PLANE CRAZY: A Celebration of Flying by Burton Bernstein

PLANE CRAZY: A Celebration of Flying

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The flying bug drives New Yorker writer Bernstein plane crazy, with charmingly nervous and fuzzy illustrations by Edward Koren. Aviation fans will find this chock full of their favorite lore, specs, thermals and so on, all presented in a lightsome style that nonflyers may well find weightless. This is no philosophical love affair with flight as in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's poeticizings nor a passionate eternal drunk as in Richard Bach's riveting Stranger to the Ground. Back in 1946, after a childhood of infatuation with planes and flight, Bernstein at 14 began taking dual instruction for flying. When he turned 16, his instructor--one momentous Sunday--allowed him to make his first solo. Without the weight of an accompanying instructor, the Cub ""gains flying speed at an alarming rate. It wants desperately to fly. . .I move the control stick slightly forward to raise the tail, and, without any further effort on my part, the Cub springs into the air, climbing faster than it has ever climbed before. The airplane has simply taken itself off. I am almost an innocent passenger."" Despite his thrill at passing his solo and getting a student pilot's license, Bernstein soon gives up flying. Some years later he regains his license, but once more gives up flying. At last, in middle age, with all his kids out in the world, the lure of the heavens strikes again and for the third time Bernstein gets a pilot's license. But to do so he has to unlearn all his old flying habits, because the new planes fly differently. Among his more wonderful new friends in the world of flying are Stanley Segall and his son Billy. Old Stanley is a precision aerobatics pilot and something of a humorist of the skies who runs his own air show carnival and enjoys tricking the New England crowds into thinking he's a farmer who's run off with the plane and in his ignorance is doing all manner of weird turns, loops, spins and falls--sometimes trailing a clothesline full of clothes he pretends to have raked up from a backyard. The book's high point, however, is not about powered flight at all but about Bernstein's introduction to sailplaning. After being towed to 4,700 feet with instructor Babs Nutt, the towline pops and ""we're suddenly free, powerlessly alone in the sky--a stupendous sensation, slow and loose and ethereal. The only sound is the soft whoosh of the slipstream, like gentle surf on a sandy beach."" Equally exciting is Babs' description of how she set the sailplane altitude record, achieving 35,463 feet above sea level over Colorado Springs. Too much here, however, is for hardware buffs.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1985
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin