Book Review: Inflight Science by Brian Clegg

Ever wondered how the science behind our airlines work? How can something heavy like a 747 even get off the ground, let alone stay up there, let alone again fly us halfway around the world? This book will tell you how and hopefully answer most of the questions you might have about the flights you take.

We cover everything from the gate numbers to the security checks, why aircraft use so much fuel taxiing to the runway and how the weight of the thing affects lift off. All the little features of taking a flight have interesting facts behind them and we take most of it for granted. Did you know that flying is safer than driving a car? You don’t have to take this book’s word for it as there are some little experiments you can do while on the plane, and also some that you shouldn’t (while explaining what would happen if you did), things like:

  • Why is an aircraft particularly safe when in the middle of a storm?
  • Why aren’t aircraft doors locked, and why don’t we need to lock them?
  • What would happen if we smashed an aircraft window?
  • What does “on cloud 9” mean?

This isn’t just about flying either, there are other things we might want to know, about the landscape, about our towns and cities, weather patterns, water, topographical features, borders, coastlines and curious buildings we spot as we’re coming in to land or just taking off.

The book follows a logical pattern; starting from the check in desk, through security, to our gate, onto the plane, into the air and landing at the other end. In this way, it is told very much in a story format. This makes it work well and feeling less like other popular science books which tend to follow themes in order to best understand each concept before moving on to the next one.

Clegg’s style is simplistic and easy on the eye which will appeal to most people. Unfortunately, the tone sometimes comes across as a little dumbed down and underwhelming, but I guess that’s a trade off some readers will be happy to take. If you’re into geography and landscapes then it’s possible you’ll come across little that will be new to you for much of the book. Similarly, if you already know much about flying then this half of the book may be tempting to skip.

It does a good job of encouraging appreciation for the science of flight and the landscape features we see when flying, but it isn’t particularly taxiing.

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