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Inside the Sky


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About the Author

William Langewiesche is a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly. A professional pilot for many years, he is the author of Cutting for Sign and Sahara Unveiled (both available from Vintage Books). He lives in California.


Unlike other authors who write about flight and flying, Langewiesche (Sahara Unveiled, LJ 8/96) covers a wide range of topics. He details his interesting philosophy of flying as he talks about the view from above from the various aircraft both large and small that he has flown. He gives a readable physics lesson on how airplanes turn and portrays the political side of flying as he takes a pilot's look at the organizational friction between the FAA and the air traffic controllers. He saves his best writing for a chapter on "storm flying," where pilot and crew draw upon their piloting skills and reserve of calmness under pressure to fly a small aircraft above, below, or through storms safely. His love of flying comes through in this chapter. Recommended for medium and large public libraries or for those who request a window seat on their next flight, long or short.‘David Schau, Kanawha Cty. P.L., Charleston, WV

The son of a pilot who wrote a classic book on aerial navigation, Langewiesche spent much of his childhood in the passenger seats of his father's and friends' aircraft, contemplating the process of flight and gazing at the landscape below. A cockpit prodigy who flew solo at 14, Langewiesche has been both a professional pilot and an author (Sahara Unveiled), and is also a foreign correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly. Writing with poetic authority, he uses this "meditation" to unfold, partially, the mysteries of flight, and to recommend flight as a metaphor for understanding elements of the human condition. Occasionally, the metaphor seems only tangentially connected to the subject, though overall this is an enlightening, often riveting work. What happens to an aircraft and its contents during a turn will surely prompt many an amateur physics experiment aboard commercial airliners. A familiar and curious effect of flight, in which passengers and pilots lose their senses of gravity and direction, is explored in its most tragic form, as in the case of a 1978 Air India flight from Bombay to Dubai, whose pilot, a 22-year veteran, flew "a perfectly good airplane into the water." In quiet prose whose steady meter helps build a sense of mounting terror, Langewiesche explains how the pilot managed to ignore working instruments while relying on a single faulty one. Elsewhere, an in-depth examination of the infamous demise of Valuejet Flight 592, which caught fire and plunged into the Everglades in 1996, presents an eloquent and powerful argument for re-regulation of the airline industry. Part expos‚, part idyll, this is a meditation to savor. (June)

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