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Free Flight: Inventing the Future of Travel Paperback – September 3, 2002
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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We've all heard, if not experienced, the horror stories: hours spent standing in line, lost luggage, a night passed on an airport bench waiting for a connecting flight that never arrived. And that's not even during the holidays. Though cutting-edge technology has made planes safer and more efficient, air travel is still an often arduous process, leading James Fallows to ask, "How can a system be so technically advanced and admirable, yet lead to results so unpleasant for everyone involved?" Part of the answer involves congestion: currently, over 80 percent of all flights are routed through 28 major hubs across the country, and according to federal officials, traffic to these same few airports is expected to double by 2010.
In Free Flight, Fallows details an "impending, potentially broad change" in how we travel--one that he compares to the introduction of the car. This shift involves the use of small planes that "offer much of the speed, and as much as possible of the safety, of the big airlines, but at a small fraction of the cost of today's corporate jets." In this new world, people would either buy their own planes or hire piloted air-taxi services for no more than current coach fares. These planes would fly as directly as possible from one destination to another, taking advantage of the 18,000 small airports and landing strips currently available across the country.
Focusing on the colorful personalities and visionary designers leading this nascent transportation revolution, Fallows looks at the opportunities and obstacles small-plane manufacturers are likely to face. A national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and a recreational pilot, Fallows is both knowledgeable and passionate about the subject. Portions of the book will appeal mainly to flight enthusiasts and venture capitalists, but the bulk is interesting enough to hold the attention of those who are neither. And it's short enough that you can read it cover-to-cover the next time you're stuck at a hub. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Like many airplane rides, this timely book is a bit of a bumpy journey: smooth takeoff and landing, with some turbulence along the way. A national correspondent for of Atlantic Monthly and former U.S. News & World Report editor, Fallows believes that the small-plane industry will revolutionize air travel the way computers and wireless devices have communications. In forming his argument, he focuses on those small startups that are making planes for individual flight; Fallows foresees a time when many travelers will hop on private air-taxis. But the book is most engaging at its beginning and end, when Fallows narrates in illustrative prose his own love affair with planes and a cross-country trip he piloted with his wife and son. He describes the view from a low-flying plane the "connectedness of physical features that seem separate from the ground." He's less successful, however, at bringing his story home to the general reader: many will find that the book's focus on technology and business makes for a difficult read. Some of the excitement of this nascent field comes across when he describes the personalities behind it and the obstacles they face, but readers may find their hopes deflated by the book's end, for the breakthrough that Fallows predicts does not appear to be on the horizon.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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Overall, however, Free Flight is a period piece. It was published just before September 11, 2001 changed everything, not least the airlines and private aircraft. Moreover, one of the companies touted in the book as the harbinger of a new age of aviation innovation, Eclipse, went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the 2008 financial crisis (the other, Cirrus, is still a going concern). Very few of the events predicted in the book have taken place and the whole work has the feel of a book written right before World War I about the new age of peace and prosperity that would come in the second decade of the twentieth century.
Free Flight is worth reading, but it needs to be updated to reflect new realities.
In *Free Flight* Fallows reveals himself to be an enthusiastic promoter of general aviation. Fallows begins by helping readers unfamiliar with small airplanes understand a little bit about the strange world of private pilots and their buzzy little machines. He paints a clear picture of the world of aviation enthusiasts--and what it potentially has to offer to the general public.
The book is devoted primarily to the topic of research and development that has been going on since the early 90s aimed at making small airplanes safer and more accessible to the general population.
The book closely examines two new aircraft manufacturers at the forefront of these developments (Cirrus Design and Eclipse Aviation) as well as some of the visionaries within NASA and other government agencies who have been promoting a concept of safe, affordable travel between secondary airports that skirts the congestion and delays of today's hub-spoke airline system. Finally, Fallows chronicles a trip of his own in one of these advanced small airplanes.
Fallows skillfully avoids the worst of the aviation technical jargon, and brings the subject to life through portraits of some of the very interesting people at work in the field.
For all of his cheerleading for the future of accessible general aviation Fallows also gives a fairly realistic assessment of the risks to this vision, though he devotes far less ink to the negative side of his subject.
Whether you're an aviation enthusiast, private pilot, or just a frustrated airline passenger *Free Flight* has much to offer. Let's hope that the future is as bright as Fallows suggests it can be.
The only drawback to the book was the over-personalization of the book. One whole chapter is spent on the author's cross-country flight with wife and son. Material like this could have been replaced with more history and economics of the small-aircraft industry. Some graphs and charts would also have been nice; for example a graph comparing the costs of different models of new single-engine aircraft over the past several decades.
Note that this book was authored before the 9/11 attacks, hence much of what the author proposed is really up in the air now.