Lorne Christensen’s TIDES, TURBULENCE, AND TAILWINDS is at once a history of the industry and a long-serving pilot’s life story, replete with personal and professional triumphs and setbacks, colorful characters, flights from hell, and tragic accidents. The dates of Christensen’s service as a pilot coincide with the establishment of commercial flying in North America in general and Canada in particular. Thus, in telling his own story, the author also tells the story of how carriers secured (and all too often lost) a foothold in this fledgling business environment.
Christensen proceeds largely chronologically, beginning with his birth in Nanaimo, British Columbia, in 1937, and concluding with his final flight, in 2010, at age 73. The early portion of the book recounts how the author’s difficulties with formal schooling led him to drop out of high school and join the military, first as an airframe technician for the Royal Canadian Air Force and then as a member of reserve units for the Royal Canadian Navy, in which he served on a tugboat as well as an ocean survey ship. The chapters devoted to Christensen’s military service constitute an interesting history unto themselves, chronicling the typical duties, living conditions, and pranksterism of those who volunteered for Canada’s armed forces in the mid-20th century.
While the first part of the book provides a thumbnail history of mid-century life in the Canadian military, the ensuing chapters suggest how Christensen’s success in the aviation industry involved anything but a straight line to the top of his field. His career was more like a rough-and-ready zigzag between different positions, career possibilities, airlines, and home bases, highlighting the sheer contingency of the events that led to his becoming a captain on international jet flights.
It was during the time of his naval service that the author began taking his first flying lessons, and he received his private pilot’s license in 1960. Then, while visiting his parents a few years later, Christensen got hired as a dock boy by a small airline—Island Airlines—that operated floatplanes out of British Columbia. Learning from the pilots on staff with the airline, the author began training for his commercial pilot’s license, eventually qualifying as a pilot for progressively larger Cessna aircraft. These early years included humorous but also harrowing incidents, such as a bird strike that severely damaged Christensen’s aircraft and fatal crashes in which his fellow Island Airlines pilots were involved.
Christensen left Island Airlines for Staron Flight in 1966, checking out on a multi-engine aircraft for the first time, and from there it was off to the British Columbia Department of Highways Air Division, a “secret airline” that catered directly to the then Minister of Highways. He also served as a pilot for Great Northern Airways, for a time on its Arctic Trader Cargo routes; flew in the capacity of a corporate pilot for an oil-producing firm, and later for Keen Industries; served as a check pilot for the Quebec-based Nordair; and also flew with Northward Aviation, Canadian Air, Royal Airlines, and Air North.
Given the scope of Christensen’s work history and the breadth of his travels, readers may find themselves wanting to know more about the personal impact of the author’s experiences. The author does recount how he and his colleagues made it a point to visit a bar frequented by black patrons in the Washington, D.C., area in the early 1970s, with Christensen taking the opportunity to contrast the egalitarian attitudes of Canadians (there were no racially segregated bars in Canada) with those of many Americans at the time. He also notes how drinking became a significant part of “aviation culture” during his years of service and contributed to the failure of his first marriage. Furthermore, he describes having to undergo rehabilitation from a heart attack and regretting his “panic retirement” due to concerns about the outcome of a potential airline merger. And he includes a final chapter arguing in favor of the deregulation of airlines but against the privatization of airports.
Though some readers may wish to know more about the personal impact of author Lorne Christensen’s experiences as a pilot and the legacy of his career, overall TIDES, TURBULENCE, AND TAILWINDS is a well-written, authoritative, and engaging book whose pages you’ll want to keep turning.
~David Herman for IndieReader