If you’re playing Flight Sim, you must read Skyfaring

When Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was first asked to fly the mail from Alicante to Casablanca, he asked another pilot, Guillaumet, to talk him through the terrain in advance. This was 1926 and aviation was a somewhat magical business. “Guillaumet didn’t teach me about Spain,” Saint-Exupéry later wrote, “he made Spain my friend. He didn’t talk about hydrography, or population figures, or livestock. Instead, when talking about Guadix, he spoke of three orange trees at the edge of a field.”

The world looks very different from the air. Different priorities and different readings emerge. Three orange trees can take on supreme importance. “Little by little,” Saint-Exupéry concludes, “the Spain on my map became a fairytale landscape.”

Saint-Exupéry went on to write an actual fairytale, of course, and The Little Prince is a book in which the thrum of early aviation is always present, a constant warm purring at the threshold of hearing. But in Wind, Sand and Stars, the memoir in which he describes his work on the mail route, he goes on to suggest that, in the decades since those early rattling adventures, something has been lost. Wind, Sand and Stars was written only 13 years after his Spanish gig, and yet: “Today…the pilot, the engineer and the radio operator aren’t embarking on an adventure…but shutting themselves in a laboratory. They respond to instrument needles, not the unfolding of a landscape.”

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