Mark Vanhoenacker has written a book that could be a career-changing inspiration for any pilot who harbours ideas about becoming an airline pilot.
The book will also be an eye-opener even for anyone whose aspirations extend no farther than a window seat in the passenger cabin of an airliner. And it is a great read for absolutely everyone with an interest in flying.
The author came relatively late to his career as a commercial pilot after spending a great deal of time as a management consultant, flying purely as a passenger in airliners but developing all the while an increasing interest in his childhood dream of becoming a pilot. He started to realise this ambition in 2001, did his training in Arizona and in the UK, started his airline career in 2003 on Airbus 320s and now flies Boeing 747s as senior First Officer with BA.
He is not only an airline pilot; he is also a writer who has produced what is in places a poem to flying, a beautiful odyssey of observation, an expression of the experiences of flight in all its aspects. There is more than a little of the lyricism of Antoine de Saint Exupéry in these pages, a touch of Ernest K Gann and perhaps some Cecil Lewis, too.
Mark Vanhoenacker eschews the convention of numbered chapters in this book. Instead he has written what might be termed nine un-numbered stand-alone ‘flight sectors’ each with a one-word title, ‘Place’, ‘Machine’, ‘Wayfinding’, ‘Night’, etc, each full of the feelings that flight engenders, descriptions of the beauty of mid-ocean sunrise, St Elmo’s Fire or the Aurora Borealis seen from the cockpit. If you believe that airline flying has become a monotonous, humdrum experience, the victim of its own success perhaps, then reading this book will take you to a fresh and thoughtful appreciation of the magic and excitement of flight whether that is flight in the cockpit of a Cessna 152 or on the flight deck of a 380-tonne airliner.
If you missed William Hope reading ‘Skyfaring’ as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week, then remedy that omission now by getting hold of a copy and reading it for yourself.
Reviewed by philip whiteman
Skyfaring – A Journey with a Pilot by Mark Vanhoenacker. Published 2015 by Chatto & Windus www.vintage-books.co.uk £16.99. Hardback, 338 pages, unillustrated