Captain Paul Harker of Atlanta Airways must be on his mettle, if t for twenty-four hours a day, at least for the six or so hours it takes to fly the aircraft for which he is ultimately responsible across the Atlantic. There are, after all, two hundred and seventy-one passengers on board, as well as the crew. Harker, however, is t a machine but a human being and, like all human beings, is subject to the ups and downs of living. Age is creeping up; his wife Harriet is ill; he has become distanced from his son and bitterly estranged from his daughter. To complicate his life even further, a pretty, guileful young stewardess is all for boosting his fragile ego at the expense of his equilibrium. When the aeroplane's number four engine catches fire Harker and his crew, led by First Officer Adams, follow the usual emergency procedure. Or at any rate, they think they do. Why then does the fire blaze more fiercely than ever after the release of the extinguisher bottles? And when does Captain Harker refuse to be parted from the strange walking stick with the shepherd's crook handle? David Beaty's vel is partly about flying and partly about love. He shows us that even in the era of super fast fail-safe techlogy, when we climb on board an aeroplane we place our lives in the hands of the Captain and his crew, all of whom are subject to just the same stresses as the rest of the world. The human factor is always there: the machine is still driven by the man.
Arthur David Beaty was a former RAF pilot, novelist and non-fiction writer whose books about flying earned him a worldwide reputation. Born in Ceylon, Beaty was educated at Kingswood, Bath and Merton College, Oxford, where he edited The Cherwell with Iris Murdoch. He became an RAF pilot during WWII, where he excelled, but gave up a life in the Air Force to write full-time. However, his experiences informed his many novels, thrillers originally written under the pseudonym Paul Stanton. In 1960, Cone of Silence was made into a film starring Peter Cushing and George Sanders, and Alfred Hitchcock bought the rights to Village of Stars, although the film was never made. In the late 1960s Beaty turned his hand to writing non-fiction: his book about safety and aviation The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents, caused wide controversy on its publication in 1969, but was later accepted and remains very influential.