Antara Basu
7 min readFeb 18, 2022


A brief history (and present) of my obsession with civil aviation and aircraft.

Photo by Géraud Gordias on Unsplash

My relationship with airplanes started on the National Geographic Channel, with a show you might have seen and loved yourself- Air Crash Investigation. It seems a bit counterintuitive, but these stories of air accidents increased my fascination with aircraft and the way they are built. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why I love them, but it hinges on the complexity and the sheer scale of human ingenuity that goes into each unit.

When I was between the ages of 3 and 10, my dad’s work would require him to travel internationally quite frequently. I have some vague memories of going to the viewing gallery at the airport with my mom and sister. I actually remember seeing an Alitalia Boeing 747 coming into land and coolly associating this sight to some current form of magic that must be freely available to Alitalia. I was probably around 4 years old at the time.

Photo by Nikita Grishin from Pexels

My true fascination came about after the MH370 incident. I’m sure I can attribute some of it to the media coverage in the weeks following the disappearance. There were all kinds of theories floating around, people saying they saw fireballs in the sky at various locations around South East Asia, and general commotion pervading news media about airline safety and the credibility of Malaysia Airlines (which, sadly, was not helped by the unfortunate downing of MH17). I was drawn to the story and, within a short time, had watched every documentary ever made on airplanes and aviation. In 2016, I spent around a month in Singapore visiting my sister. I had the daytime to myself while she was out at work and on one such day stepped into the wonderment that was the National Library on Orchard Road. I would spend full days sat in there reading books about aircraft engineering (and also about whales, but that’s for another post).

The Obsession

It is difficult to describe in a fundamental sense why I love airplanes, but I can tell you I find them absolutely beautiful, both visually and conceptually. I thought I would try to articulate this obsession in three points. Firstly, the sheer size of some of them. If you’ve seen an A380 take off with your own eyes, it seems to defy all logic. You look at an absolute monstrosity of a structure and think, “there’s no way this impossibly heavy and huge thing can take actual flight, defying gravity, and then proceed to stay there for so many hours”. But then it does exactly that. Which brings me to the second point- the fact that engineering has created this very tangible physical machine that can do what seems as close to impossible as anything.

Computers on modern-day aircraft do countless things in the belly of this beast that most of us will never hear about or realise it does. Much of this is to do with safety features, with layers of redundancy for each of them. This alone simply boggles my mind. Even if you completely leave out computers from the conversation, the basic yet impossible capability of this machine is achieved through simple physics a child could understand, taken precise advantage of by what I imagine are exceptionally sharp human beings. The airframe, wings and control surfaces are all designed to give you the maximum benefit of the laws of physics and aerodynamics.

The elegant solutions achieved through this beautiful thing called engineering all come together to result in my third clause - airplanes are downright beautiful to look at.

Photo by Bao Menglong on Unsplash

There is just something about the gentle curved shape of a composite wing that makes it difficult for me to take my eyes off it. It is not only engineering, but also design and to some extent, marketing. A quick sweep through a few aviation enthusiasts’ Twitter accounts will tell you that one of the reasons people like the A320 is because its Sharklets look “sexy”. Even the decision of naming it a “Sharklet” boils down to marketing chops. A Sharklet is more like a brand name for what is technically called a blended winglet.

The hump of the Boeing 747, the curved wing of a Dreamliner, the full-length upper deck of the Airbus A380, the gloriously elegant proportions of the four-engined “flying pencil” A340–600, the suave blended wingtip device of the A350 and most recently, the folding wingtips of the upcoming Boeing 777X family: these are a few of of the most beautiful and iconic sights in the world of civil aviation. These sights were not a product of form over function, but are all proof that designing an exceedingly beautiful aircraft is in the best interest of aircraft manufacturers. Beauty is incredibly marketable and as technology advances, the relationship between form and funtion starts to get very interesting. I say all of this is without even having touched the territory of business aviation, which takes aviation marketing to a whole new level and in a manner to which most of us would find difficult to relate. But on that brief sidenote: Bombardier Global 7500, you have my heart.

Life as an Aviation Enthusiast

These days, I like to keep a close watch on the aviation industry and on the goings-on at the aircraft manufacturers. I follow media houses that report on the industry, as well as YouTuber pilots who create content and tell stories about air incidents/accidents and what it means to be the person sitting in the cockpit (If you’re interested in this kind of content, I massively recommend Mentour Pilot on Youtube- check out his channel here. He also has an app where you can have discussions with aviation enthusiasts, pilots and others working in the industry).

There was a period of time in my early teenage years when I actually wanted to become a flight attendant. I never took it very seriously because I could see at that point that I was not going to grow tall enough. More recently, I’ve met people who became flight attendants and felt a stabbing sense of “if only”. Not only am I not tall enough just as I predicted, I also have multiple visible tattoos. Funnily enough, I can never imagine myself as a pilot. I have the utmost respect for pilots, but I’ve tried a few flight simulator games and felt tremendous surges of anxiety. And those were just on a mobile game. I shudder to think of the real thing. *Shudders to think of the real thing*.

Flying in today’s day and age is mainly a chore to most people and an evil to some. I can’t say if this would be true if I wasn’t as invested as I am, but for me flying is one of the absolute highlights of any travel episode. I’ve now spent so much time studying aircraft and the commercial aviation industry that when I fly, I find myself thinking of ground and air crew almost like colleagues. I observe them while they work and try to understand the reasoning behind everything they do. When we interact, I speak to them as politely as I can. You should too. Their job is a lot more uncomfortable than your middle row economy seat.

Food for Thought

I want to leave you with a perspective. When you fly, you are a very small part of the day-to-day business of the company that you fly with, and even the aircraft that you fly on. For each flight in each sector that an airline operates, there are hundreds of people (working people doing their jobs, not passengers) involved in the backend who are an integral part of helping you get where you want to be. I would not say every part of the industry is perfect, but it is an industry that operates on the backs of hardworking people trying to earn an honest living, taking you where you need to go and keeping you safe along the way.

The next time you get annoyed at a flight attendant for serving you too little water or wine, try and remember that their job is very far from being defined by that. If a landing is bumpy, don’t blame the pilot who brought you all the way to your destination safely- you can be assured that their rigorous training and skill is precisely what brought you all the way there and enabled them to land successfully in what was likely to be difficult weather/wind conditions. If you’re nice to the lady at the check in counter, she is far more likely to be nice to you. Flying is expensive, but be aware of what you are paying for. This incredible view just happens to be one of those things.

Photo by Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash



Antara Basu

I write about Graphic Design, Product Design and my unruly emotions. Peruse my thoughts here, or see my work at