Flying by the Seat of My Pants – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did your boss just tell you you’re “flying by the seat of your pants?” If that’s the case, they’re telling you that you are out of your depth with the task, and you don’t know what you’re doing.

This post unpacks everything you need to know about the origin and meaning of this phrase.

Meaning

When you’re “flying by the seat of your pants,” you’re entering into the unknown and taking action without planning. It’s a similar phrase to “winging it,” and both expressions come from aviation.

If you’re flying by the seat of your pants, it means you don’t know what you’re doing, or you have no way of knowing if you’re on the right track; essentially, you’re “flying blind.”

Example Usage

“I’m not really planning ahead for the vacation. I think I’m just going to arrive at the destination and start flying by the seat of my pants.”

“Jeff doesn’t know what he’s doing with the project, he doesn’t have the skill set to handle it effectively, and he’s just flying by the seat of his pants.”

“I went to the gym for the first time today and found all the weights and machines overwhelming. I don’t know where to start, so I started flying by the seat of my pants for my workout.”

“I didn’t study the course material for the test. So, I guess I’m flying by the seat of my pants on this one.”

Origin

The origin of “flying by the seat of my pants” goes back to the early days of aviation. When pilots first started flying aircraft, they didn’t have any advanced electronic navigation and communication systems used in modern aircraft.

As a result, the pilot was “flying by the seat of their pants,” using their intuition to guide them during the takeoff, flight, and landing. There was no flight planning, and pilots would just “wing it” when taking flight.

The phrase first appeared in 1938 in the tale of Douglas Corrigan’s flight from the US to Ireland. The Edwards Intelligencer used the term in its 1938 article describing the feats of the flight.

“Douglas Corrigan was described as an aviator ‘who flies by the seat of his pants’ today by a mechanic who helped him rejuvenate the plane which airport men have now nicknamed the ‘Spirit of $69.90.’

Larry Conner would go onto coin the phrase, “flies by the seat of his trousers,” meaning to fly without the use of radio, instruments, radio or other navigational and communication equipment.”

Phrases Similar to Flying by the Seat of My Pants

  • Winging it.
  • Take it as it comes.

Phrases Opposite to Flying by the Seat of My Pants

  • Plan ahead.
  • Systematic approach.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Flying by the seat of my pants.

Ways People May Say Flying by the Seat of My Pants Incorrectly

Some people may use the term to describe aviation principles or clothing. This idiomatic phrase has nothing to do with how you dress or fly aircraft. It’s a way of telling people that you’re taking a care-free approach to a situation or task.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Flying by the Seat of My Pants

You can use “flying by the seat of my pants” when you’re implying that you have no plan and you want to see how things pan out in a given situation or task. In most cases, you’ll be using the phrase to indicate that you don’t know what you’re doing in a crisis or that you’re refusing to commit your resources to figure things out.

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