Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “aircraft”

No Highway: re-reading a book after 60 years

No HighwayNo Highway by Nevil Shute

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s interesting to re-read a book after a long time, and see whether your opinion of it has changed. I first read [authoer:Aldous Huxley]’s Brave New World when I was about 17, and found it very exciting and stimulating. I re-read it when I was 57, and after 40 years found it rather flat and dull. I’ve just finished reading No Highway after a gap of about 60 years, and found it as good as when I first read it.

It was interesting to see what I remembered and what I had forgotten. I was about 13 or 14 when I first read it, when I was still crazy about aeroplanes and wanted to be a pilot. By the time I was 15 my ambitions had dropped, and my main interest was cars. From the age of 11 to 14 most of what I read had something to do with aeroplanes, and if No Highway had not been about aeroplanes I would probably not have read it at all.

When I first read the book the most memorable things were the technical bits to do with the aircraft. I could recall the love story vaguely, but I could not recall the British Israelite angle at all, though it is quite prominent in the story, though I did recall the part with the planchette.

De Havilland Comet

De Havilland Comet

I read it about the time that the first commercial jets, the De Havilland Comets, were in the news because of unexplained crashes. I seem to recall that when it was determined that the cause of the crashes was metal fatigue I knew what that meant because it was central to the plot of No Highway but it is possible that it was the other way round — that I understood the point of the plot because of the real-life incidents with the Comets.

It was the first book by Nevil Shute that I had read, and because I had enjoyed it I went on to read others written by him, though I still thought (and after re-reading it still think) )that No Highway was one of his best. I think it has aged well. Of course, one is aware that it belongs to its time, and that many things have changed since then. On the technical side the most obvious thing is air navigation. Back then the cabin crews were small (because the planes were smaller and carried fewer passengers) but the flight-deck crew was large, including, in addition to two pilots, a flight engineer, a navigator and a wireless operator. Advances in electronics have made the last two redundant.

Social attitudes too are different. One of the most noticeable is that sex has replaces smoking as one of the most commonly-described recreational activities. Another is that sex roles were much more rigid back then: males were useless at cooking and cleaning and buying clothes for children; females were useless at research and design.

I find the social differences interesting too, because I’m also reading a historical novel, Dissolution by C.J. Sansom. When reading historical novels I always have one eye out for anachronisms, things that the author gets wrong about the period in which the novel is set. No Highway is set in our past, but it was contemporary when it was written. So when I first read it, it was much closer to the time in which it was set and I did not notice such things, but the second time around, it gives an authentic view of a vanished past.

There are some less obvious things too. The scientist doing research on metal fatigue, Theodore Honey, also has some other interests that seem bizarre to his colleagues and associates — calculating the end of the world from the dimensions of the Great Pyramid and the like. These interests made them doubt his competence as a scientific researcher, and that would probably also be the case today too. But what his contemporaries thought was equally crazy was his designing of moon rockets, yet within 10 years the launching of artificial satellites showed that that was feasible.

Another, and perhaps a minor one, yet which strikes me as significant, is when the designer of an aircraft is announcing plans for important modifications. The accountaint asks if this will require night-shift work and overtime, except on Sundays. The chairman of the airline then asks that “in view of the extreme urgency of this matter to us, may I ask if Sunday work can be authorised?” To which the designer replies, “On no account would I agree with that. If you want work done on Sundays, you must go elsewhere. It is uneconomic upon any account, and it strikes at the root of family life, which is the basis of the greatness of this country.”

That reminded me that there was a brief period, in the middle of the 20th century, when the interests of Mr Gradgrind were eclipsed, and more basic human values were allowed to take precedence over economic ones. It lasted until the 1980s, when Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan reinstated Mr Gradgrind.

Give it another 60 years, and some things in the book may need to be annotated, because there will then be no one around who lived thourgh that period. But I thought it was a good read back then, and it’s still a good read now, and probably will be in 60 years’ time too,

View all my reviews

Aircraft engine failures: strange reporting

There were two incidents recently reported of airliners’ engines failing at or just after take-off. One was given wall-to-wall coverage in the international media, while the other got barely a mention in the local press.

Qantas: No Crash / Explosion | Plane Lands In Singapore:

‘Qantas flight QF32 was en route from Singapore to Sydney, the number two engine has shut down, so as a precautionary measure we are taking it back to Singapore,’ a Qantas spokeswoman said.

Qantas said the airliner landed at 11.45am local time.

DFAT confirmed the flight had landed safely at Changi Airport and that no passengers or crew had been injured.

And then there was this: Daily Dispatch Online:

ELEVEN passengers were injured yesterday during an emergency evacuation after an engine of a 1Time aircraft exploded at OR Tambo International Airport.

The 128 passengers on board Flight 119 to Cape Town at around 10am heard a “loud boom” minutes before take off.

So which one got bigger coverage — the one in which there were no injuries, or the one in which 11 people were injured?

It was the former. I listened with amusement as a reporter interviewed a passenger on the Qantas flight, where there were no injuries. The reporter was desperately trying to get the passenger to say that he was frightened, and that it was a frightening experience, but the passenger refused to play ball. He wasn’t frightened. Yes, an engine had failed, but the plane in question had four engines, and the other three were still working, the plane was still flying, and the pilot was still in control — what was there to be frightened of?

The other story, in which 11 people were injured, mainly, apparently, because they made an emergency evacuation, got far less coverage. And one wonders why. Ususally the media are interested in injuries, so why less interest in this case?

Could it be because of the manufacturers of the aircraft and the engines? Could it be that the media have a vested interest in boosting some manufacturers and denigrating others? Especially when one learns a couple of days later that the value of the shares of one manufacturer of aircraft engines has dropped drastically. They couldn’t be trying to manipulate the markets, could they? Perish the thought.

But it does make one wonder.

Post Navigation