Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
Skybound A Journey in Flight
Rebecca Loncraine Picador April 2018
The back story grips the heart from the outset – the author decides to become a glider pilot whilst in remission for a ghastly cancer (is there any other sort?). Her illness has already made her very aware of her body and emotions, her creative writing background has given her the skills to share this with the reader. But she is clearly something of a polymath because the science behind meteorology and much of what lies behind glider flying, is well explained – although the physics of stalls and spins are poorly described. Later in the book there is an informative riff on vultures.
She learns to fly in the Black Mountains of Wales – a fairly rugged landscape by GB standards. She clearly enjoys not just the acquiring of new skills, but also the cerebrality of glider flying, even if it is in the “flying exoskeleton” of a K12. On the way the reader is treated to a run-through of the pioneers that refined a man-carrying glider; whilst giving the Wright Bros due credit, she oddly overlooks Sir George Cayley.
She makes reference to Hanna Reitsch, with great deference; presumably she has read Clare Mulley’s biography, though with no bibliography, one cannot be sure. Strangely there is no reference to any solo flying – perhaps her medical condition precluded this.
Much of the joy will be familiar to anyone who has learned to fly; although, unless you have read the likes of St. Exupéry or Richard Bach, you are unlikely to have seen it expressed so lyrically.
Throughout the book Loncraine writes with great passion – the passion of someone with a slender grip on life. The second half sees her follow her instructor to New Zealand, where he spends British winters. Here she enjoys, and occasionally endures, what might be described as “extreme gliding” in the NZ mountains. By this time gliding has clearly become her life. Except that it hasn’t. Sadly the book ends a little abruptly, and is tailed with a postscript by Rebecca’s mother – for she succumbed to cancer in the end.
But what a way to spend one’s last few months on this planet! This emotional roller-coaster of a book is, for the most part, extremely well-written – and rather unique in the 21st century aviation canon.