‘Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot’ is Mark Vanhoenacker’s unique account exploring the wonders of flight and his day-to-day work as a long distance airline pilot. After abandoning his postgraduate studies in African history followed by a few years working as a management consultant, Vanhoenacker pursued his childhood dream of learning to fly aeroplanes. He is now a senior first officer with British Airways flying Boeing 747s across the world. It’s very clear that flying is much more than just a job for Vanhoenacker – it is a true vocation. Whether describing the intricately technical aspects of how the machine actually works or the more philosophical and poetical meditations on his role as a pilot, Vanhoenacker writes beautifully. Bringing together elements of geography, physics, travel, meteorology and memoir, his lyrical style of prose in ‘Skyfaring’ is an excellent match for the vast, sometimes ethereal nature of his subject.
For me, the more personal chapters such as ‘Encounters’ were the most interesting but I also learned a lot about other more scientific aspects of flying, particularly navigation, place-names and how much of the language used in aviation originates from nautical terms. Vanhoecker’s enthusiastic account doesn’t contain anything remotely controversial about disasters, security, bureaucracy or what happens when things go wrong, but his observations about flying from the unique perspective of the cockpit rather than a passenger seat are very engaging to read.
Given how easy it is to forget that air travel has become “normal” so rapidly in the past century, it’s almost surprising that a book like this hasn’t been written before. More meditation than memoir, ‘Skyfaring’ renews the sense of wonder of flight and does for aviation what ‘Do No Harm‘ by Henry Marsh does for brain surgery and ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald does for falconry: they all successfully bring a slightly unusual and fascinating vocation to life for a much wider audience. Highly recommended for aviation buffs and general non-fiction readers alike.