Thursday, September 29, 2016

Project Seven Alpha - Leland Shanle

Project Seven Alpha is story that uses the attempts by the U.S. Army air Force to keep forces in China going by flying in supplies over the Himalayas via converted DC-3 commercial airliners, flown by American Airlines pilots, operating out of Burma. That part really happened, and was critical as the Japanese forces swept down through Southeast Asia and took control of the seas and skies, meaning Burma, and later India, were the only paths in.

Shanle tries to work the story through the two top officers of the group of pilots, J.T. and Charles Henry, both of them World War I fighter pilots, both of whom struggle with the return to combat, and the danger the men under their command are facing. For Charles it's even more acute, since his son also volunteered and is normally his co-pilot. Nothing too ground-breaking there. The story even has the requisite section where the crews get some R&R and crash a stuffy Governor's Ball.

Shanle's a retired Navy aviator, and a current airline pilot, so he knows his stuff about flying, and works in a lot of technical detail about keys to flying in formation, or how to throttle the engines properly. Unfortunately, at times he overdoes it a bit and it kind of sucks the life from the narrative. One of the DC-3s is jumped by a Zero, but due to the cargo pilot's greater experience, he's able to elude the fighter until its pilot overreaches and crashes. But Shanle is busy explaining about the drag on the wing in tight, low-speed turns, and angles of approach, and it saps the scene of any suspense.

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