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:: December 2020 Letter ::

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Dear Fellow Wintertime Shutdown Shut-Ins,

Good news: based on where things stand, I now forecast that we’ll get back to the 2019 air travel peak by late 2022 (commentary at tinyurl.com/ybfzzmu6). Bad news: we’ve still got 4-5 months to go before travel really starts to resume, and, if you’re like me, you might be running low on things to binge on Netflix. Good news: I’m here to help, with winter aero reading tips!

First, books I’ve already recommended: Kevin Michael’s AeroDynamic (see my October 2018 letter); John Newhouse’s The Sporty Game and Boeing V. Airbus (see December 2006); all the national aviation books in my August 2017 letter; and David Edgerton’s The Shock of the Old (May 2012 letter). When you’re done with those, here are my other favorites, listed in order of professional relevance (the fun hobbyist/historical stuff is towards the end):

Fallacies and Fantasies of Air Transport History by R.E.G. Davies. If you value skeptical thinking, read these fascinating accounts of how and why goofy ideas in our industry failed. I once argued with the late author about the A380, which he thought was the future. Even brilliant scholars of delusion can be deluded, at times. Heck, I might fall prey to that myself one day.

The Airplane: How Ideas Gave Us Wings by Jay Spenser. This is the deep history behind today’s aviation technologies, a useful prequel/reader’s guide behind Michaels’ AeroDynamic.

Why Can’t We Make Money In Aviation? By Adam Pilarski. If you can’t enjoy Adam’s impossibly droll East European-inflected speeches (and funny PowerPoint images, like that time he illustrated airline economics with penguins slapping each other silly), his book will do.

Skunk Works by Ben Rich & Leo Janos. If you want to know why Lockheed Martin is set to remain the world’s biggest combat aircraft company for decades to come, this book will explain.

747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures From a Life In Aviation by Joe Sutter. Because it’s Joe Sutter. Tales from when engineers and program managers ran the industry, rather than people who specialize in financial abstractions. Joe’s creation outlived him by a few years, and both lived extraordinary lives.

Cold War At 30,000 Feet: The Anglo-American Fight For Aviation Supremacy by Jeffrey Engel. An essential geopolitical history of the early jet age. The section on China is invaluable.

Entering the Civil Aircraft Industry by Dean Roberts. A solid primer on jetliner industry entry barriers.

Anything by Walt Boyne. The great man died in 2018, and the aviation scene, particularly in Washington, isn’t the same without this towering figure. Read anything he wrote (~30 books). Clash of Wings is one of my favorites.

Herman The German by Gerhard Neumann. From enemy alien to industry captain, with amazing stories to tell from World War Two and the jet age.

The Crash Detectives by Christine Negroni. An engaging and useful guide to a less pleasant part of our industry. Written before the MAX crashes, but very useful for context.

Air Power by Stephen Budiansky. An extremely useful history of aviation in war. Well-told.

The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey by Rick Whittle. The tiltrotor revolution that just kind of came and went.

Project Terminated by Erik Simonsen. The US analog to Derek Wood’s Project Cancelled (see my August 2017 letter). We had entertaining aeronautical failures here, too!

Cleared for Takeoff by Rowland White. The author wrote numerous interesting and noteworthy books, but this one is a bit like the best aviation website ever, in book form. Got it for my kids but I love browsing through it at random.

Spitfire: A Very British Love Story by John Nichol. Reading this delightful book is like mainlining aeronautical Anglophilia, something that feels great right about now. I haven’t been to the UK for 14 months, and I’m terrified that it might have changed somehow.

The British Aircraft Industry by Keith Hayward. What happened after the war, a superb history.

A Life In Canadian Aerospace, 1942-1992 by Dick Richmond. There’s more to Canadian aviation than just the Bombardier cataclysm. The author of this book has a great story to tell, and is still alive to tell it.

Jet Fighters & Bombers by David Anderton. It’s one of many illustrated aircraft books, but I had it as a kid, and I loved how opinionated it was. I digested a lot of snark early on; that might explain a lot.

Pan Am: History, Design & Identity by M.C. Huhne. My otherwise perfect wife has no tolerance for coffee table books lying around, but if permitted I’d put this one on display. The author did other books like this, but Pan Am, while dead, beats any other airline’s style.

Lastly, Wings After War by S. Paul Johnston. Written in 1944; found in a used book store in Barcelona. There’s a terrific chart illustrating technological progress in aviation, and why it might begin to diminish…after 1950. For anyone trying to understand the long-term future of our industry, that chart is a fun reminder that we’ve never been great at doing that.

I apologize if I’ve missed your favorite; feel free to send me your recommendations. And a very happy new year to you, dear reader. Let’s hope 2021 is less of a dumpster fire than 2020.

Yours, ‘Til A Netflix Series On The Avro Arrow Disrupts My Reading Ambitions,
Richard Aboulafia
 

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