cover image Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight

Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight

William Langewiesche. Pantheon Books, $24 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42983-8

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)