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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

July 18, 1993|CHRIS GOODRICH

ZERO 3 BRAVO: Solo Across America in a Small Plane by Mariana Gosnell (Alfred A. Knopf: $25; 371 pp.). Reader beware: steer clear of this volume if you're afraid of catching the flying bug. Mariana Gosnell, formerly a reporter for Newsweek, spent one recent summer flying from New York to California and back by way of small, often family-run airports, and she makes the trip seem too interesting, and too affordable, to pass up. Gosnell stops at the predictable tourist sites en route--the Wright Brothers museum in North Carolina, Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, etc.--but "Zero 3 Bravo" is redeemed by the airplane tales, and people, Gosnell delivers along the way. The pilot with chewing gum in his fuel tank: He bought a pack of the same brand of gum, chewed a stick, dropped it in a jar of aviation fuel and found--whew--that it dissolved within a week. The stump-hunter in Alabama: Firewood dealers can get such a premium for "fat" wood, to which dead virgin pine turns if left in the ground, that it actually pays to hunt stumps from the air. The "custom miller" in the lower San Joaquin Valley: He made animal feed out of vegetable waste, and found that one of the best places to sun-dry his product was on the strips of land alongside Shafter Airport runways. "Zero 3 Bravo" grows dull in places, as Gosnell apparently records every one of her 70-odd landings, but the book is infectious nonetheless, in part because the rural airport is an increasingly endangered species. That's the bad news: The good news is that small-airport culture is extraordinarily friendly--Gosnell was offered a meal and a place to stay most everywhere she went--and accessible: The author's 1950 Luscombe Silvaire Model 8F cost her a mere $3,100.

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