Every time you board a commercial airliner, you put your life in the hands
of two people at the front of the plane – the pilot and co-pilot. Unseen,
but occasionally heard over the loudspeaker system. They sound fine and
reassuring. But how fit are they? What is the risk of an incapacitating
heart attack or stroke at 30,000 feet or during a stressful landing in fog
or at an unfamiliar airport?
Michael Joy has spent a lifetime trying to assess and mitigate the risk of
cardiac arrest or other incapacitating episodes on the flight deck, becoming
one of the leading world experts on flight medicine and fitness to fly.
Safety always came first, and he was not afraid to take on his bosses at the
Civil Aviation Authority, even advising an ageing Douglas Bader, the famous
legless World War Two fighter ace, that he was no longer medically fit to
fly – leading one of his friends to remark wryly that he had been
responsible “for a greater loss of pilots than the Luftwaffe”!
It has been a personal crusade for Joy. prompted largely by the discovery
that the pilot of the Trident jet Papa India which crashed shortly after
takeoff from Heathrow on June 18 1972 had suffered a disabling
cardiovascular event, a major contributing factor in the disaster.
He takes the reader on a fascinating personal journey, weaving his own
experiences of learning to fly, gaining his private pilot’s licence,
training as a doctor and specialising in cardiology, with the history of
This is a highly technical book, with Joy listing in great details the
technical specifications of the planes he has flown – from the humble
workhorse the Tiger Moth to the pinnacle of his flying career, taking the
controls of the supersonic Concorde as it crossed the Atlantic.
Yet the descriptions take-offs and landings, and accounts of flight
disasters, are offset by amusing personal anecdotes, snippets of political,
medical and aviation history. Just when the reader feels overwhelmed by
descriptions of engines, flaps and flight management plans, he makes swift
left or right hand turn into past political scandals. Nor can the author
hide his disdain for most politicians, civil servants and quango bosses,
particularly at the CAA, whom he criticises for outsourcing its aeromedical
After reading this book, do you feel reassured enough to get on the plane?
The answer is probably yes – even though four out of five fatal aircraft
accidents are due to human error. No matter how the plane makers make their
aircraft safer, we are still dependent on those two men and women on the
fight deck getting it right all the time. The author closes his book with
the adage “don’t forget to fly the aeroplane” . We can all agree with that.