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QF32–A Review

On November 4, 2010, the Airbus A380 operating QF32, from Singapore to Sydney, experienced a catastrophic engine failure, which subsequently disabled a large number of the aircraft’s systems. This book, by the captain on that day, describes how the aircraft is successfully piloted back to Singapore, under extreme pressure, and the subsequent related events.

There was never any doubt I would read QF32, as soon as I heard it had been written and published. I am one of those people who loves and is fascinated by aviation, but has never been actively involved.

I’ve been on the flight deck of QANTAS aircraft for landings in Singapore and London. Indeed, one of the most bizarre experiences in my life was having the captain of one of those flights showing me photos of his family and the steam boat he was restoring, while we were skating along at thirty something thousand feet towards London. Frustratingly, while all I wanted to talk about was aviation, all the flight crew wanted to talk about was IT, once they’d determined the industry in which I worked.

So, of course I bought the book, which opens with Captain De Crespigny describing an early flight during his RAAF career, before covering his life as he grew up. This progresses to further describe his RAAF career and early days at QANTAS. While this was interesting, I actually found myself initially feeling a bit duped, as I’d bought the book to read about that particular incident, not about his aviation career.

However, on reflection, I am glad he wrote it that way, for a couple of reasons. The career path Captain De Crespigny chose is exactly the one I contemplated. TAA and Ansett were no longer offering scholarships and my parents did not have the financial capacity for me to learn to fly and get my commercial licence. The only option available to me was the RAAF and I chose not to head down that path. Why? Truth is, I was too scared that some Prime Minister would make a decision for me to go and get myself killed fighting someone else’s war. Thus, as I read on, I found myself getting some insight into what my career might have been had I made a different decision. Hey, it could have been me flying the A380 that day, if I’d made a different choice.

The second reason I enjoyed reading about Captain De Crespigny’s career prior to QF32, was to understand how many of his learnings and experiences were brought to the fore on November 4, 2010. But I’ll leave it to future readers to understand what I mean.

The book is really well written, albeit with sections that repeat themselves a few times. I wasn’t quite sure whether this was for emphasis, or was poor editing. However, this wasn’t sufficient to make the read a bad experience, and I really enjoyed his style of writing.

While the coverage of the actual experiences of the day were excellent, I also enjoyed reading about subsequent events, particularly his post-traumatic stress issues. This was of particular interest to me given my emergency service background and the impact that Black Saturday and the 2011 Brisbane floods had on me as a Red Cross volunteer. Captain De Crespigny’s thoughts on what makes an effective team and how to lead a team were also great. I know a few people who think leadership is about one person, who should read it just for those parts.

In summary, we all know the story, so I’m not giving anything away. Engine explodes on relatively new aircraft. Through the superior engineering of the aircraft and magnificent skills and temperament of the crew on board, aircraft successfully returns to Singapore, with nil injuries. Despite the facts of the event that are already “out there” and my prior knowledge of what happened, through the internet, media and investigation reports, I found this book to be a great read and could not, seriously, put it down. I certainly highly recommend it.

One word of advice though – if you’re looking for a book to read on your next flight, maybe go for a novel.

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Have a look at this screen shot. Can you see something fundamentally wrong with it? No?

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Have a look at the price of the Kindle edition, compared to the paperback and hardcover (sorry – I know the quality of the screen grab isn’t great).

The whole idea of e-books is they can be distributed a lot more easily and cheaply and thus, those savings can be passed onto the consumer. There are no manufacturing and shipping costs associated with getting the book to the consumer.

So what the hell is going on here Macmillan? Please explain.

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Steve Jobs was not a big fan of the corporate market.

I’ve spent the whole of my working life in the IT industry. 34 years in fact. When I studied computer science, as it was called then, at University of Queensland, I was one of the first students to actually study in the field.

So it probably doesn’t surprise you that I’m not as passionate about the IT industry as others might be. What goes around, comes around. If you think “cloud” is something unique, you’d better put your head back in the sand. We used to call them bureaus.

As a result, I’ve never spent a lot of time meticulously studying how our industry has evolved. I’ve pretty much taken it for granted and just rolled with the flow. Of course I know who Gates and Jobs are and what they’ve done, but it’s never really fascinated me as some people think it might or should.

I did feel a great sense of loss when Steve Jobs passed away though. I even changed my Facebook profile picture to the silhouetted Apple logo with his face etched into the bite. I love my iPod and my iPad, and I would prefer to have an iPhone, than the Windows phone that my employer gives me.

Some people would argue that, given I work for, and rely on my income from, a Microsoft partner, I shouldn’t be so supportive of the Apple products. But that’s bullshit. Those people need to stick there heads in the sand with the cloudites.

So given my love for the Apple products and my sense of loss at Steve’s passing, I realised I really needed to get to know the bloke better. So I bought Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson, ironically reading it on the Kindle client of my iPad.

In short, it’s a great read. I love Isaacson’s writing style and have downloaded previews of his other biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. I might give Henry Kissinger a miss though.

Given Jobs’ controlling nature at Apple, it would not be unreasonable to expect he would have taken control of what went into the biography. But this is clearly not the case. At the end of the book, he has the opportunity to articulate the Steve Jobs view of the world. However, Issacson also covers many aspects of Jobs’ life that clearly do not paint him in the best light.

So what do I think about the man, having reading the Isaacson biography? This excerpt sums it up for me.

 

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Fox Sports in Australia has a program called The Back Page, a reasonably relaxed hour of looking at the week in sport, with different panellists each week. I got to the point where I would have a brief look each week – if Peter FitzSimons was one of the panellists, I’d turn it off straight away. Otherwise, I’d sit down and watch it. I even got to the point of e-mailing Fox Sports about him – his habit of talking over people all the time and making the most absurd, unrelated comments used to annoy me immensely.

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I bought Charles Kingsford Smith & Those Magnificent Men by Peter FitzSimons, at the Borders “use up all your gift vouchers before we go completely broke” sale. Which wasn’t really a sale at all obviously, given I paid $38.99 for the book, in its paperback form.

I have always wanted to fly as a profession, but the timing just wasn’t right in terms of the scholarships being offered by TAA and Ansett (yes, I am that old), and I was always worried that, if I did it via the RAAF, some idiot prime minister would send me off to get myself killed fighting someone else’s war. It’s certainly no coincidence that I live so close to Moorabbin Airport. Thus, any quality book on Australian aviation is going to be well received by me.

In the Introduction, FitzSimons explains that Ian Mackersey’s book, Smithy: The Life of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, is “outstanding”. While I agree with him on this, I’d found it particularly tough going when I read it a few years ago. Hence I was looking forward to seeing how FitzSimons managed the subject, given my experiences of him on The Back Page.

While the book title clearly references Smithy as its main subject, this book is actually a history of global aviation from the very beginning, in 1894, through to when Smithy disappeared in Lady Southern Cross in November 1935. In fact, Dick Smith, a noted Australian business man, conservationist and aviator says it is “Undoubtedly the best aviation book I have ever read”. And while he has probably read way more aviation books than me, I completely agree with him. This book, even at 610 pages, was a great read.

There are some great sub-plots throughout the book, in addition to the thorough coverage of Smithy’s life. I loved reading about Anthony Fokker; how he was an integral part of the German aircraft production line during World War 1 (in which Smithy was a recognised pilot) and how his life progressed to become a major American-based aircraft manufacturer. I also enjoyed re-visiting the establishment and development of QANTAS, something that might surprise some of you who know what I think about that airline these days.

And what of FitzSimon’s irreverent style that had so frustrated me when he was on The Back Page? For some reason, don’t ask me why, I really found it enjoyable in this book. Perhaps a subject so dry, as demonstrated by Mackersey’s book, needed the odd flippant reference like “the circular filing cabinet” and “Well, hell, Thel” to lighten it up. Thankfully, unlike it did do on The Back Page, it didn’t detract from this narrative of how aviation grew up.

In summary, this is a really excellent, readable chronology of Smithy’s life, from his birth in Sydney in 1897 through to his presumed death in 1935, somewhere between Rangoon and Singapore. The story is interspersed with a myriad of excellent sub-plots that detail the history of world aviation during that period. Thoroughly recommended and definitely worth the $38.99.

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