de Havilland Comets in flight

de Havilland Comets in flight. Photo: BAE Systems.

Review of Jet Age by Sam Howe Verhovek.

By Michael Belfiore.

New York Times, February 6, 2011.

“Jet Age” is ostensibly about the race between two companies and nations to commercialize a military technology and define a new era of air travel. There’s Boeing with its back to the wall and its military contracts drying up, betting everything on passenger jets, pitted against de Havilland and the government-subsidized project meant to reclaim some of Britain’s lost glory. At the heart of “Jet Age” is a page-turning detective story (what made the first jet airliner keep crashing?) with characters as finely drawn as those in a work of fiction, and infused with the infectious sense of wonder for heavier-than-air flight that drove ordinary men and women to reach for extraordinary heights.

But the book is really about the risk-taking essential for making any extreme endeavor common­place. “Jet Age” celebrates the managers, pilots, engineers, flight attendants and, yes, even passengers (for without passengers there is no business) who gambled everything so that we might cross oceans and continents in hours rather than days.

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