BOOK REVIEW: Inflight Science: A Guide to the World from Your Airplane Window by Brian Clegg

Review by Sid Perkins

Surveys suggest that fear of flying is one of the most common phobias. White-knuckled passengers frantically ask themselves: Why are the wings of the plane flexing? What if someone tries to open a door while we’re in flight? What’s keeping this plane up in the air, anyway?

The nerve-calming answers to these questions and many others can be found in this easy-to-pack paperback by Clegg, a science writer and former employee of British Airways. In plain language, Clegg explains all aspects of a journey by air, from the technology used in airport security to the navigational equipment needed to bring an aircraft in for a smooth landing.

Besides providing loads of info about how airplanes work, the book includes several experiments that passengers can conduct right on their tray tables —illustrating scientific principles for the keenly observant and offering blessed distraction for the chronically nervous. Readers can test Galileo’s theory of relativity (yes, Galileo’s) by watching chips of ice floating in their drinks. Clegg also explains how to use common objects such as coins or ballpoint pens to estimate a plane’s height above the ground or the distance to other aircraft flying nearby.

In other discussions of everything from jet engines to jet lag, Clegg both fascinates and informs. If straight­forward science can dispel fear of flying, there will soon be fewer people shaking in their seats.

Totem Books, 2011, 224 p., $16.95