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This book is significant as being the only non-science fiction book
that Arthur C. Clarke ever wrote. It was inspired by (and partially, I'm sure) based upon his experience in World War II as a member of the Royal Air Force, using the GCD (Ground Controlled Descent) system to "talk-down" pilots. This is the setting of the story. Though the technology described is not impressive by today's standards (almost 40 years after the book was written, and 60 after the events it fictionalizes), the radar system is gone into in a quite detailed way, and it's obvious that Clarke knows what he's talking about. However, aside from this, there is another reason that this book is significant. Here we actually have Clarke employing a main character (Alan Bishop) as a main character, and developing him. Perhaps this was spurned on by his own personal involvement with the setting of the story, but, whatever the reason for it, this is probably actually the most "human" story that Clarke has ever put out. Those who claim that they can't read Clarke because all of his stories are just complex scientific esoteria that nobody understands wrapped up in a science fiction premise with cardboard cutout carichatures of characters who act merely as set pieces must revise, at least partially, this view of the author after reading this book. We see Clarke develop the character of Bishop. This, indeed, is one of his relatively few books (including among them Imperial Earth, The Songs of Distant Earth, and perhaps The Fountains of Paradise), where a human being is actually the star of the show, and not a machine or an idea. This is a bit of a change of pace for the reader of ACC's fiction, and it is a pleasant diversion. While this is most assuredly not one of his major works, it is an enjoyable read, and an interesting contrast. It balances the technological and human elements of the story rather well. A nice, quick read as well. Pick it up if you can find it.

by VoodooLord7
   pc_bob | Oct 30, 2006 | 

[IT] IS in[DEED] the case that "the radar system is gone into in quite a detailed way", as VoodooLord7 has suggested, and goes on to say 
"obvious that Clarke knew what he was talking about", because [IT] was a development of this system of Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) that became Precision Approach Radar, which I myself had to study, during my training with the Ministry of Aviation, as a pilot and an Air Traffic Controller.

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Comment by Michael Grove on October 29, 2017 at 12:31

In the context however, of the impressive technological standards applicable today,

with respect to a pilot's control of an aircraft's automated approach to landing,

[IT] remains the responsibility of the pilot to monitor such approach according

to a level of adequate training in the first instance. An absence of which appears

to have been the cause of the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco.

Comment by Michael Grove on October 29, 2017 at 15:51


  • AN/MPN-1 was used to assist the process of directing aircraft over a predetermined glide path for safe approach to an aerodrome runway under conditions approaching zero visibility. A V-8 truck contains the system's two PE-127 power units (rated output of each 7.5 KW), one air conditioner unit, and equipment spare parts. An additional diesel generator was usually mounted on a bomb trailer and towed behind the radar trailer. The V-2 trailer contains the system's radar and communications sets. The radar provides range and azimuth information on aircraft within a radius of 30 miles (48 km) with an operational ceiling of 4,000 feet (1,200 m). High Frequency (HF) and Very High Frequency (VHF) communications were provided by the SCR-274 transmitter, and BC-342 receivers. Ultra High Frequency (UHF) communications were added later via tactical radios normally jeep mounted for use by forward air controllers.

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