The following e-mails were submitted in response to “On the Bookshelf.”
The recommended titles in each e-mail are indicated in bold italic.

First, thanks for the recommendations in this month’s [Dec. 2012] magazine.

I just ran down to my local used book store, they had Michener’s The Bridges at Toko-Ri, so I bought it...for $1.05!

As far as some of my personal favorites, there are quite a few. I try to stick to nonfiction, as there are so many great, true stories in aviation history.

A long time ago I found the Bantam Air & Space Series of books. I’ll see if I can find a link for you, but back in about 1994, they ran a series of paper backs of classic aviation books.

Three from that series, that I read and loved were;

1. I Could Never Be So Lucky Again which is Jimmy Doolittle’s autobiography. It should be REQUIRED reading! He invented the radio altimeter and artificial horizon! And he crashed a lot of airplanes! He was nuts! But in a good way.

2. Noel Wein’s biography, he was the first bush pilot in Alaska, and later founded Wein Air Alaska, also should be required reading.

3. Island in the Sky, by Ernest Gann. This is the true story of a WW2 aircrew stranded on the Greenland ice cap.

Some of my other favorites are:

The Wild Blue, by Stephen Ambrose, about the men and boys who flew the B24s over Germany in WW2.

Flyboys, by James Bradley, about Navy and Marine airmen in the Pacific, WW2, shot down, captured, tortured, eaten, etc. President GW Bush was in that group but he was picked up by a Navy Sub and lived. The others, not so lucky.

North to the Orient, by Anne Morrow Lindburgh, wife of Charles Lindburgh. It’s about a trip they took in an open cockpit, tandem, float plane, from Long Island, NY, up to Maine, then on to Japan, in about 1936 (?) flying across Canada and Alaska, landing on lakes and rivers, camping out or sleeping in the cockpits. Anne had to learn Morse code for the trip as her job and reason for coming on the trip was to be the radio operator and pass position reports, and try to get weather updates. She is an excellent writer and tells the story as only a non-pilot, woman, wife, can! I fly over some of that same territory in a 777, from MSP to NRT, but at FL350, going 600mph, with SatCom and CPDLC! I cannot imagine what they had to deal with, it’s truly amazing they made it alive!

And one more, much more recent, it is about the airline industry and its troubles brought on by deregulation, it was written in 1995; Hard Landing, by Thomas Petzinger, Jr.

What would be great of course is if someone would write a Flying the Line III. I’ve read both 1 and 2, but there hasn’t been much written on ALPA and the Industry since 9-11, 2001, and that’s when things really got ugly, for everyone. I would love to have George Hopkins write it. Where is he now?

Thanks again and keep up the great work in the Air Line Pilot mag.

—Capt. Tim Bohan, Delta Air Lines

Final Approach
five stars

Pages iii through xxiv are themselves worth the price.

If someone gave you this book, and you read the two-page Introduction by Ted Koppel, it is very unlikely that you would stop reading there. People who will be touched by Lyle’s story include pilots, alcoholics, fathers, husbands, wives, lawyers, judges, those who have escaped being alcoholic, military officers and men, and most everyone else.

I knew Lyle when we were both young kids flying dangerous aircraft. I saw his courage, learned first-hand his technical expertise, and admired his gregarious personality.

Many people who describe a tragedy in their lives, tell of people or circumstances that are to blame. Lyle is not one of these. In taking full responsibility for his life, he becomes an inspiration to the rest of us.

The book is not presented in chronological order, but cleverly moves back and forward in time to explain the significance of Lyle’s childhood, family, military career, and trusted friends.

Final Approach is a fantastic story with numerous surprises and a happy ending, told expertly by a man we all should truly respect.

Capt. Jon Barton, DAL retired


I have a suggestion for the list of books every aviator should read, it’s titled Solo to the Top of the World by Gustavus A. McLeod; 2003 Smithsonian Institute. It’s a terrific book about the author’s search for who he is as a person and the limits of his endurance in an unforgiving environment as he flies his open cockpit Steerman to the geographical North Pole.

—Capt. Ronald Johnson, Delta Air Lines

I truly enjoyed your column “On the Bookshelf”. You hit it on the head with the three books you presented. They are definitely three of the best books written on pilotage. Here are a few of my favorites:

Hard Landing by Thomas Petzinger Jr. This book and Turbulent Skies by T.A. Heppenheimer are both excellent histories of the U.S. major airlines and the men and women who built and subsequently sometimes destroyed them. North Star Over My Shoulder, by the late Captain Bob Buck, I would place in my personal top five favorite aviation books. Vectors by Len Morgan and Flightlines by Rick Drury are well written presentations of both authors’ column work at Flying and Airways magazines, respectively.

Captain Drury’s dedication says it all in one paragraph: “To the last genuine airline pilots, those who battle typhoons and hurricanes, thunderstorms and winds gone mad, ice and snow, staggering fatigue and brainless bureaucracy. They do not wear the trendy suits and sit at desks. THEY FLY THE LINE.”

—Jeff Brown, Continental

Responding to request from numerous ALPA pilots, we have made available a revised and updated flight bag edition of Odyssey of Terror. It was released as a Kindle eBook by in October 2011.

I am a retired Delta captain and have two aviation novels to recommend. I am prejudiced because I wrote them both. Equal Time Point features a crew of pilots and flight attendants and how they deal with an emergency at mid-Atlantic. Shadow Flight is a blend of general aviation and airline operations. The plot involves the perils of airline flying in South America; the non-radar environment, shoddy communications, and the corrupt governments. More information on both books, including excerpts, can be found at Equal Time Point and Shadow Flight are both available on

—Harrison Jones, DAL retired

From a letter to Maxwell Perkins:

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West With the Night? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But she can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard the other peoples stories, are absolutely true ... I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book” (Ernest Hemingway)

Published by North Point Press in SFO. Born in 1902, raised in East Africa, and flew there in the 20’s and 30’s, one helluva woman, pilot, and writer.

—Mac McKibben, Retired UAL, 1996

Could I put a plug in for my own two books?

I flew for 16 years for PSA/US Airways and was an ALPA member the entire time. I was captain on the B-737. Before that I was a navy fighter pilot for 20 years: F-8 Crusader, F-4 Phantom (Vietnam), F-14 Tomcat. My books, The Killer Instinct, and The Custody of Sha-Ash’gaz are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, 1st Books, among others.

Thank you.

—Gary M. Watts

I agree 100% with your list. I read Ernest Gann’s Fate Is The Hunter as a kid and still have that copy—I often refer to the captain who lit a match (try doing that today!) and then held it in front of the first officer while he was flying in IMC conditions off the panel.

As a former military pilot, I would submit Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, Stephen Coonts’ Flight of the Intruder, and James Michener’s The Bridges at Toko-Ri as all-time great books. If you don’t like the military angle, then Stephen Coonts wrote another book, The Cannibal Queen, about his trip in a Stearman with his son as they flew around the U.S.—every pilot probably dreams of doing this.

As for movies made from books, I would submit “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” as the best aviation movie ever (best cast, too). Thanks.

—Tom Cantrell, UAL FO

Here are some of my favorite aviation-related books:

Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life And Times Of Pancho Barnes by Lauren Kessler. The wild and crazy life of Pancho Barnes; a hilarious and pathetic account of one of aviation’s most colorful characters.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: First Lady Of The Air by Kathleen C. Winters. The history of Charles Lindbergh’s wife, a proficient pilot in her own right, as well as a mother and an author.

Mercy Pilot by Dirk Tordoff. The Joe Crosson Story. Joe Crosson was an aviation pioneer and particularly pioneered Alaska in the early 1900’s.

The Sky My Kingdom by Hanna Reitsch. The autobiography of Germany’s most famous female pilot. She flew the first helicopter, was a record holder in gliders, and flew every type of German warplane. Riveting!

—Adrienne Grechman, Alaska Airlines 737 FO

I would like to recommend The Rainbow and the Rose by Nevil Shute, a great aviation story.

—Jim Vreeland, Piedmont ret.

In response to the article in the Nov./Dec. Air Line Pilot magazine, here’s my short list of books for each pilot to own:

When Flying Was Fun! Published by Publish America in March 2007. ISBD: 1-4241-6407-9. Soft cover edition: $24.95.

This book is an autobiographical collection of aviation anecdotes covering four decades of flying, starting with the sixties. These humorous and sometimes poignant stories are told from a first person perspective by the author, who was a carrier-based Naval aviator during the Vietnam War and spent over thirty years as an airline pilot with United Airlines. During its first year in print the book was in the top three percent of books sold by first-time authors!

When Flying Was Fun! has been very favorably reviewed by Wings of Gold, the voice of naval aviation, and by Palm Springs Air Museum’s The Beacon. The author was interviewed on the Today Show in Palm Springs, Calif., recently, and has had numerous book signing events throughout the West coast.

Perhaps I am a bit prejudiced as I am the author!

—Bill Eads,

One of my favorite aviation books is Forever Flying, an autobiography of Bob Hoover. Anyone who went to an airshow during the 60’s thru 90’s has probably seen Bob Hoover’s flight demonstration in his famous yellow P-51 Mustang or piston twin-engine Aero Commander Shrike. The book highlights his fifty years of barnstorming, dogfighting the Germans, time spent as a POW, flight test, flight demonstration, and U.S. Aerobatic Team.

Aside from his infamous dead-stick landings in the Shrike ending his airshow demonstrations, Mr. Hoover is probably best known for the video of him placing an empty styrofoam cup on the glareshield of his Shrike, then pouring iced tea from a pitcher into the glass with his right hand while performing a roll with his left hand on the control column and not spilling a drop. This video can be seen on YouTube.

Always accessible to the public for a photo or autograph, Bob Hoover gets my vote for this country’s best pilot ever. This paperback book is available on

—Capt. Alex Duron, FDX

A portion of this book’s sales will go to the ALPA Scholarship Fund.

I used to be the HF chair (just before Robert Sumwalt) and also the vice-chair at IFALPA on HF, Training & Aeromedical. I’ve listed two books by Key Dismukes of NASA-Ames research center. He is the head of their HF research, has done articles with Robert, and is a long time friend of ALPA.

While I seldom recommend books for the line pilot by these researchers since they are technical to a fault and sometimes fall short of what line pilots would find interesting, but they are also a bit too ethereal if you know what I mean, these two books are not only very easy to read but very timely in how expert pilots perform (or not) during accidents and high task load situations. Both books are found on Amazon and in paperback.

The Limits of Expertise. This book summarizes 19 aviation accidents and then lists the errors found by the NTSB. Key and Loukia then go through and parse out how the pilot made specific errors and behaviors associated with that sort of error. I’ve handed out several copies to co-pilots (all of whom found it very, very interesting). Imagine hangar talk with an expert who doesn’t pass judgment but is able to point to specific methods a pilot can do to prevent a similar thing happening to him.

The Multitasking Myth: Handling Complexity in Real-world Operations by Loukia Loukopoulos, R. Key Dismukes, and Immanuel Barshi, and published by Ashgate. This book is still in press and will be available in the spring. This is a spectacular look at how pilots handle highly complex tasks and interleaf (now there’s a word for you) these tasks to fly airplanes. It is the first book I’ve read that can actually explain how we do what we do.

Just my two-cents worth. I’m more than happy to write a review if you’d like.

—Mike Hayes, Delta Air Lines

The funniest aviation history book I ever read was Moondog’s Academy of the Air and Other Disasters by Capt. Pete Fusco, CAL ret.

Another forgotten best book is The Left Seat by Robert J. Serling. It’s really great. It shows the history of the “Positive Rate” callout.

—Capt. Jason Ledbetter, Spirit Airlines

I commend you for “On the Bookshelf”, and your choices for the first three entries (loved the illus.). Here are some suggestions for additional recommendations, in no preferential order:

Song of the Sky by Guy Murchie, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1954, Lib. Cong. #54-9119. Although he was a navigator and a polymath, this work so encompasses its subject that any aviator is richer for his exposure to Murchie. An exhaustive survey of the aerial sea around us, I doubt if anyone ever read this marvel straight through, but it is for returning to again and again, always to find some previously missed nugget of atmospheric lore.

Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis, Warner Books (Little, Brown & Co (UK) London 1993, ISBN #0 7515 0931 0. The London Times called it ‘A classic memoir’. I can’t beat that. In parallel with many other accounts of a teenager’s graduation to air predator, no one has ever done a better job of recalling the thrill and terror of aerial combat, the testosterone binge of early manhood at war, and the sober analysis of his backward glances.

A Dream of Eagles by Ralph A. O’Neill, Houghton Mifflin San Francisco 1973 Lib. Cong. Cat. #73-1392. What it was like to heave an idea aloft in a flying boat, across oceans and deep into the South American continent, only to have it wrested away by the superior political connections and financial clout of Pan American Airway’s Juan Trippe. A New York, Rio, Buenos Aires (NYRBA Airways) adventure of imagination, glamour, sweat, and fury.

Chickenhawk by Robert Mason, Corgi Books London 1998 ISBN #0-552-12419-2. A twofer on Vietnam and the art of helicopter flying. As a fixed-winger, this blood and guts account of tree-hopping charges into hell made me better understand both that savage conflict and what a well flown chopper can do. Those callow warrant officers were every bit the Lafayette Escadrille of our southeast Asian battle history.

Anything by Bob Buck.

Begin with Weather Flying, the definitive text on the subject (Macmillan New York 1978 ISBN #0-02-518020-7), progress to The Pilot’s Burden: Flight Safety and the Roots of Pilot Error for a thoughtful survey of the cockpit workplace (Iowa State U. Press, Ames 1994 ISBN #0-8138-2357-9), then go along for the great adventure of North Star Over My Shoulder, Buck’s late life memoir of ‘A Flying Life’ in this modest, understated jewel of a story told around the TWA saga during the glory years. (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2002, ISBN 30-7432-1964-3).

The Naked Pilot by David Beaty, Airlife Pub Ltd, Shrewsbury, U.K., 1996 ISBN# 1 85310 482 5. Admired as well for his several novels around a flying career, this thoughtful analysis of the many pitfalls to be avoided by the professional pilot makes Beaty a must on this list. Here, he brings long and varied experience to bear with the skill of exemplary writingfor deep review and thorough reflection.

Handling the Big Jets by D.P. Davies, Norman Bros. Ltd, London, 1969 (Air Registration Board). For a penetrating study of things aeronautical, from the primary technical considerations in aircraft design to the finest shade of pilot technique, this one-volume resource is to be gone over and over. My 1967 original has since been faithfully updated. It belongs in every flight kit.

Of many worthy candidates, these are but a few suggestions. Wish I could as well say, “Read ‘Where the High Winds Run’ by Alan Duaine” (unpublished pilot’s memoir about 23 years with Braniff International). Maybe someday.

—Alan Duaine

The following are some books on my shelf which I think every pilot would enjoy: Hard Landing by Tom Petzinger. The author chronicles the turbulent times of the airline industry in the 1980’s; Final Authority by Bob Dobransky, a fictional story, but could be true, about the crash of a 727 in the 1980’s; Flyboys by James Bradley, a true story of our WWII pilots in the Pacific; First Heroes by Craig Nelson, a true story of Doolittle’s raiders of WWII fame; Dead Downwind by Bill Riddle, a true story of early, 1924, aviation in the Hawaii islands.

—Capt. Jim Livingston, UAL

You certainly picked three excellent books for your article in the current Air Line Pilot. As requested, here are three more first-class titles:

Comets and Concordes by Peter Duffey, 1999, Paladwr Press ISBN 1-888962-10-0. Publisher R.E.G. Davies recalls a chance conversation with Peter Duffey and notes “I learned that he had flown the Comet 1 (the world’s first jet airliner); the Comet 4 (the first trans-Atlantic jet); and the Concorde (the world’s only supersonic airliner). I suggested that he was one of a small elite group who could claim that privilege; at which he admitted that he was the only one.” Peter Duffey was for many years a contributor to flying magazines so beautiful writing comes naturally to this articulate and thoughtful ex- British Airways training captain. His career began with the R.A.F. in WWII and he went on to fly many types including the Tiger Moth, DC-3, DC-4M, DC-7C and the Boeing 707. If navigating a four-engine turbojet across the ocean with just a sextant seems challenging, or if supersonic U-turns that require one degree of the earth’s latitude, or westbound sunrises seem intriguing, then you’ll enjoy every page of Comets and Concordes.

Song of the Sky by Guy Murchie. Not many navigators see the world with the poet’s eye but Murchie is an exceptional Renaissance Man who is comfortable with both science and art. As he guides his DC-4 across the Atlantic, he recalls many interesting tales and explains in simple terms how ‘Man taught metal to fly’.

Behind the Cockpit Door by Arthur Whitlock. From DC-3’s in India to L-1011’s in Britain, Arthur Whitlock describes the funny and sad experiences of the line pilot. Best of all, he’s a talented artist and many of the stories are illustrated with superb pen-and-ink sketches. If Ernest Gann were British and could draw, this is what Fate is the Hunter would look like. Enjoy!

—Patrick Fynes, Captain, Dash 8, Air Canada Jazz

I am a retired TWA pilot and was a member of ALPA for thirty years. I enjoyed your article “On The Bookshelf” by Jan Steenblik in the Nov./Dec. 2008 issue. My pick for a great aviation read is my new book, Fasten Your Seatbelt: A Pilot’s Memoir by Bob Kline. The book is true stories from my forty years in Air Force and TWA cockpits and is available at all major booksellers or online at

Fasten Your Seatbelt has received five star ratings from,, and the prestigious review for the industry, the Midwest Book Review. My biography and the first few pages of the book can be viewed on my website.

I hope to see a comment about the book in the next “On The Bookshelf” article. Thank you.

—Robert L. Kline

While I have read 2 of the 3 books on your list of “Books Every Pilot Should Own” collection, and I find them wonderful to read and learn from, you have forgotten one of the best. The one that I am talking about is North Star Over My Shoulder by our own late Robert “Bob” Buck. Up until his passing I enjoyed his occasional snippet in the monthly Air Line Pilot magazine, too. While Bob wrote many books, North Star is one that stays in my head.

As a matter of fact, I don’t think it would be out of line to request that an article be published in his honor, due to the important history he has within ALPA.

—Todd Nichols, CA, ExpressJet

(Note: An article written by Capt. Buck, titled “Reflections”, was published in the August 2006 issue of Air Line Pilot; the article contains a short biography of Capt. Buck written by Air Line Pilot Technical Editor Jan W. Steenblik).

Click on the image to read a review of the book by the author.

For the thousands of ALPA members—current and retired—who experienced combat in the World War, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan—and served in other dreary times and places—an obscure old book Winged Victory by V.M. Yeates is in order.

Effectively an autobiography of a young pilot serving on the Western Front in WWI circa 1917-18. Grim, realistic and depressing—“how it really was”—and how men handled [or often didn’t] the pressures of daily flying and—by today’s standards—horrific casualties.

Book and author’s outlook best reflected by last passage in book:

“This was England. Wandering Lanes, hedged and ditched; casual opulent beauty; trees heavy with fulfillment. This was his native land. He did not care.”

—Dave Leighton, NWA Captain (retired)

My husband is a retired pilot (Eastern) and would like to know how to obtain the three great books listed in your recent article. He has read Fate Is The Hunter and would like to read it again. I suspect that it is around here packed somewhere for posterity. Thanks.

—Pat Greene

I’m a general aviation recreational pilot and came across a copy of the Nov./Dec. issue of Air Line Pilot in our FBO lobby.

Here’s one suggestion for adding to your favorite book list. Earlier this year, Touching History by Lynn Spencer hit the bookstores. My wife saw it and thought that I would enjoy it. This is a very well written account of what went on in the skies over the USA on the morning of September 11, 2001. The author is a pilot for ExpressJet Airlines as well as a CFI. I have not seen the book reviewed in any of the aviation magazines but every one of the pilot friends who have borrowed the book said that once they started reading it they didn’t want to put it down. The publisher is Simon & Schuster, copyright June 2008.

—Doug McDowall, 35 years a Luscombe owner, North Little Rock, AR

Excellent article about re-connecting pilots with great aviation literature. My recommendation is Stranger to the Ground by Richard Bach (same author who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull). Bach was an Air Force F-86 pilot at the time and Stranger to the Ground is a story that speaks to the special connection pilots share with the sky, their airplanes, and their colleagues.

—Greg Madonna UAL 777 F/O, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

My vote for an indispensable book that every pilot should own? Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel. This was Amazon’s editor’s pick for Best Travel Book of 2004. Patrick Smith has been called the thinking man’s pilot, and some have compared him to Gann. He offers fresh, sometimes provocative insights into everything from safety and security to the color and cultures of the world’s airlines. More than just a book about airplanes or the physics of flight, Ask the Pilot is unexpectedly eccentric, funny, and thoughtful. Its subject matter is not hydraulics systems or avionics but the theater of air travel in whole. The author urges people to appreciate the link between flight and travel, to see the airplane as something more than an inconvenient means to an end. Plus, the chapter four essay, “The Exploding Toilet and Other Embarrassments,” is the funniest airplane story you’ll ever read.

—Capt. Michael Kennedy, XJT

Boy, did I enjoy “On the Bookshelf” this month. I have four favorites. Two fiction and two non. First the non.

God is My Co-Pilot by Robert Scott. This is a book by an honest-to-God hero who loved flying above all and is not ashamed to say so. In reading make sure you don’t skip over the introduction by Gen. Chennault.

Then we have Baa Baa Black Sheep. Now, this author, Gregory Boyington, hated Chennault and Chiang Kai-shek as much as he liked his booze. All aspects of this book, including his time as POW and hero status after release, carry an honesty at its most brutal. The last line of the book rather sums up Boyington’s attitude: “Show me a hero, and I’ll prove he’s a bum.”

As a companion to Baa Baa Black Sheep, I recommend Once They Were Eagles by Frank Walton. It is a compendium of “where are they now” articles of some of the other members of the squadron, as well as the circumstances surrounding the squadron’s formation. Of particular interest to me was the resentment some of the men harbored at the way they were depicted in the TV series.

Now for the fiction. The little-known title No More Bugles in the Sky by Richard Newhafer came out around 1963. It is set early in the Viet Nam conflict. The cast is made up of fighter pilots of a previous era whose job is to escalate the conflict without really seeming to do so. Likely the first book to be set in the Viet Nam era.

Probably not enough people have read James Michener’s The Bridges at Toko-Ri. The book gives a slightly more realistic look at a reserve pilot than does the movie. Carrier ops seem to be pretty authentic. The planes in the book are Douglas Sky Raiders, not the glamorous Grumman Panther. The main character, Brubaker, is a rather overweight reserve lieutenant who needs a haircut, rather than that Hollywood star William Holden. The movie and the book are both excellent.

At the other end of the spectrum is Sole Survivor by George Gay. What could have been an excellent account of the Battle of Midway is actually the pathetic ramblings of an old man. He probably should have written the book earlier in life.

Keep up the good work. I still read every issue of Air Line Pilot cover to cover.

—Capt. Jim Tight, UAL retired

I vote for The Airman’s World, a photo book by Gill Robb Wilson. All are good, but read “One Of The Trusted” for sure; copyright 1957, published by Random House, Library of Congress #57-10030.

—Capt. Dan Seiple, Ret. UAL

Not to be missed is the Punk trilogy; Punk’s War, Punk’s Wing, and Punk’s Fight. Written by Naval aviator Ward Carroll, these novels absolutely nail life in the naval aviation community, both ashore and at sea. Be sure to read them in the order of publication. It is a continuing story.

—Jim Tight

Read the “On the Bookshelf” articles from these issues of Air Line Pilot:
Oct. 2008 | Nov./Dec. 2008 | Nov./Dec. 2009 | Dec. 2010 | Dec. 2011 | Dec. 2012

Have a favorite aviation title to recommend? Send us an e-mail at