Aside from the fact that they’re aerodynamically essential to modern aviation, I really don’t care much for airplane wings. For starters, they’re cold metal, and I like warm, inviting things. What I dislike even more is sitting on a plane next to the wings. Even as a little girl, I’d count the number of screws on the wing. Screws. Simple screws. They looked like the kind on a swing set, and yet they’re supposed to hurl a couple hundred people through the air at several hundred miles per hour? Counting them made them seem stronger—titanium screws, now those had to be good for planes.
Four years ago I was the ghost writer for a human factors engineer. His first draft was particularly terrible, so even though he only acknowledges me as his editor, I tell everyone I was the ghost writer. His fulltime job was spent working with healthcare and aviation clients—help them to not inadvertently kill their clients. I studied numerous engineering checklists, FAA guidelines and laws. I saw videos on systems and processes and algorithms. All these layers that went into running a beast like the FAA and not having planes fall out of the sky.
Today, as I fly to San Francisco, I am resting atop a shiny, metal wing. At first I look at its expanse, and I ensure there is an entire wing with all the obvious pieces. Then I look at the screws, and instead of counting them, I wonder if the maintenance man followed his checklist that was designed by 45 engineers. Or if perhaps he’d been in a fight with his wife. And he was distracted. And that’s why a few of the screws look a little loose.