A NIGHT OVER WATER - Ken Follett - 1991
If you enjoy reading history in a fiction novel format, this is a story you will not want to put down…. ”Flight Over Water” is Ken Follett’s romantic tale of a Pam Am Yankee Clipper flight from England to North America in 1939.
The Clipper was the largest aircraft of its time and only 12 of Boeing’s famous Flying Boats were built. The airfields available to land large capacity airplanes were few and far between; the ability to take off and land on water was the solution.
However, by the end of WWII, longer runways were being built and the Flying Clipper was headed for extinction. But, it’s place in history will never be forgotten… romance never dies.
Our story takes place in the thirties leading up to WWII… a period rich with intrigue, duplicity, and devious politics (check my essay about the movie “The King’s Speech” for more political details).
A major character in our plot is Lord Oxenford, a racist and enthusiastic supporter of the right wing extremists known as The British Union of Fascists.
Follett, in his usual fashion, has thoroughly researched the Boeing B314. Our story takes place in the various compartments and passageways throughout this aircraft.
Catwalk leading into a wing
This tale is also about the rise of women’s rights as they become more self-aware and begin the long struggle to achieve equality with men. We are at the tail end of the Victorian era, a period of women’s enslavement and repression. Based upon the current political scene, some will argue that we still have a long way to go.
Follet has given us a complex plot interwoven with multiple personal stories which carry our tale forward at a fast clip. We have: a gangster accompanied by a US marshal; a German, Jewish nuclear scientist who is escaping to the US; an English aristocrat who is a Nazi sympathizer; a petty thief who is just a step ahead of British authorities; a confused woman who is escaping her husband with her lover; a confused husband pursuing his fleeing wife; a coming-of-age woman exploring her newly-found sexual freedom; an aging movie star who is on the downside of her career; a rebellious teenage boy who proceeds to explore the intricate passageways throughout the plane… and who knows how to shoot.
If that isn’t enough… we have a storm in the middle of the Atlantic and… we’re rapidly running out of fuel. Oh, and before I forget, there’s a German submarine and a Coast Guard sub-chaser. Believe me… there’s a surprise at every turn of the page.
Prop your feet up, let the weather go to hell outside, and enjoy yourself.
Charles O. Slavens
A comparison between the 1939 Boeing 314 and the 2017 Boeing 777 –
the largest commercial carriers of their day:
Boeing B-314 Boeing 777- models vary
First flight June 7, 1938 June 12, 1994
Model number 314A 777X
Classification Commercial Commercial
Span 52 feet 217 feet
Length 106 feet 250 feet
Gross weight 84,000 pounds 400,000 pounds
Top speed 199 mph 590 mph
Cruising speed 184 mph 560 mph
Range 5,200 miles 8,555 miles
Ceiling 19,600 feet 43,000 feet
Power Four 1,600-HP Two 110,00 HP
Wright Cyclone General Electric
Accommodation 5 flight crew, 5 cabin 2 flight crew, 10 cabin
74 passengers 375 to 440 passengers