BOOK: "Ask the Pilot," by Patrick Smith

(Riverhead Books, $14).

TARGET AUDIENCE: People who still feel a thrill when the engines rev for takeoff.

QUICK TAKE: Airline pilot Smith answers the questions we've all contemplated as we've waited for the beverage cart -- What happens if a bird hits a plane? Can turbulence rip the wings off a plane? Why did they let us stew on the taxiway for two hours? -- but also many we've never thought to ask. And he freely adds his opinions. (His views on terrorism -- that the 9/11 attackers' best weapon was surprise and that confiscating nail files is unlikely to change that -- won't be shared by everyone.)

Smith explains the complexities of flight and the aviation industry clearly enough to satisfy neophytes without insulting the person who already knows the difference between a 747 and a 747-400. He uses a readable Q and A format enlivened with humor, personal anecdotes and nugget-rich lists (i.e., worst crashes, busiest airports, most profitable airlines).

RANT: Where are the pictures? He has us all jazzed about airplanes; now we've got to drive out to Dulles if we want to see them?

RAVE: Worth the price just for the anecdote about the exploding toilet.

-- Jerry V. Haines