Jet Age [Reading Challenge 2019]

Jet Age: The Comet, the 707, and the Race to Shrink the World

by Sam Howe Verhovek
Avery, 2010

[Challenge # 25: A book in which airplanes figure prominently.]

Hubris and aviation have a long, intertwined history together. Overconfidence in a flight control system most likely caused the recent crashes of a Boeing 737 Max 8 in Ethiopia and Malaysia, and a faulty cargo door design the crash of a DC-10 in Ermenonville, France, in 1974.*  Such hubris may have even caused the demise of a whole national aviation industry, as happened in the early 1960s in Great Britain.

Jet Age: The Comet, the 707, and the Race to Shrink the World is a history of the first two commercial jets that ushered in the era of modern aviation: The British DeHavilland-produced Comet, and the American Boeing 707. The Comet came out first, but suffered a series of mysterious accidents, and Seattle’s The Boeing Company and the U.S. eventually walked away with the prizes. I chose it for my airplane read, and I found it an excellent introduction to the commercial airline industry.  It surprised me with many new nuggets of fact, like how Boeing, known mainly for military aircraft, entering the commercial industry after WWII for the simple reason they’d get better tax breaks from the US government. I love this stuff.

I’m an amateur student of all things aviation and space, but the book was not so dense that someone would need a background in aviation to understand it. All sorts of interesting characters and side stories are introduced throughout, so if a reader wishes to read further about Boeing, test pilots, Pan Am and Juan Trippe, or women in aviation, it’s a good jumping-off point. The reviews on Goodreads weren’t outstanding, but I give it five stars, and a strong recommendation.

*  Detailed in the excellent The Flight 981 Disaster: Tragedy, Treachery, and the Pursuit of Truth, by Samme Chittum.

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