- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Sourcebooks; 4.1.2013 edition (May 7, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1402280912
- ISBN-13: 978-1402280917
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 497 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections Paperback – May 7, 2013
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"Brilliant...A book to be savored and passed to friends."
-- William Langewiesche, Vanity Fair
“Nobody covers the airline experience like Patrick Smith. He brings balance and clarity to a subject all too often over-hyped. And, he's a damned good writer.”
-- Clive Irving, Conde Nast Traveler
“I wish I could fold up Patrick Smith and put him in my suitcase. He seems to know everything worth knowing about flying.”
-- Stephen Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics
“Patrick Smith is extraordinarily knowledgeable about modern aviation, and communicates beautifully in English, not in pilot-ese. Th ideal seatmate, companion, writer and explainer.”
-- Alex Beam, Boston Globe
“A brilliant writer, Patrick Smith provides a laugh-a-page tour of a misunderstood industry -- a journey into the world of aviation, stripped of the mumbo-jumbo and filled with humor and insight.”
-- Christine Negroni, aviation correspondent and author of Flying Lessons
"Patrick Smith doesn’t just know everything about air travel, he possesses a rare knack for explaining it in lucid and witty prose."
-- Barbara Peterson, Condé Nast Traveler
“Patrick Smith is one of the best writers around, period, which certainly makes him by far the best writer ever to have earned a commercial pilot's license. A soaring accomplishment, indispensable for anyone who travels by air, which means everyone.
-- James Kaplan
-- Rudy Maxa
“Patrick Smith manages to demystify the experience and remind us of the magic of aviation. Also he has a great sense of humor – which is critical when you are wedged into seat 14D on a regional jet.”
-- Chris Bohjalian
“Brilliantly down to earth and reassuring”
-- Cath Urquhart, The Times (London)
"What a pleasure it is reading Patrick Smith's surprisingly elegant explanations and commentary. The world needs somebody writing E.B. White simple and sensible about a topic everyone has a question about."
-- Berke Breathed
“Patrick Smith doesn’t just know everything about air travel, he possesses a rare knack for explaining it in lucid and witty prose.”
-- Barbara Peterson,
Condé Nast Travele"Cockpit Confidential is the document that belongs in the seat-back pocket in front of you."
-- David Pogue, New York Times correspondent and PBS television host
About the Author
Patrick Smith is an airline pilot, air travel writer, and the host of www.askthepilot.com. He has visited more than seventy countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
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Patrick Smith - the name "Smith" is a nom-de-plume - is an airline pilot and blogger, who operates out of Boston. He used to blog for SALON magazine but I'm not sure he still writes for them. In any case, he has his own website, askthepilot.com, and this new book. His previous one, "Ask the Pilot: Everything You Need to Know About Flying", was published in 2004. Smith has been been a pilot and in love with all forms of air travel since, as a child living in Boston, he'd sit on the Revere beach and watch in awe as planes landed at nearby Logan Airport. He grew up to make a living as first a pilot for a commuter carrier - flying up and down the Atlantic seaboard and all around New England - and then he "graduated" to flying cargo jets for a freight airline. Finally, he's now flying for an international passenger airline. (I think it might be Delta, from what I've been able to glean from his writing. Or, if not, American.) He has been subjected to layoffs during his career and is quite honest about how he - and other pilots - struggle with the on-going airline politics and economic ups-and-down that make a pilot's career somewhat haphazard.
Okay, Patrick Smith and I are airline fanatics. And, probably so are most people reading this review. Most of us fly a lot - Smith is lucky that he gets paid to do so - and we like to see new places. We're also fascinated by the arcane of the airline industry - old tickets from the 1940's and clips from newsreels of passengers boarding a plane in the 1950's outfitted in suits and ties and hats. We know what local airlines were swallowed up by what larger airlines, and we know airport codes. Patrick Smith is talking to US in his book. We "get" him, and he "gets" us.
His new book talks about his own, long love of flying. He writes about how difficult it is to "catch on" in the airline industry, and how that industry has weathered crashes - both physical and economic - and the changing requirements of the TSA. Smith doesn't like the TSA - who does? - and is not shy in giving some recommendations which might not please the politically-correct among us. Looking at the September 11th terrorist attacks in particular, he talks about how the TSA and other government groups reacted by imposing the wrong "rules" in the hopes of making airplane travel "safer". "Safer" than what? Smith recounts the many terror attacks and hijackings of airplanes and airports in the 1970's and 1980's that we've seem to have forgotten. Is the taking away of a butter knife from the flight bag of pilot Patrick Smith by over-zealous TSA officials going to make the plane and the passengers Smith is going to fly be any "safer"? Hell, no. And what about those stupid restrictions on 4oz of toothpaste and mouthwash? Good lord, it's half the battle of flying today just getting through TSA security.
Author/pilot Patrick Smith covers Sept 11th and many other subjects in his new book. It's not a book most readers will be particularly interested in, but for those of us who read his blog, look-in-awe at his YouTube videos of night-landings at JFK taken from the cockpit, and enjoy flying and the history of flying, this book's for us.
If you fly even once a year, this is a book worth reading as it demystifies what for most of us is a combination of magic and misery.
Other reviews here have done a great job of describing what is in this superb book. Instead of adding to the praise, I would like to give you an update, right from his computer. Judge for yourself whether you can resist his prose in the books or online.
Robert C. Ross
Q&A With the Pilot (Part 2)
July 9, 2015
ANOTHER OLD-TIMEY QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS SESSION.
Eons ago, back in 2002, a column called Ask the Pilot, hosted by yours truly, debuted in the website Salon, in which I fielded reader-submitted questions about air travel. (United Airlines later stole my name and began running a stripped-down version of the same thing in its magazine.) It’s helpful, I think, to touch back now and then on the format that got this venerable enterprise started. It’s Ask the Pilot classic, if you will. Expect more of these…
On a flight from London to New York, I noticed that our 747 was flying almost parallel with, and very close to, a Lufthansa plane. It remained next to us for at least a couple of hours as we crossed the Atlantic. We were close enough that I could clearly see the blue and gold tail emblem and the Lufthansa name on the fuselage. I assume our pilots were aware of it, and vice versa?
What you describe is common when flying between Europe and North America. The east-west routes across the North Atlantic consist of a series of one-way parallel “tracks,” as we call them, made up of sequential points of latitude and longitude. Flights along the same track are sequenced by time, one behind the other. Or, they are stacked vertically, with a minimum of 1,000 feet between each plane. The tracks are 60 miles apart, however, so you were likely on the same track as the Lufthansa jet, a thousand feet higher or lower, and slightly offset horizontally. Offsetting horizontally reduces collision hazards, unlikely as they are, and helps avoid wake turbulence. Standard offsets are 1 mile or 2 miles (pilot’s choice) to the right. A plane one or two miles away horizontally and only a thousand feet lower or higher will basically appear parallel to you.
The tracks go west-to-east in the evening, when the vast majority of planes depart North America for Europe, and east-to-west in the mornings and afternoons, when most flights are headed the other way. Those going against the flow — a morning flight from New York to London, for example — will be assigned a “random route,” clear of the organized tracks. Each track is assigned a letter designation. The locations of the tracks are different every day, varying with weather and winds aloft. Track “A” on Tuesday might consist of a totally different string of latitude/longitude fixes than Wednesday’s track “A.”
Separate from ATC communications, there’s an open radio frequency (VHF 123.45) used on the track system that allows crews to talk to each other. While this is useful for passing on information about turbulence and whatnot, a lot of the conversation is casual. The likes of “What’s up? Where are you guys headed?” is heard all the time. It’s quite possible that your crew and the Lufthansa crew were chatting at some point.
[Illustration of North Atlantic tracks not shown in this extract.]
At what speed or altitude is the landing gear extended?
Normally the gear is extended just prior to the “final approach fix,” the position of which itself depends on the approach you’re flying, but is typically around four or five miles from touchdown. The landing gear produces quite a bit of drag and occasionally we’ll lower it sooner, as a way of increasing the rate of descent or helping us slow down, when necessary. It’s not the preferred method (it’s noisy and uses more fuel), but it’s helpful when air traffic control is hurrying you down or requesting troublesome speed adjustments.
The captain said we’d be following a more direct route than originally planned. Then, as we began our descent, he indicated that the landing gear would be lowered earlier than usual in order to use up excess fuel. I fly all the time but I’d never experienced this before.
This kind of thing happens very rarely. It sounds as though your shortcut left the plane with so much fuel that it would have been above its maximum landing weight for the runway (perhaps, because of wind or weather-related reasons, the only available runway was a short one?). The increase in drag produced by the landing gear would result in considerably more fuel burn, helping get the plane within limits. It’s a wasteful, loud, and frankly unprofessional technique, but it works. One time I was flying from South America to New York. Because of a pressurization malfunction we had to divert to Puerto Rico. We were above landing weight, however, and the dispatchers recommended that instead of landing heavy, which would entail a time-consuming inspection, that we should descend to a lower altitude and deploy the gear for the last half-hour or so of flight.
Some planes — mainly the bigger ones — have fuel jettison capabilities, but that’s more for emergency returns, medical or mechanical diverts, and that sort of thing. Planes never jettison fuel in normal operations.
I recently flew on a new 737-900, in seat 13A. I was surprised to find there was no window in this row, although there was ample space for one. Why?
You see this on a lot of planes. Usually it’s because there’s some sort of internal component — ducting, framing, or some structural thing — that doesn’t allow space for a window. Some turboprops are missing a window directly adjacent to the propeller blades, and you’ll find a strip of reinforced plating there instead. This is to prevent damage when, during certain conditions, the blades shed off chunks off ice.
How come there are no direct flights from Europe to Hawaii? The distance is somewhere around 6,000 nautical miles from the bigger Western European capitals, but that’s well within the reach of long-haul aircraft.
I can’t imagine such a route would be profitable. It has two critical factors working against it. First, it’s a very long distance. Second, it’s a leisure destination with little premium-fare traffic, meaning that yields would be low. Cheap tickets, limited first or business class traffic, and long distances: that’s a terrible economies-of-scale combo that will only work if you can consistently fill a jumbo jet to the gills. And even that’s no guarantee of turning a profit. And how many Europeans are interested in vacationing in Hawaii in the first place? There are many closer sun-and-sea options: Turkey and the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean resort islands, Thailand, etc. Heck, there wasn’t even a Hawaii to New York nonstop until just a couple of years ago when Hawaiian Airlines came in to give it a try (the route continues, though I’ve been told it only makes money in the winter high season). Most people headed to Hawaii will connect through one of the bigger West Coast cities.
I love watching airplanes in the night sky, but what do all the different lights mean? You’ve got green lights, red lights, white lights; steady lights and flashing lights. What does it all mean?
Wow, you’re really going to make me do this? If you insist. Mind you there are variations, but here’s a generic rundown:
Navigation lights (wingtips and tail): Colored lights that show a plane’s orientation: red on the left, green on the right, white in the back. Always turned on.
Anti-collision lights (on the wingtips and sometimes the upper or lower fuselage as well): Very bright, white flashing lights that basically mean “look out, here we are!” Used night and day. Turned on just prior to the takeoff roll; turned off again just after landing.
Rotating beacon (upper or lower fuselage): A red flashing light used any time aircraft is moving. Turned on just prior to taxiing or towing; turned off again after engine shut-down. Means, “stay clear!”
Landing lights (most commonly wing-mounted and/or mounted on the nose gear strut): Very bright, white, forward facing beams. Used during takeoff, approach and landing. Always off for taxi and cruise flight.
Taxi lights (normally on nose gear strut): White, forward facing beams. Assist with ground visibility during taxi. Usually left on for takeoff and landing as well.
Runway turnoff lights (if installed, wing-mounted): Bright white lights aimed slightly askew, to aid in high-speed turns when exiting the runway.
Logo lights (if installed): Spotlights mounted in the top of the horizontal stabilizer and aimed at the tail. Shows off your carrier’s ugly logo and helps pilots and ground controllers identify traffic. On for taxi, takeoff and landing; optional during cruise.