Your One-Stop Aviation Reading List

1) I've frequently mentioned Patrick Smith's "Ask the Pilot" column at Salon, which dependably adds an informed, common-sense, let's-cut-the-BS perspective on flying-related topics. For instance, earlier this week he discussed the lamentable reflex of adding a gratuitous "Oooooohh, could it be terrorism?" note to discussions of any mishap in aviation. Always worth reading. UPDATE: See also Blogging at FL250 an interesting personal blog by a young captain for a regional carrier. Thanks to reader JL.

2) Yes, this is inside-baseball, but: the National Weather Service's Aviation Weather home page, incorporating its Aviation Digital Data Service, is a very effective illustration of "Gov 2.0" services. That is, it uses a variety of (mainly Java-based) web tools to make raw, real-time data available to users in very easily comprehensible, and customizable, forms. Just one illustration: the graphic below (current METARs, for pilots in the crowd) combines weather reports from most airports in the country. At a glance you can get an idea of weather patterns and conditions -- from green, which is relatively clear skies, to magenta, which is very low overcast -- and the strength and direction of the surface winds, from the arrows. You can change any aspect of the display, from scale to density of info shown. If you hover over any of the little dots, you get data from that airport -- and, for many of them, the "TAF," or hour-by-hour forecast for the next 24 hours.


There are many, many other great tools on this page. (For instance: you can click to mark out a planned flight route on the map, choose a start time and duration for the flight, and then see the likely weather, wind strength and direction, icing probabilities, etc at different altitudes over the course of the flight.)  And there are countless other great Weather Service web pages. To start, this and this, or if you're really hard-core, this. The second of these indicates why the DC area (like Buffalo and Charleston WV) is having snow problems right now:


To save you the effort of writing in, I know that there are a hundred other great weather sites! I also realize that the detail in these Aviation Weather reports is different from what you'd care about if you're planning a drive or wondering how to dress. But some people might find this info useful; and a larger number might be interested to see another example of how flexibly public information is now being provided.  UPDATE: For another very useful hardcore site, see this one , which allows you to create "meteograms" for various sites a week into the future. If you know what that means, you realize how valuable it can be. Reader AO says of the site, "this is the work of a masters student in meteorology at Iowa State. It's amazing what government and the public education system can accomplish when they work together ..."

3) If you're interested in just about anything aviation related -- disasters, near-disasters, technological trends, business intrigue, security debates -- and you're not reading Ben Sandilands's "Plane Talking" posts, from the Australian site Crikey, well, you should start. To give one example of many, Sandilands has been ahead of nearly everyone else in discussing the tech, business, and even ethical questions raised in recent near-catastrophes for Qantas airplanes whose engines have exploded or failed. Start  here or here and prowl around. For now that is all.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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