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Born To Fly
The Heroic Story of Downed U.S. Navy Pilot Lt. Shane Osbornby Michael French and Shane Osborn
(Click for Amazon book review)
OnTheIssues.org BOOK REVIEW:
Shane Osborn ran for the U.S. Senate in the GOP Nebraska primary. He had been elected statewide in 2006, as Nebraska's state treasurer. He led in some polls but lost to Ben Sasse in the May 2014 primary; he did well enough that we can expect him back for future political races. We read this book hoping to find some insight into Osborn's political philosophy, but that is not the purpose of the book -- it is his life story, focusing on his flying career, and culminating in his plane crash with a Chinese fighter jet in 2000.
When we say "focus on flying," you'd better get ready for a hyper-focus on air flight technology that will leave most readers' heads spinning. For example: "The trim tabs are small movable panels on the elevators, ailerons, and rudder that we could adjust without continually using the control yoke or rudder pedal." (p. 116) That's fine for a pilot's manual, but seems a bit much for a biography.
Well, what else can one expect in a biography entitled, "Born to Fly"? We expected a LITTLE bit of politics. We assumed this book was written with the goal of running for office in mind -- but there is no hint of that. Just the story of how Osborn grew up around airplanes, and finally the story (the one which made this book publication-worthy) of the April 2000 collision.
That April 2000 event occupies nearly half the book -- from the details of their mission -- gathering information by flying above international waters in the South China Sea -- to their accidental collision with Chinese fighter jet which was sent to intimidate them -- to their weeks as POWs after crash-landing on Hainan Island, China. For those not familiar with the incident, it garnered international news attention in April-May 2000. Osborn was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his piloting skills in saving the lives of the 24 crewmembers.
Back to the airplane parts. One cannot avoid the airplane parts -- they dominate the book. Unfortunately, Osborn makes little attempt to simplify the concepts for the average reader -- the only readers who will even be able to follow the text are amateur pilots or technology aficionados. It IS possible to simplify the concepts of air flight: I dated a commercial airline pilot once, who explained how jets work with the mnemonic, "Suck-Squeeze-Blow-Go". That means the jet engine sucks in air; squeezes it to high pressure; blows it out the back; and the plane goes forward. The purpose of such simplifications is to understand complicated things -- I've remembered that mnemonic for a decade now, and it encapsulates the essence of jet technology. Osborn makes no such attempt at simplification in this book, which means that non-aficionados (i.e. 99% of us) will get lost reading this book.
For political purposes, this biography does have SOME value. It outlines Osborn's childhood and early career in the Navy, and along the way explains some of his life philosophy. Our excerpts capture the relevant philosophy, as well as the (very little!) policy implications. Osborn certainly has an interesting life story, which is detailed in this book. We look forward to seeing Osborn's next book, to detail his policy stances, as Osborn gets more involved in state and national politics. Using the model of openness and detail expressed in this book bodes well for his political future. We wish every politician did the same.
-- Jesse Gordon, editor-in-chief, OnTheIssues.org, June 2014
The Heroic Story of Downed U.S. Navy Pilot Lt. Shane Osbornby Michael French and Shane Osborn.
Page last edited: Jul 08, 2014