What’s better than slipping under the covers with a good book, especially when you are away from home in a lonely hotel room? Nothing! So here are a few recommended reads for pilots and aviation enthusiasts in alphabetical and not preference order:
30 Seconds Over Tokyo – Ted Lawson
Based on an eyewitness account of the 16 B-25s that bombed various industrial targets in 1942 during the Doolittle Raid, 30 seconds over Tokyo tells of Captain Lawson’s successful mission during the bombing raid and afterward. The plane runs out of fuel due to bad weather and crashes in China with the men being badly injured and rescued by the Chinese. This bombing was in retaliation for Pearl Harbour and is a little-known story. Captain Lawson lost his leg and all of his teeth in the incident and returns home after many months in China. The story includes quite a lot of fact and aviation lore as well as the basics of first aid and amputation.
A Higher Call – Adam Markos
A 21-year-old American pilot, with injured or deceased crew members, flies a damaged bomber over Germany in 1943 during the war and ends up with a Messerschmitt fighter plane on his tail. The story seems like it will end in disaster, but this is just the beginning. The book is about the missions the young American farm boy turned pilot flies in terrible conditions and the German Franz Stigler, an airline pilot from Bavaria, who sought not to fight in the second world war. The story details their lives up until their meeting in the sky and how their lives change in an instant.
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Bombardier Yossarian and his Catch-22 situation is a funny, yet tragic look at the military and the brutal insanity that is war. The story is dark but amusing and has become a classic since it was first published in 1961. It tells of the bombardier’s struggle to decode the catch22 regulation while surrounded by apparent insane people. This is a dark satire filled with comic moments. An interesting read, even 50 plus years later.
Chickenhawk – Robert Mason
Set during the Vietnam war, this is a true story of a helicopter pilot that flies over 1000 assault missions and experiences the horror of war first hand. This is Robert’s personal story, from a wide eyed boy that wanted to be a pilot to a veteran of a thousand plus combat missions, he gives insight into the extreme emotions experienced when placed in situations of unceasing danger.
F4 Phantom – A Pilot’s Story – Robert Prest
This story is based on a day to day account of an RAF pilot defending NATO and the UK during the Cold War.
Fate is the Hunter – Ernest K. Gann
This is a mostly biographical story of the experiences of Ernest Gann during his war and peace time flights. This story gives insight into some of the aviation’s history as well as that of the pilot himself. He has spent nearly 10 thousand hours in the air and brings you the thrills and spills, the terrors and triumphs of being a pilot in the early days of commercial aviation.
Fighter Pilot – Robin Olds
A National College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Robin Olds becomes a squadron commander and ace fighter pilot in World War 2, by the tender age of 22. He went on to fight in the Vietnam war, challenging junior officers with his unorthodox leadership and ending up a triple ace. Robin Olds gives a first-hand account of his journey and the military of the era.
First Light – Geoffrey Wellum
A Battle of Britain accounts from an RAF Spitfire Pilot, one of the youngest to go into battle at the age of 17 in 1939. The story follows his life as a fighter escort on bombing missions over France and a number of fierce dogfights. The loss of his close friend and severe battle fatigue is poignantly described in this enlightening novel.
Flight of Passage – Rinker Buck
Two school boys buy and repair an old Piper Cub and fly it from New Jersey to California and back. No radio, no real training, an adventure filled with excitement and laughter.
Flyboys: A true story of courage – James D.Bradley
A historic story about the lead up to America and Japan’s involvement in the war. The story is very graphic and does not spare sensibilities. It details how inhumane humans can be and how terrible war truly is. It discusses the Americans firebombing the Japanese with napalm as well as the treatment of prisoners in the Japanese camps. This story is horrifying and gripping and tells an incredible story.
I could never be so lucky again – James Doolittle
Jimmy Doolittle is a stunt pilot who served during World War 2 and pioneered some of the modern aviation technology. This is his life story full of tragedies and triumphs, from an aviation and a scientific point of view.
Jet Age, Sam Howe Verhovek
De Havilland and Boeing battle it out for fielding the first jetliner, Sperry fails to be the first Mile High Club member and more are discussed in this fun to read aviation novel.
Night Flight – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
This story focusses on the pilots of the night mail planes that flew to Argentine from Chile, Patagonia, and Paraguay in a time before commercial aviation was common like it is today. The work is translated from the original French by Stuart Gilbert and details fear, loneliness and danger of commercial piloting before jet engines, GPS, and radar.
North Star Over My Shoulder: A Flying Life – Bob Buck
Bob Buck flew solo from coast to coast, when he was only 16, breaking the transcontinental speed record in the junior class. He went on to become a member of the National Advisory for Aeronautics, an author, and a pilot. This is his memoir.
On a Wing and a Prayer, Ernie Pyle
A short story by noted aviation journalist, Ernie Pyle. He previously wrote for the Washington Daily News about flying and pilots and was well known as a war correspondent. A quick read with some genius thrown into the mix.
Piece of Cake – Derek Robinson
A fictional account based on an RAF Hurricane fighter Squadron during 1940 and the beginning stages of World War 2. This book was also made into a TV series, but the Hurricanes were swapped for Spitfires for more interesting aerial maneuvers. Dark humor and a well-researched story on the life of pilots in Hornet Squadron.
Propellerhead – Anthony Woodward
Grassroots aviation in the UK, maintaining an aircraft and reasons to become a pilot, such as the need to impress girls are all delightfully detailed in this humorous and fun to read novel. Focussed around weekend micro light aviators, for the most part, this is a fun story of a flying addiction.
The Aviators – Winston Groom
Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles Lindbergh, and Jimmy Doolittle are immortalized in this story of some of the men who defined aviation from the start of it all, through both World Wars and beyond. Great descriptions of Military raids, solo flights, and combat missions abound in this delightful saga. All three of these men were awarded Medals of Honour in acknowledgment of their spirit and contribution to their country.
The Forgotten 500, Gregory A. Freeman
In 1943, bombers were launched by America in an attempt to cut off German fuel supplies from Romania oil fields. On the return flight, many of the men end up bailing out over Serbia. The locals help them build an airstrip from which they later escape in C-47s. An interesting look at basic airfield construction, emergency evacuation from an aircraft as well as short landings and take offs.
The Lady Be Good, Dennis E. McClendon
When an empty World War 2, B-24 bomber is found in the middle of the Sahara desert by an expedition looking for oil in 1961, McClendon cannot leave the mystery unsolved and investigates how this came to be.
The plane that wasn’t – Jeff Wise
Based on a theory of what happened to the missing Flight 370 of Malaysia Airlines that disappeared in March 2014. Jeff Wise, as a CNN Aviation Analyst and science journalist, puts paid to misconceptions and many conspiracy theories and details exactly what is known about the fate of the plane and its 239 passengers. He also lays out a radical new hypothesis based on some of the unusual data in this specific case.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
An in-depth look into the psyche of the astronauts and their inner life as well as how these test pilots were pushed to limits of human endurance. This book tells of astronauts beyond those that history sought to immortalize and gives a lot of information on the early days of space flight, the supersonic test pilots and NASA’s manned space-flight program.
The Saga of Pappy Gunn – George C.Kenney
General Goerge Kenney tells the tale of Paul Gunn, from a trainee in air combat to becoming an aviation engineer and a fearless fighter and leader. A biography of a hero in the Second World War and a pioneer in aviation at the time.
The Spirit of St. Louis – Charles Lindbergh
Non-stop from New York to Paris, Charles Lindbergh’s flight in 1927 is a historical fact which changed travel forever. This Pulitzer Prize-winning book by the aviator himself details his journey with its excitement, danger, and thrills for an adventure like no other.
The Wild Blue – Stephen Ambrose
Based on the life of Goerge McGovern during his years piloting a B-24 Bomber during the final years of World War 2. He became a pilot at the age of 22, piloted 35 missions into Germany and won the Distinguished Flying Cross. Piloting a bomber is very different to flying a combat plane and this account gives full detail on the training, the pilots and the actual flying of these craft in wartime.
The Wooden Horse, Eric Williams
Not so much a tale of flying, but one of ingenuity. Three British pilots, captured by the Germans, build a wood vaulting horse in the prison compound. They hide inside and dig a tunnel to escape, bringing to mind the fabled wooden horse of Troy, hiding in plain sight.
The Wright Brothers – David McCullough
The story of where it all started, two boys from Ohio who believed they could fly plus some contributions from their sister, Katherine. This is an in-depth look into the genius and engineering ingenuity that went into the design of the first real flying machine. Their indomitable spirit, their belief in their dream despite the risk of possibly dying every time they tested one of their contraptions. An amazing story of the start of aviation history.
They Fought for the Sky, Quentin Reynolds
Huge developments happened in the field of aviation during the first and second world war. This novel gives some history of the airmen in World War one and the major developments across a four-year time span in aeronautics.
Vulcan 607 – Roland White
The bombing raid in 1982 by Avro Vulcan named Operation Black Buck, was the longest ever bombing raid at the time. It was designed to let Argentina that they were not beyond the reach of the RAF. It details the crews, the logistics and more that went into this operation. Many lives were put on the line to allow a single bomber to reach the intended target. A compelling tale of improvisation and resolve.
West with the Night – Beryl Markham
Aviatrix Beryl Markham details her solo flight across the Atlantic, Africa bush-flying and other long distance flights in an inspiration and expressive book which still inspires pilots today.
Yeager: An Autobiography – Chuck Yeager
He broke the sound barrier, he was a flying ace in World War 2 and a test pilot of note. In this autobiography, Chuck Yeager details his incredible life story. Stories of dogfights over Europe, amazing escapes and flying when injured, Chuck leaves you in awe of the Flyboys of the post-war era. He gives insight into to his entire life, along with comments from his colleagues, family, and friends to bring forth a truly personal story of a hero in all senses of the word.
There are much more great aviation tales out there. Feel free to comment some of your favorites below.