Suggested Reading List
The High and the Mighty
Author: Gann, Ernest
Description: Gann is simply the master when it comes to the aviation novel. His skill with the story, the characters, the events , the drama and the details that make it alive are awesome.
Most novels and a disturbingly high percentage of non fiction books are written and edited by people who have little knowledge of the realities and physics of flying or the complex culture of the aviation community. Gann's work has so much authenticity that you can feel the well worn controls and sense the tension. He also manages to avoid the overly dramatic behavior trap that afflicts the behavior of characters in other flying novels.
"If you flew in passenger aircraft during the piston era of the '40-50s and love airplanes, you must read this book. Readers learn what it was like to navigate by the stars, deal with cantankerous radial engines, set throttle, propeller and mixture controls while a paranoid passenger tries to vent his frustration on his wife's former boyfriend. Flying portions are gripping as co-pilot and lead character Dan Roman tries to find out what's wrong with a DC-4 before it's too late. Dan is the experienced, yet tragic, character played by John Wayne in the movie by the same name. All told, the book is one of Ernie Gann's finest, if not the finest."
To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight
Author: Tobin, James
Description: James Tobin, award-winning author of Ernie Pyle's War and The Man He Became, has penned the definitive account of the inspiring and impassioned race between the Wright brothers and their primary rival Samuel Langley across ten years and two continents to conquer the air.
For years, Wilbur Wright and his younger brother, Orville, experimented in obscurity, supported only by their exceptional family. Meanwhile, the world watched as Samuel Langley, armed with a contract from the US War Department and all the resources of the Smithsonian Institution, sought to create the first manned flying machine. But while Langley saw flight as a problem of power, the Wrights saw a problem of balance. Thus their machines took two very different paths—Langley’s toward oblivion, the Wrights’ toward the heavens—though not before facing countless other obstacles. With a historian’s accuracy and a novelist’s eye, Tobin has captured an extraordinary moment in history. To Conquer the Air is itself a heroic achievement.
Son of Thunder
Author: Wetterling, J.D.
Description: Duty. Honor. My country, right or wrong, drives the young fighter pilots of Dusty Squadron, from flack in the face above the A Shau Valley to napalm in the jungle to midnight gunfights over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Top Gun F-100 pilot John Ellsworth, the impetuous Son of Thunder, is the most zealous of the lot, and he pays dearly. A story of redemption in a war that changed the American culture.
Son of Thunder is actually three books in one. First, it captures the essence of being a fighter pilot in combat, [offering] a true picture of the air war in a far corner of the world. Second, it is a charming love story. It is about the love that is felt by the very young, living their life to the hilt and loving for keeps. And finally, it is a subtle analysis of a war that went bad.Son of Thunder is a story that is told quietly, knowingly, and just about as well as it can be told.
J. D. Wetterling is an excellent writer. He tells a gripping story about a fighter pilot's war in Vietnam, the camaraderie of the men and their belief that the cause was just and their actions right, and their growing disillusionment in government. He also tells a wonderful love story, a story about Kate, a nurse who is against the war, and their struggle to accommodate each other. In a real sense J. D. has written a book that helps bring understanding and healing to a very difficult chapter in American history.
The B-17: The Flying Forts
Author: Caidan, Martin
Description: There is no such thunder in history -- nor ever will be again -- as the deep-throated roar of the mighty, four-engined B-17s that streamed across the skies in World War II. The long runways are silent now, the men and planes are gone. But out of the massive files of records available, and the memories of the men who flew, Martin Caidin has assembled this dramatic portrait of America's most formidable heavy bomber of the war. The B-17: The Flying Forts recreates a vanished era and a great and gallant plane -- a plane that could absorb three thousand enemy bullets, fly with no rudder, and complete its mission on two engines. A plane that American pilots flew at Pearl Harbor, Tunis, Midway, Palermo, Schweinfurt, Regensberg, Normandy, and Berlin, in thousands of missions and through hundreds of thousands of miles of flak-filled skies. A plane that proved itself in every combat theater as the greatest heavy bomber of World War II.
Roscoe Turner: Aviation's Master Showman
Author: Glines, Carroll V. and James Doolittle
Description: His name was synonymous with speed, his flamboyant persona as carefully crafted as that of a Hollywood star. Born in Corinth, Mississippi, in 1895, Joe Turner was an aerial showman, an audacious risk taker, and a tireless self-promoter who focused America's attention well into the 1960s on the potential of aviation for the common good. With complete access to Turner's personal papers, photographs, and memorabilia, biographer Carroll V. Glines presents the first full account of the life of this American daredevil aviator. Turner determined as a young man to make his way in the world at the forefront of the new, exciting, and risky technologies of speed in the air. After serving as a balloon pilot during World War I, Turner found his future in the 1920s as a stuntman, creator of his own flying circus, and a pilot in Howard Hughes's World War I feature, Hell's Angels, Hollywood's most expensive movie before Gone With the Wind. Turner glided smoothly into movie society, becoming good friends with fellow pilot and actor Wallace Beery and taking movie stars Clark Gable and Fred MacMurray for their first airplane rides. Turner knew how to attract attention. To create a consistent image in the public's mind--of himself and of aviation--he always dressed in a military-type uniform of blue tunic, cavalry twill riding britches, polished boots, and a pin of diamond-studded wings. He was perhaps best known as the pilot who flew with the lion cub Gilmore as an oil company promotion. His place in flight history rests on his skill as a racing pilot--he is the only person ever to win the Thompson Trophy three times and, along with Jimmy Doolittle, to win both the Thompson and Bendix trophies. In 1934 he and his two-man crew were the only Americans to finish the grueling London-to-Melbourne race.
Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds
Author: Olds, Robin, Christina Olds and Ed Rasimus
Description: Robin Olds was a larger-than-life hero with a towering personality. A graduate of West Point and an inductee in the National College Football Hall of Fame for his All-American performance for Army, Olds was one of the toughest college football players at the time. In WWII, Olds quickly became a top fighter pilot and squadron commander by the age of 22—and an ace with 12 aerial victories.
But it was in Vietnam where the man became a legend. He arrived in 1966 to find a dejected group of pilots and motivated them by placing himself on the flight schedule under officers junior to himself, then challenging them to train him properly because he would soon be leading them. Proving he wasn’t a WWII retread, he led the wing with aggressiveness, scoring another four confirmed kills, becoming a rare triple ace.
Olds (who retired a brigadier general and died in 2007) was a unique individual whose personal story is one of the most eagerly anticipated military books of the year.
West With the Night
Author: Markham, Beryl
Description: Beryl Markham’s life was a true epic, complete with shattered societal expectations, torrid love affairs, and desperate crash landings. A rebel from a young age, the British-born Markham was raised in Kenya’s unforgiving farmlands. She learned to be a bush pilot at a time when most Africans had never seen a plane. In 1936, she accepted the ultimate challenge: to fly solo across the Atlantic. Her successes and her failures—and her deep, lifelong love of the “soul of Africa”—are all chronicled here with wrenching honesty and agile wit. Hailed by National Geographic as one of the greatest adventure books of all time, West with the Night is the sweeping account of a fearless and dedicated woman.
Author: Yeager, Jeana, Dick Rutan and Phil Patton
Description: On the morning of December 23, 1986, Yeager and Rutan, man and wife, set down their one-of-a-kind, home-built airplane, Voyager, at the base in California where, little more than nine days earlier, they had begun their nonstop flight around the world, a 25,000-mile-plus adventure they describe in dramatically human terms in this richly illustrated book. They tell their story in alternating and nicely dovetailed this-is-how-it-was first-person pieces, with help from Phil Patton, who wrote Open Road and Razzle Dazzle. More than half the book focuses on the several years before the flight, which Jeana and Dick, with a growing legion of professional and volunteer helpers, spent designing, building, testing and testing again (dangerously) their ultra-light, catamaran-shaped craft with its tiny "horizontal telephone booth" cockpit. The intrepid pair, who "didn't know what we were getting ourselves into," met at an airshow, he a Vietnam flier of 105 missions, she both a pilot and a horse-trainer. They shared the dream of the flight, fell in love, married and went on to see their know-how and courage tested almost beyond endurance in the voyage that more than once nearly ended in disaster.
Reach for the Skies: Ballooning, Birdmen, and Blasting into Space
Author: Branson, Richard
Description: Bestselling author and billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has always been obsessed with the skies. To promote a new Virgin Airlines route, he became the first man to water ski behind a blimp. His Virgin Galactic venture will soon offer ordinary people the opportunity to experience spaceflight aboard the first commercial spaceliner, SpaceShipTwo.
In Reach for the Skies, Branson examines the history of aviation over the last two hundred years, putting the spotlight on trailblazers such as:
* Tony Jannus, who made the first ever commercial flight over Tampa Bay, Florida, in 1914.
* Leo Valentin, the "bird man" who jumped from 9,000 feet wearing a pair of wooden wings in the 1950s.
* Steve Fossett, who broke 130 world records in planes, balloons, and airships.
The pioneers of flight-not just the world-famous Wright Brothers, but also lesser known visionaries and dreamers-made it possible for any of us with the desire and the commitment to reach for the skies ourselves.
Flying the Andes: The Story of Pan American Grace Airways and Commercial Aviation in South America, 1926-1967
Author: Krusen, William A. and Stephen Morrill
Description: Finally a book addressing the pioneering, perils and success of establishing such a great airline has been written. William A. Krusen's book did justice to all of them from the founding fathers to pilots, pursers and stewardesses -the name of flight attendants had not been invented yet-, mechanics, radio operators, baggage handlers, everybody did his or her work very professionally which in the final analysis helped PANAGRA set the standards that so many new airlines tried to emulate.
The book is 200% correct when praising Panagra for having taught Southamericans what transportation by air was all about starting with the acquisition of airplanes, setting up meteorological and radio stations, navigational aids, and most of all setting up very strict safety standards -which according to some well known world figures in the aviation industry it made them the safest and most safety-minded airline ever anywhere in the world. Their culture in spite of having disappeared more than 30 years ago still is there.
The book falls short though in what is a cardinal rule for identifying airplanes, instead of referring to them as P-1 (the first plane to enter the fleet, and so on) the authors should have done a bit more of research so when describing any particular event they should have identified them as lets say N49550 a Hyper DC-3, or N88937 a DC-4, and so on. As you know airplanes, like people, like to be referred to by their "baptism" names, not by their social security number, airplanes also have their own identities, and pride.