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Re-reading ‘The Little Prince’ 20 years later

As father of a 4-year old, while looking for some new books for her, I stumbled across “The Little Prince”, the most famous book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

I remember reading it when I was 7 or 8. At the time, I found it pleasant, but very cryptic in some way. So, I thought that it would be very interesting to go through it again, now that I am a grownup and a pilot, using the sweet excuse of reading it to my little one.

In facts, reading it now, around 20 years after my first time, that little book transmits a completely different feeling. I could possibly say that it conveys some of the most private feeling of the pilot “Saint-Ex”, but clearing the story from every technical details that would possibly bore the young audience.

One thing of the book that I struggled to understand was why and how the Little Prince was travelling from a little planet to the other. It is difficult to understand what the different small planets that the Little Prince visits are if one doesn’t know that when Antoine de Saint-Exupery started to fly, one of his tasks was to open new air routes for the Aéropostale connecting towns and countries. At the time, a remote town close to the Andes could easily be seen as a different planet. And people could more easily close themselves, thinking to be kings, but without knowing of what insignificant realm.

However, a theme – if not the theme –  that is central to the book is that of death. It is somehow never explicitly mentioned. When the Little Prince agrees to be bitten by the snake, he simply wants to go back to his planet. When I was small and read this lines, part of me was convinced he did actually make it back. I still think it now somehow.
If you have the chance to read some of the articles Saint-Exupery wrote during the years of the Aéropostale and especially about what happened when a pilot assigned to a long and dangerous did not arrive, you will immediately understand why death is something that remains unspoken. In facts, when that happened, there was only the silence left by their absence but often no confirmation of what had happened. A part of each of the friends and colleagues waiting on ground hoped for some different epilogue.

The book has certainly many other meanings, but you can read about them in any anthology. Here I just sit with my imagination in the room were Saint-Ex wrote his masterpiece and listened to the pilot.

I am happy to hear what does the book represent for you. Feel free to use the contact form you find under the respective page!

I wish you all a nice reading.
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A morning at Airliner Classics

Airliner Classics is a fixed appointment for aviation lovers in Germany and around Europe. The event brings to the small town of Speyer, in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, a number of old airliners kept in perfect shape and often even carrying crews dressed in the original uniforms of the time. I won’t be telling too many technical details, because these you can find on all the specialised magazines that every year follow the event and on the website of the organiser (http://airliner-classics.de/).

What I would like to transmit is the special atmosphere that you can enjoy at these event, because it says a lot about the value that aviation has for the Germans.

Let’s start from the location. The airport of Speyer-Ludwigshafen (ICAO code: EDRY) is located around 90 km south of Frankfurt am Main and is one of the most beautiful airports I can think of thanks to its proximity to the Rhine river and the incredible view that pilots enjoy landing on runway 16 or taking of on runway 34. In facts, next door to the airport, the Technik Museum Speyer has its seat and one of its most prominent features, a decommissioned 747 by Lufthansa, stands at 30m of height greeting all air traffic.

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Despite a thunderstorm in the early morning, hundreds of aviation fans were already on the apron when I arrived and, with their cameras, they were already violating all secret details of Antonov, a Yak and a MH1521 Broussard.

The crowd was mostly German, but with a few Americans here and there, due to the vicinity of a couple of US Army basis. There were people of any age. Then, a sudden buzz preceded the DC3 of Swissair, which made her appearance escorted by two Beechcraft 18.  It is glorious view to see the DC3 gently touching down on the wet runway. The shiny body of the plane and the water on the asphalt fill the eye with light. Right after her, the two Beech 18 also touched down.

In matter of minutes the sky opened up completely, and war birds and passenger planes intensified the pace of arrivals. The variety of planes and the numerous crowd tells a lot about how much Germans love aviation and how well they manage to preserve its most historical treasures.

But the beauty of this event, is not only linked to the historical value of the aircrafts present. I love the familiar atmosphere, the way everybody smiles and welcome warmly the pilots descending the ladders from their machines. I exchanged a few words with a young man of around 30 and I promised to send him the pictures of him standing close to the DC3, but he doesn’t have a facebook account. He said he works as flight instructor during the week ends and at the regional aviation authorities during the week. I concluded that he is probably one of the most connected persons I know anyway. Indeed, he seemed to know most of the pilots in the area. He showed me pictures of him crossing Frankfurt International on board of a L39 commanded by a famous aerobatic pilot and then pictures of him piloting a PC-6 while carrying skydivers. There was always someone passing by who greeted him while we were talking. While we exchange the email details, I think that coming from a very different place and also a different culture, something took me off-guard. I was indeed somehow, stupidly, surprised by how the aviation crowd here seems more like an open and welcoming family.

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The reason to fly

It is quite hard for me to say what it is that I love most about flying. For some pilots it is the uniqueness of the point of view that you acquire when you fly, for others it has all to do with the acceleration and the ability to manoeuvre. I don’t think all these aspects are mutually exclusive, yet the propensity towards one or the other determines what type of pilot we become.
Indeed, aviation is a mix of very different concepts. Just to mention two extremes, the strict, tested and orderly world airliners is very different from that of bush pilots, who venture into unchartered areas.
Also, aviation is not confined to planes and airports. It starts with dreaming and expands to studying, designing, writing and sharing.
I believe that all pilots share a common feeling about flying, although slightly different one from the other because of our different characters. These thoughts touch deep and intimate sides of each one of us, like fear and sense of accomplishment. For this reason, we are part of a very special and elitarian club, which I deem of the purest type as it is not formed on the basis of wealth or political sides, but on the commonality of feelings.

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