OK, just to clear the schedule a bit, here’s a general books post.
Fly By Wire: The Geese, The Glide, The ‘Miracle’ on the Hudson. Various readers recommended this one; being about aviation and by William Langewiesche it wasn’t a hard sell. The book is (obviously) about the US Airways A320 that ditched successfully in the Hudson River.
Langewiesche swings off this to discuss the pilot as a profession, Captain Sullenberger’s use of his unexpected political platform, the unjustly overlooked geese, the development of Airbus’s distinctive control systems philosophy, and the impressively cool behaviour of the passengers in the crisis, who behaved sensibly and helped each other. He interviews Bernard Ziegler, the A320’s designer, which brings up a really interesting point. The Airbus-vs-Boeing arguments revolve around the idea that Airbus’s control systems restrict the pilot’s authority. Ziegler, though, argues that the point is the opposite.
Studying a large number of accidents, he was unable to find many cases where the pilot overstressed and destroyed the plane by pulling in the full power of the controls, but found plenty where the pilot didn’t use all the control authority available for fear of doing so. Hence, the system was designed to guarantee that hoicking the sidestick right back would always give a maximum rate of climb without ripping off the wings, in order to empower the pilot to use it without hesitation. It’s a question of framing, as they say.
Also, useful point: in the worst 50% of aircraft accidents in the last 15 years, 86% of the passengers survived. It’s worth listening to the safety briefing, although on the night, there wasn’t one about the life jackets, in order to save money because the flight counted as purely overland. And to think I laughed at someone on a news photo of the event who donned his upside-down and inflated it.
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal is the latest of many Philbooks. I’m going to have more to say about this, but suffice it to say it’s good, notably because it lights up some of the other people around Philby and especially the women.
Aloft (Penguin Modern Classics) – OK, so even more Langewiesche. This is the collection of his essays on flight. I’m going to have more to say about one of them in particular, but we’ll get to that. Anyway, this is a string of gems, of austere prose, close reporting, reasonableness, and good stories. The pick is probably “The Turn”, which gets history, pure literature, and some wisdom out of the fact of flying a smooth coordinated turn in an aeroplane.
KANDAK: Fighting with Afghans is Patrick Hennessy’s next book after The Junior Officers’ Reading Club, about his stint as an advisor with the Afghan army and, better, about the Afghans he served with, something well worth writing.
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 – everyone’s read this. So have I, but I’ve let the review drag so much I feel I need to re-read. Watch out.