Vanhoenacker’s workplace is the cockpit of a 747. Leaving a contrail of information with lapidary prose, he shows why he loves his job.
The author takes his readers on a journey that is far removed from terrestrial concerns, part memoir of wanderlust and part handbook of professional flying. Before each trip, there is the gathering of the crew, numbering in the teens, who may never have met before, and the aircraft is inspected. Vanhoenacker describes some of the electronic instrumentation aboard a modern airliner, as well as the process of lifting the massive plane into another world where there is no local time. The author notes that there are various compass headings that show diverse ways north, and each may be useful. In the sky, nearly everyone uses English, whether they are from Tokyo, Amman, Beijing, London, or countless other global cities. When the autopilot is disengaged before landing, an alarm sounds to verify that flying manually is really intended. At a critical point during the descent, the pilot is ordered by the computer to decide whether to touch down or head up again. Vanhoenacker also informs us that airports are distinguished places—in Japan, ground crews have been seen bowing to departing 747s. For those not privy to the view from the cockpit, the calculus of flight is fascinating. The author artfully considers geography and aerodynamics, but there is more. He reflects aloft what earthbound readers seldom think about, and his engaging essays consider the texture and weight of air and clouds and the essence of speed, place, night, day, and time. This pilot is an accomplished stylistic acrobat who flies—and writes—with the greatest of ease.
The anatomy of an airliner and peripatetic aerial travel, as well as a sophisticated worldview, combine for first-class reading—sure to enhance your next flight.