In the early days of flying, landmarks were difficult to see or confusing from even low altitudes. Pilots developed a memory for reference points in navigating cross country and asserted they were flying by the 'seat of their pants'.
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"by the seat of your pants." Phrases.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2017. Web. 20 Nov. 2017. <http://www.phrases.net/phrase/by-the-seat-of-your-pants_16434>.