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fly by the seat of one's pants

  1. (idiomatic) To pilot an aircraft without the aid of instruments and without a flight plan, using only instinct, visual observation, and practical judgment.
    • 1955 Feb. 21, "Planes for Pleasure," Time:
      Between world wars, when Douglas Bader was a cocky, teen-age R.A.F. cadet . . . a man could navigate by eye and the nearest railroad track and fly by the seat of his pants.
  2. (idiomatic, by extension) To use one's judgment, initiative, and perceptions as events unfold in order to improvise a course of action without a predetermined plan.
    • 2010 Jan. 14, Jacob Heilbrunn, "Election Confidential," New York Times (retrieved 25 June 2011):
      “Unlike Obama and his methodical process, McCain was flying by the seat of his pants,” the authors observe.


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