Unruly pilot

Fate Is the Hunter by Ernest Gann
Lucky? Yes. Yes, I am.
Case in point: My flight instructor, from my
flying days when I was but a girl, recently invited me to go flying. Hadn’t
seen the man in over 15 years, and here, just when my life could use something truly good, he invited me to fly an airplane again. 
moments before my second take-off,
which again would involve uncontrolled laughter

Seriously: lucky.

And I gotta tell you: that guy is brave. He
put that airplane in my hands, and man, was I rusty. The few skills that came
back… reemerged slowly.* I had us
flailing all over the Iowa
skies, laughing like a goon, and he didn’t even appear concerned. Nerves of
steel, those pilots.
And that’s what this book is about (the
nerves, not the laughing goon).
We had done some talking of books when we
were on the ground, and he said this book gives a really good sense of what
it’s like to fly on a crew. (He’s doing the airline thing these days.) And I’m
all about the workplace memoir, especially when an insider has vouched for its
veracity, so I scribbled down the title and placed a hold at my first
opportunity.
The fascinating thing about this book is
that it was published in 1961, but it still feels fresh today. Granted, the
aircraft and the methods are archaic (Yikes! At one point, they’re plotting
bearing fixes!) but the human dynamic rings true, and that’s the important part
of the book, anyway, in my opinion.
And Gann’s narrative voice is easy and
clever, and altogether a delight to read.
(Brief pause while we marvel at the fact
that some people who do their day job admirably also can write books!)
So this book is full of male jocularity (all
the airline pilots were male in those days [sad shake of the head]), and it’s
enormously fun to read. It really does give a sense of the camaraderie of a crew—those
that get along well, and those that are a bit less well-suited for each other.
And there are some funny moments here,
too. During Gann’s time as a military pilot, he and the others got sent to some
far reaches of the north Atlantic. Here’s their
introduction to the base:
“Boyd took my hand as if we had flown to the
moon and said, ‘Welcome to White Pigeon.’
And at once I was returned in thought to a
more tranquil period when I had served briefly as his co-pilot. We had found
ourselves flying a plane chartered from our line by a political team junketing
around the United States.
Our passengers displayed a constant and abnormal interest in their exact
location—information we seldom had ready at hand. And so we would assume a
solemn mien and point out a town, or village—any one visible would do—and we
would say, ‘That is White Pigeon.’”  (p.
177)
I’d heard of this book for years, and I
never would’ve picked it up if it hadn’t been for the personal recommendation I
received. Again, all I can say is: Lucky.
*Yeah, just before releasing the brakes and
hitting the throttle at the threshold of the runway, I thought to ask, “What’s
the rotate speed on this baby?” 

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  1. Awesome–I WANT to get this one! Have you read William Langewiesche's "Inside the Sky: A Meditations on Flight" or Colleen Mondor's "The Map of My Dead Pilots"? The latter one's a bit melodramatic but they were good reads, both. With your pilot experience I'd love to hear what you have to say about them!

  2. Citizen — I'll check out the Langewiesche (literally, tomorrow, if it's on the shelf) — I've been meaning to read it. I started "Map of My Dead Pilots" in the midst of my recent reading drought and probably should give it another whirl once I'm back to normal. Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. How splendid. I grew up spending a good deal of time visiting and flying in the planes at a small airport in upstate New York. The airport was owned by a family friend. I never was so fortunate as learn to get behind the controls.

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