a new card catalog and Dewey Decimal system were needed. We now have modern search engines like Google and Bing to help us find the knowledge we seek. But this creates a new challenge. In the old days, if you found a nonfiction book in the library, there was a pretty good chance the information was mostly credible. The processes of editing, review, production, and selection for a library created an essentially trustworthy body of knowledge, albeit one that required large amounts of time, effort, and money to function.

The internet reverses this trend, brings far more knowledge to everyone, and allows information that may have been incorrectly weeded out to reach people. In aviation, the flip side is that it also enables hangar lore that would have rightly been weeded out to gain prominence. So we have reversed the prior situation as we now have a highly searchable “library” of unknown quality. So how do we sort our sources?

It is In a Book

In academic research, they always say go to the primary sources, the original documents. From there, you can start to build out your understanding. So what are the “original documents” when learning to fly? The FAA has a host of handbooks and manuals that would qualify. Both the Airplane Flying Handbook and the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK) cover various subjects and can form a solid foundation for future learning. Even better, they are freely available online. Interested in weather and how it impacts aviation? It’s in the Aviation Weather Handbook. Concerned about flying at night? It’s in the Airplane Flying Handbook (chapter 11). Want to brush up on air traffic control procedures? Check out the Aeronautical Information Manual. Worried about getting laser eye surgery? It’s in the Aeromedical Safety brochures. There are even specific manuals for helicopter, balloon, and glider operations.

With this online reference library, you can go twice as high and begin building your own library. When you have free time, stroll through the virtual library and dig into any subject that interests you. You may not become a subject matter expert, but you will get the foundation you need to have better conversations with your instructors and fellow pilots. Each look at each book will better equip you for the aviation adventure that lies ahead.

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This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.



FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff

Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. Magazine that is part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).