On a wing and a prayer

Photo of author


On a wing and a prayer is an idiom that stems from World War II. We will look at the meaning of the term on a wing and a prayer, who inspired the term, how it passed into common English and some examples of its use in sentences.

On a wing and a prayer describes doing something difficult or dangerous while relying on divine help or luck. The phrase was inspired by Hugh G. Ashcraft Jr., an American pilot of the B-17 The Southern Comfort. Returning from a bombing run over Germany in a crippled plane, Ashcraft told his crew, “Those who want to, please pray.” News reports called them the crew that “prayed” their plane back. This inspired a line in the 1942 movie The Flying Tigers uttered by John Wayne’s character: “She’s coming in on one wing and a prayer.” In 1943 a song entitled Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer was written by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh. The term has evolved to take on a figurative meaning.


What started on a wing and a prayer has turned into a weekly social event that brings people from all corners of life to the dining table to share a meal with family, friends, neighbors and strangers. (The Chippewa Herald)

In 2012, in the depths of the recession he and his partner James had a ‘rush of blood’ to the head and decided to open a little restaurant on Dublin’s Capel Street, literally on a ‘wing and a prayer’. (The Irish Examiner)

“The belief in the capacity of government and industry to ensure the health and safety of fracking seems to rest in large part on a wing and a prayer,” he said. (The Herald Scotland)