Book Review: The Outer Whorl
Mr. Schier's book however, is not a memoir in the traditional sense, but rather one that takes the reader on a much deeper exploration of the call of flying and an appreciation for those with whom one works. It offers the reader rare jewels that most aviation books fail to provide in that instead of bland technical descriptions of various aircraft, braggadocio, or examples of how the writer/pilot saved the day due to his superior abilities (which tends to be an all too common theme in such writing), Mr. Schier in twenty related essays examines his calling to aviation and what he learned from, and admired, in others. Part autobiographical, part tribute, and part examination of what it was like to almost lose twenty years of work in a career due to the post 9/11 fallout through the industry, The Outer Whorl slowly and philosophically allows the reader, both novice and veteran aviator, to ask the same questions as to the value of answering the call of flying.
Mr. Schier is a gifted writer. His descriptions of the nuances of a pilot's life are spot on and he has penned a fascinating book that offers a rare glimpse into the life and psyche of an air transport pilot. The author, a current pilot for a legacy airline, uses a sparse writing style that offers the reader a unique access into the world of flying large aircraft that is normally privy only to pilots. His description for example, of his flight training in Japan and how it differs from American methods was both highly accurate and entertaining to read. His recounting the scene of his formal oral examination from the Japanese civil aviation authorities was so vivid that I found myself feeling tinges of anxiety that harkened back to my own oral exams. I found myself many times both laughing and envying how Mr. Schier is able to beautifully express and convey various moments and ideas with just the right words. His laconic remark of how he needed to prepare for an ocean crossing after nearly being hit and killed on climb out from an American military airfield in England by a British training aircraft, is but an example of the phrasing that lends power to his writing. His last chapter/essay, entitled Memories, is one of the most eloquent and evocative pieces of aviation writing that I have read in years. In it, he describes the flow of humanity to and from the four corners of the earth and the babel of voices and seas of faces and personalities that one encounters in the world's airports writing that has little equal.
At the heart of The Outer Whorl, Mr. Schier takes the reader on an expedition to understand why we fly, the traits of a real leader, and what underlying force motivates one to take a chance and give up the comfortable conventions of a "normal" life and follow a lifestyle that is anything but certain and in which one is constantly tested to remain true to the calling. There is no sugar-coating of answering this call. It is a deep and introspective look at what it meant to make flying ones avocation and for those not so equipped to think retrospectively about such matters, it could be best that they stick with the books laden with that braggadocio and self-aggrandizement that flirt along the topics of flying airliners as if they were a fun-time activity. Frankly though, I appreciated the philosophical tinge to the book and, when many years ago, Mr. Schier came upon Frosts two paths in the woods that he took the road less traveled. After reading this book I understood why he did and why many of those of us who pilot for a living did so as well.
As a pilot with a similar background as the author, I truly found this to be one of the rare gems of aviation writing. Mr. Schier's observations and descriptions are highly accurate, realistic, enjoying, but also deeply profound and prescient. His skill as a keen observer of leadership and his call for it in the airline and air transport industry is as clarion a call as I have heard regarding where the United States stands in the aviation marketplace. Furthermore, there is little doubt that I will take some of the insights and experiences of the writer as lessons to be used in my cockpit. I recommend this book to a pilot of any skill and experience level as one of the most realistic and accurate portrayals of the piloting profession.
Captain Ciro Attardo, UPS