Stick And Rudder (No Fear of Flying)

Are you afraid of flying? Would you rather take a train any time? Seated over the wing, are you one of those who watch with horrified fascination as the wing trembles, wondering if it’s going to snap off? Do you swallow nervously every time you hear one of those weird noises planes make? And when the plane passes through turbulence, do you grab the armrest in panic? Well, this post is for you then.

And even if you love flying, it’s easy to turn into a nervous flyer like the one in the first paragraph. No chance to travel by air for a few years perhaps paired with repeated reports of plane crashes all over the world proves a toxic mixture for many of us, insidiously seeping into our conscienciousness and undermining any confidence in flight as a safe mode of transport. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Nowadays, when I’m seated over the wing, my chief problem is that I’m missing out on the views – again. And when the plane buckets wildly around at thirty thousand feet, I grab my drink rather than the armrest. (I vividly recall a particularly bad patch of turbulence on a flight back from Greece hitting us just after my husband had been served a glass of red wine: he looked set to spill it all over me – and me wearing my favourite snow-white Blanc du Nil top! Now that was scary…)

Heard It All Before?… No, You Haven’t!

No, I’m not going to tell you how air travel is statistically safer than any other form of transport – because you already know that and you’re still scared. And why wouldn’t you be scared: you’re up thirty thousand feet in the air in a metal construction that only stays there in the air thanks to some engineering devilry which you have absolutely no understanding of. It’s wholly contrary to your daily experience of gravity. It’s against the laws of nature, right? Enough to freak anyone out.

But if I’m not going to tell you all the supposedly reassuring statistics about the safety of flying, nor how the pilots are trained in very convincing simulators for every kind of malfunction, nor about all the back up systems… nor suggest that you learn to meditate or subject yourself to hypnosis… Then how am I going to convince you not to be scared?


Stick And Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying

I’m referring you to a book (this is a book blog after all). Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying was written by Wolfgang Langewiesche more than seventy years ago and has been in print ever since. For a very good reason. It works.

Although some of its contents were considered controversial in 1944 – when it was first published – with the passage of years it became more and more obvious to pilots, flight instructors and engineers all that Langewiesche knew what he was talking about. There have been many more flying manuals written since but his is still generally considered one of best. What’s written in it applies to every aeroplane from a tiny Cessna to a massive Boeing passenger liner. It tells you what the pilot does and why. It’s been marketed – for pilots, obviously – as the book whose reading equals many hours of flying practice.

It explains why the plane – contrary to your fears – will absolutely not fall out of the sky.

Now, as you might have already divined from the title, this is not, in fact, a book for air passengers, nervous or otherwise. It’s a flying manual for pilots and flight instructors and the reason why it’s so hugely successful and still in print is that it explains the underlying principles of heavier-than-air flight. In other words it explains why the plane – contrary to your fears – will absolutely not fall out of the sky. It explains why the plane stays right up there at thirty thousand feet. Which is why you should read it.

“But I won’t understand all that technical jargon”, you object. “And it will be dreadfully boring!”

No fear. The book is written in a straightforward language, explaining the science and the technicalities in a manner accessible to ordinary people: you, me and all those pilots out there. (No, pilots are not, taken on the whole, any more intelligent than you are. They’re just glorified bus drivers – and they know it.) Of course, you have to have an interest in the subject – but you’ve already got that. You’ve got a massive interest in the subject – you’re trying to overcome your rational fear of flying by understanding that your fear is, in fact, wholly irrational. Because planes don’t stay up there due to engineering tricks that defy the laws of nature – quite the contrary, they stay up there for solid and infallible reasons of physics. They no more fall out of the sky without reason than apples fly upwards when they fall from the tree.

No More Fear of Flying

So next time you have to fly, buy, beg or borrow Stick and Rudder and take it with you on the flight. You can start reading it at the airport –  instead of buying all those things in the duty-free that you don’t need anyway. Why not find a seat by those huge plate-glass windows overlooking the airfield and watch the planes in between turning the pages? Read it in your seat as you’re waiting for take-off. Read it during the flight. At the very worst it’ll give you something other than your fear to concentrate on. At the best, it’ll cure you of fear altogether and might earn you a free drink or a visit to the cockpit as the cabin crew assume that you’re of the flying fraternity (why else would you be reading a flying manual otherwise?!). If you’re so inclined, go and impress a good-looking passenger of the opposite sex as the cool guy or girl who’s taking flying lessons, inventing a couple of entertaining stories. And when other passengers look apprehensive and grip their armrests convulsively as the plane is landing – the most dangerous part of every flight – you can look smug explaining to your nervous neighbour just what exactly the pilot is doing right now.

Of course, you could just look out of the window and enjoy the view:

No fear of flying: The famous Blue Lagoon of Malta opens up behind the wing of an Airbus 319-100 about to land



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