The language of flight

Mark Vanhoenacker is a rather unusual combination of airline pilot and author. Flying aeroplanes is a rigid, technical process that is a long way from the romantic ethos of leather jackets and stringbags - the myth of the amateur Spitfire pilot, the knight of the air. Modern airline pilots live in a world of process and checklists and it is the left side of the brain that is dominant. And yet in all of them, buried deep often, there is a still the childlike wonder at the beauty of the world as they see it every day and tiny salute every day to that Spitfire pilot.

Mark Vanhoenacker's book, Skyfarer, was a bestseller. In it he articulated his joy in both the technical and the romantic sides of his job. This piece from Aeon magazine is about the language that pilots speak - arcane in the extreme, and quite the most daunting aspect of learning to fly: any pilot will tell you of his or her terror when a controller is telling you something and you have no idea what they are talking about - and know that your ignorance is going to be broadcast across the sky when you ask for clarity. I now speak that language - the world's only true Esperanto - and like Mark Vanhoenacker I now enjoy speaking it and being part of that strange club that is conversing over your heads without you knowing it.


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