Letter of the day: Stockdale on Philosophy


Ray Richards sent me the letter printed below in response to a story I wrote about James Stockdale, one of the greatest leaders aviation has ever known. The story focuses on Stockdale’s code of ethics, his will power, and his source of strength. I tie this to homebuilding with points like this:


“In Stockdale’s test of wills, his enemy’s goal was to make him succumb to fear. If he did, they could determine his mindset and actions from there forward.  It is easy to say that 99.99% of us will not find ourselves in such circumstances. Literally true enough, but perhaps misleading. Stoic philosophy is all about being in command of yourself, and not letting anyone or any circumstance dictate your opinions, attitudes or actions. Stockdale’s enemy was obvious, his goals were clear.

Your life and the challenges you choose may not be as dramatically profound as Stockdale’s, but they are no less important. These things literally are the value of your life and your satisfaction with leading it. Choosing to learn, build and fly are not common goals. The vast majority of people are afraid of these things. If this fear stops them from acting on their ideas and dreams, then someone else is controlling them.

People are not born to be afraid, they are taught this. Stoic philosophy is a method of undoing this, recognizing your own value and sovereignty as an individual. Aviation is a singularly appropriate Arena to develop one’s personal codes.  It offers near limitless potential to those who take it seriously, it holds serious risks and penalties for those who do not.  At any level worth engaging, it is not a pastime, a game, nor a sport. It is a real endeavor worthy of your devotion.”




Above, James Stockdale before his aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam. As Commander of the Air Wing he flew all of the aircraft types they operated. At the Gulf of Tonkin, he flew an F-8 Crusader; later he was shot down flying an A-4 Skyhawk. You can read the complete story at this link:

James Stockdale – Philosophy



Letter from Ray Richards:


“Very well written Sir. I thought that you may enjoy reading a response from someone who has found a considerable applicability in their personal life when related to several of the points you have written about.
My Daughter is finishing her Freshman “Doolie” year at the United States Air Force Academy. She has been laboring over the selection of her major, running through a number of Engineering options intended to help with her future aspiration of becoming a pilot. Last week, she made a decision that at first seemed quite a departure from her end goal. She decided to select Philosophy as a major. Her reasoning went back to High School when an exceptional Teacher spoke about Admiral Stockdale and his personal success with the effective use of Philosophical teachings to control his own actions through Stoicism and how it has continued to be a model for the development of future Officers. Looking back on those dinner time conversations when her eyes would light up explaining to me the writing’s of Epictetus, it all makes perfect sense that she follow this path of education. I believe that this may be the most valuable decision she will make while preparing to become an effective Air Force Officer, potential Pilot, and any other aspirations she may pursue in the future.
Thank you for the clean and understandable read. I’m sure my Daughter will enjoy it as well. Perhaps she and I will discuss it, not over the dinner table, but on Skype this evening. Regards, Ray Richards.”




Read further comments on the philosophy of James Stockdale from fellow Corvair builders at this link:  Mail Sack – James Stockdale


About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

One Response to Letter of the day: Stockdale on Philosophy

  1. dan glaze says:

    Courage Under Fire, by James Stockdale, very good reading, dan-o

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