INSIDE THE SKY by William Langewiesche


A Meditation on Flight
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Atlantic Monthly foreign correspondent Langewiesche (Cutting for Sign, 1993; Sahara Unveiled, 1996), himself an experienced pilot, explores the pleasures and challenges of flight in seven essays that are alternately philosophical, personal, and journalistic. Flight’s greatest gift, Langewiesche says, is to let us look around. The book itself takes a while to get off the ground but begins to soar with —The Turn,— in which Langewiesche vividly explores the aerodynamics of keeping aloft in layman’s terms, tracing as well the evolution of instrumentation for airplanes. —On a Bombay Night— and “Valujet” consider, in turn, the 1978 crash due to pilot error of an Air India 747 shortly after takeoff from Bombay airport and the 1996 Valujet accident in the Florida Everglades, blamed on a new scourge called a “systems error.” (In the Valujet crash, unused oxygen canisters shipped by mistake were ignited, causing a catastrophic fire soon after takeoff.) “Inside an Angry Sky” recalls the dismal days the author spent as a cargo pilot and details his continued interest in storm flying, or what he calls “hunting for bad weather.” In “Control,” Langewiesche spends some time in the control tower of Newark International Airport, whose runways are some of the busiest on earth, and he witnesses firsthand the animosity between the FAA, which makes the rules of aviation, and the controllers, whose job it is to keep the traffic moving. Systems accidents, overburdened air-control systems, deregulation, and competition can, of course, be blamed for these negative developments. The author raises the possibility of re-regulation, but suspects that the positive effects on safety would not be worth the negative effects on society, which would be “inflationary” and “anti-egalitarian.” A realist who says he rejects early flier-author Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s dreamy romanticism, Langewiesche is informative on aspects of the current commercial aviation scene, and his pared-down style conveys a refreshing humility and respect for flying. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 8th, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-42983-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


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