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13 Mar 2014

Seven Great Books about Flying

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Love to fly and love to read? You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to books. Many gifted aviators have also been gifted writers. Fuel your passion for aviation by reading about the experiences of these pilots in the following seven books.

 

The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles Lindbergh
Why not get the story of the first trans-Atlantic flight straight from the pilot himself? In addition to being one of aviation’s greatest heroes, Charles Lindbergh was an excellent writer (and so was his wife, Anne). Follow along with him as he details the setbacks, close shaves, and triumphs of the flight that made the modern aviation age a reality.

 

Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Best known for his children’s story The Little Prince, French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s first occupation in life was as a pilot. In fact, he would eventually lose his life on a reconnaissance mission during WWII. Before that, however, he was busy flying new routes across Africa and South America for the Aeropostale. In Wind, Sand, and Stars, he captures the sheer exhilaration of the early days of flight, and the camaraderie of those first, pioneering pilots.

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

In this 1979 page-turner, Tom Wolfe profiles several of the pioneers of the space race. From Chuck Yeager’s sound barrier-breaking flight to John Glenn and Neil Armstrong—and the families they left on the ground—Wolfe takes you right in to the action of the days when we took aviation beyond the speed of sound and outside the boundaries of Earth.

Fate is the Hunter by Ernest K. Gann

Ernest K. Gann was a member of the early generation of commercial pilots, flying from the 1930s to the 1950s. His career spanned WWII, and he flew bombing missions during the war. In this history of his time as a pilot he is able to evoke the risks, the adventure, and the thrills of those early days.

Yeager: An Autobiography by Chuck Yeager

There’s an awful lot more to Brig. Gen Charles Yeager (ret.) than breaking the sound barrier. Read, in his own words, about how he shot down a Messerschmidt jet with his prop-driven P51 Mustang during WWII and his antics as squadron leader. You’ll also read about his about his many experimental aircraft flights as the United States solidified its military dominance of the skies—and looked towards space– including the historic X-15 flights. Listen to his reminiscences of Jackie Cochrane and of the early days of NASA. And marvel at the fact that this boy from West Virginia knows how lucky he is to have led the life he has.

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham was originally a race-horse breeder in Kenya during the 1910s and 1920s. But she soon traded in her life at the track for a life as a pilot. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic the “wrong way”—that is, from east to west. She wrote a brilliant memoir of her experiences as a bush pilot in Africa that is so good, it earned praise from the normally dismissive Ernest Hemingway, who knew her personally: “She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer…. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers.”

Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

Want to read a nail-biter? Here is another first-person account of aviation history—the doomed flight of Apollo 13, as written by the mission leader Jim Lovell, with assistance from science journalist Jeffrey Kluger. This is the book the 1995 Tom Hanks film was based on, and it includes even more details about this harrowing mission that almost went disastrously wrong.