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
& 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;
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.
Noel Wein’s biography, he was the first bush pilot in Alaska, and later
founded Wein Air Alaska, also should be required reading.
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
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
Pages iii through xxiv are themselves worth the
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
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
—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
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
—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
www.harrisonjones.org. 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
Barnes and Noble, 1st Books, among others.
—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
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
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!
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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 writing—for 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.
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
—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
—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
www.Amazon.com, 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
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
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
—Todd Nichols, CA, ExpressJet
(Note: An article written by Capt. Buck, titled
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
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
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.
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.
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
—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
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
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.