View Full Version : best aviation book you have read?

Romeo Mike
17th Aug 2003, 19:35
What is the best aviation book you have read? Mine would have to be `Fate is the Hunter` by Ernest Gann.

17th Aug 2003, 23:37
The aviation book that I have read, read and reread most often is (not surprisingly) "Fate is the Hunter" by Ernest K Gann.

Probably my most amusing aviation book is "Off The Beam" by Robert Chandler.

He was a Radio Operator who started in a workshop at Croydon in the 1930s and ended up on the Comet 1.

It is very refreshing to read a book written by a non-pilot. R/Os (like F/Es) had one thing in common with stagecoach drivers. They had to sit behind horses' arses like me!

18th Aug 2003, 00:25
Oh no, you've just made me realise something awful - I've hardly read any! :{ I got really into aviation during my A levels, and have always been doing some kind of study since. I've not had time to sit and enjoy books in the last few years. Amongst the books I have read though, Chickenhawk stands out. Incredibly vivid, no holds barred, and an ending that leaves you struck dumb. Oh, and Illusions!
I think I'll read Fate is the Hunter end to end as soon as I submit my thesis. :ok:

Onan the Clumsy
18th Aug 2003, 01:04
Chickenhawk was excellent. I also enjoyed Sagitarius Rising by Cecil Lewis and I remember Gemini to JoBurg being pretty good as well.

Serenade to the big Bird [flying B17s out of England] was well written and made an impact on me because I was twenty three when I read it, the same age as the author.

Not strictly speaking a flying book, but West with the Night was good too.

I read Rocket Fighter, the story of an Me 163 pilot and it contained the sobering passage where he described day one of the course where they threw a pork chop into a bucket of H2O2, so everyone cold see it dissolve. Served as a useful reminder of what their fuel could do to them.

I. M. Esperto
18th Aug 2003, 01:11

"Signed with their honor".

A story about RAF pilots flying the old Gloster Gladiators in Greece against great odds.

I must have read it over 50 years ago.

Romeo Mike
18th Aug 2003, 01:20
Yes, Chickenhawk is another `4 times read` book. Unfortunately i lent it to my father who gave it away. Another good read is `F4 Phantom A Pilots Story`. Once again I made the mistake of lending it and never saw it again. Oh No! Ive just realised i have recently lent my copy of `Fate is the Hunter`!!!

Shaggy Sheep Driver
18th Aug 2003, 03:42
We've been here before.

'Fate' is near the top of my list, and F4 Phantom is up there as well (pity Robert Prest never wrote a follow-up).

Richard Bach's 'A Gift of Wings' is the definative book that got me flying in 1978. Probably my 'top' aviation book for that reason alone. Lots of his other stuff is pretty good, too, but some is wierd.

'Cloud Cuckooland' and 'Aireymouse' are well worth a read as well. I saw these reduced to £4.50 each at a bookstall at the Woburn Moth rally yesterday.

For aviation-based thrillers, Stephen Coonts takes some beating (he is an ex-US carrier based pilot and his books follow that theme).

But maybe the best aviation thriller writer is Brian Lecomber. He only wrote few, but they are absolute crackers. Try his description of a partial engine failure at take off from a tiny Dominican Republic jungle strip, and the subsequent circuit and land back, in a Pawnee fully loaded with banana oil; "thank you God. I have control now".



arthur harbrow
18th Aug 2003, 03:49
Shadows by Michael Draper, tells the story of the Biafran war from an aviation viewpoint, i also enjoyed Behind The Cockpit Door by the late Arthur Whitlock.

18th Aug 2003, 08:37
Older book,

The Lonely Sky, B. Bridgeman, Dougas test pilot.
Lots of unknowns in the early supersonic days.

New(er) book,

Handling the Big Jets, Davies.
First read it in 1968, and found out first hand shortly thereafter how bad the handling qualities of the early swept wing jetliners were, as Davies described.
Very heavy long body non-fan 707's, especially.
Up close and personal with the far end of the runway.

18th Aug 2003, 08:58
I'd have to say "Fate Is The Hunter" but "The Island In The Sky," also by Gann, runs a close second. I also thought "No Highway" by Nevil Shute was pretty darn good.
Not exactly an aviation book, but "The Land God Gave To Cain" by Hammond Innes, was also a very good read. I flew 27 years for the railroad he writes about.:D

18th Aug 2003, 10:53
The "Balus" trilogy and "Wings of Gold" by Jim Sinclair, followed closely by my air mail edition of "Playboy"! :}

Just finished "You Live But Once" by Bobby Gibbes. A great read!

19th Aug 2003, 06:22
For anyone interested in World War Two aviation i very strongly recommend
"I flew for the Fuhrer" by Heinz Knocke

Very vivid accounts of aerial combat, dogfights and attacks on bomber formations right through to the last days of the war. Also the relationships forged in war and the thoughts of a pilot during WW2.

Another great read is "Rocket Fighter" by Mano Ziegler

An account of the special test unit set up to test the experimental rocket propelled Me163 'Komet'. Test flight, friends being melted to death by the volatile chemical fuel. Thrilling stuff.

Chuck Ellsworth
19th Aug 2003, 09:23
Of all E. Gann's books, and Iv'e read them all my favourite is "Blaze of Noon"

I was fortunate to have known Earnie and visited with him just prior to his passing away.

Yup. .no doubt about he really had a way with words.


19th Aug 2003, 10:02
There was another book, the title of which escapes me, about an Australian gent that pioneered transpacific air routes with a PBY5. I remember they were stuck on some godforsaken island in a typhoon, and nearly lost the airplane.

Chuck, I met Ernie and his wife when the came through here for fuel during the London to Victoria air race. Drove them over to the flying club for a hamburger. Great guy.

19th Aug 2003, 11:38
As above, Fate is the Hunter is #1 for me.
#2 is Chickenhawk.
The autobiographies of Scott Crossfield, Milton Thompson, and many others.

19th Aug 2003, 12:49

The book you refer to is, I believe, "The Sky Beyond" by Sir Gordon Taylor. If so, I have to agree, it's a great book. Someone else has written (PILOT mag?) that the book does for your namesake what Gann did for the Dak.

19th Aug 2003, 13:51
Best Aviation book - they're all great so it's probably the one I'm reading at the time. The current tome is: 'First Light' by Geoffrey Wellum. It's the autobiography of a battle of britain pilot from school days through the B of B to the end of the war. Facinating read, couldn't put it down.

Although not strictly aviation, I would also recommend 'Between SIlk and Cyanide' - a codemaker's war 1941 - 1945. It covers the UK side of the SOE from a codebreakers point of view. Lote of first hand tales of contact with resistance fighters on brief and debrief following ops.


19th Aug 2003, 15:58
Bit different is "Throw Out Two Hands" by Anthony Smith - an account of a gas balloon expedition he made with Douglas Botting and Alan Root in East Africa in 1963. The desciption of the sometimes hair-raising flying, plus the local fauna and populace is brilliantly written and very funny. The description if the Tanzanian customs party coming to look for them after they ballooned across from Zanzibar is particularly excellent!

Bob Upndown
19th Aug 2003, 18:48
All the Douglas Robinson books about WWI aviation - simply excellent, one of the few writers who makes you feel you're in there with those young, brave souls.

20th Aug 2003, 08:16
Jamesel, thank you. That is indeed the one I was looking for. I shall have to try and find it somewhere, since my copy has gone AWOL.

20th Aug 2003, 18:32
My all time favourite is the Pulitzer prize winning "Spirit of St Louis" by Charles A. Lindberg it's a wonderful read , head and shoulders over many , not just about the incredible achievement it describes but also the quality of the writing.


Agaricus bisporus
21st Aug 2003, 00:37
Yer Ganns and yer St Ex's are all very fine - great books, don't get me wrong, but for me there is only one book in contention.

The author is, of course, Richard Bach, and the book at the top is Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Guys, scoff if you will (as I once did), but please read it first (it'll take you a couple of hours at most). I was instantly converted, as you will be. It is simply the finest description of the thrill and ethos of learning to become an airman that has ever been written.

And most of what else Mr Bach has written is pretty dam good too.

Otherwise try Sir Francis Chichester's story of flying round the world in a Tiger Moth (including a ditching and total self-rebuild), Adolf Galland's autobiography which read alongside Reach for the Sky gives a superb double take on WW2 in the air. Chickenhawk, as mentioned above is the best helo book,and try Alex Henshaw's Sigh for a Merlin for a differrent take on the Spitfire.

Alex, bless him, is still alive as far as I know, and his utterly gorgeous Mew Gull has recently been sold by the Shuttleworth Collection (why, fer chrissakes?) yet still holds every single piston engined record for London - Cape Town and back and every sector in between. He and G-AEXF set that record in the mid thirties and no-one has ever broken it. Boy would I like the chance...

You want it when?
21st Aug 2003, 17:00
Too many to mention... the boss always complains about the amount of books I've got in the house.

Some that come to mind
Richard Bach - "A Gift of Wings", "Biplane" and "Jonathan Livingston's Seagull"
Derek Robinson - "Goshawk Squadron" and "A Piece of Cake"

A good non-fiction read was "The Last of the Lightening" by Ian Black (I think) short term memory on Authors.

I tend to spend about £30 / £40 a month on books (cheaper to join a library I guess) and often buy books off Amazon that are in "the others who bought your choice also bought..." I've found some new authors that way.

Tiger_ Moth
21st Aug 2003, 19:16
I agree airbedane, First Light is the best aviation book ever.
And Saggitarius Rising is the second best.

22nd Aug 2003, 20:55
Pigboat. Another book such as the one you described was Sir P.G. Taylors "Frigate Bird ". Also about his Catalina flight across the Pacific. The co-pilot on that flight was Captain Harry Purvis AFC -a highly experienced wartime Hudson pilot. Harry Purvis later became manager of the Sydney Morning Herald Flying Services (circa 1948) which operated a couple of freighter Hudsons and DC3's on night time newspaper dropping runs. As a 17 year old I used to fly on those runs helping to unload the newspapers.

Among my favourite books are: F4 Phantom by Robert Prest. Band of Brothers by Ernest Gann. My Secret War by Richard Drury. View from the Cockpit by Len Morgan. The Big Sky by Johnny Johnston.

But there are so many more. All looking down at me from my bookcase and wishing that I could find the time to read them again.

Algernon Lacey
23rd Aug 2003, 00:46
It`s got to be Flight of the Mew Gull closely followed by Brian Lecombers three.
Don`t forget Neville Shutes Rainbow and the Rose
& Stephen Morris

Aileron Roll
23rd Aug 2003, 18:44
Seriously missing from this posting so far is anything by US author Walter Boyne, his trilogy Trophy for Eagles, Air Force Eagles, and Eagles simply cannot be missed.

..although PIECE OF CAKE must rate as the best flying book ever written .......

...ps ... am a little embrassed to admit I only just purchased FATE IS THE HUNTER today...

24th Aug 2003, 17:52
Try "The Sky Belongs to Them" by Roland Winfield. It is about a DR with the Institute of Aviation Medicine in WW2 who for his research into RAF Medicine did around 30 Combat Sorties with No 7 Squadron PFF and other units in order to experiance what caused different things that they had been told about and then to try to fix these problems. It is a superb book to read.:ok: :ok:

26th Aug 2003, 04:18
(Takes deep breath)

The Big Show - Pierre Closterman. Describes Spitfire and Tempest ops during WWII. An education for those who think that Allied air power reigned supreme on mainland Europe in 1945.

F4 Phantom, A Pilots Story - Robert Prest. Love the bit where he says that yes, his Granny could be trained to fly a circuit in a Phantom, but what would she do if something went wrong? (Wonder what Robert Prest is doing now?)

Sigh For a Merlin - Alex Henshaw. One of Supermarines Spitfire test pilots in WWII. Close to a god, and, I believe, still with us. Describes his Spifire demonstrations, starting with wheels up - half loop, roll off the top - and 2 more half loops and rolls, before vertical dive(!!)

Carrier Pilot - Norman Hanson. FAA Corsair memories - right there in the cokpit with him.

They Gave Me A Seafire - 'Mike Crosley'. Half way through it - rightly a 'Classic' (as described by the publishers). Page after page of rivetting stuff.

26th Aug 2003, 19:59
Factual industry books....

Spitfire by Jeffrey Quill
Slide Rule by neville Shute


Flying Start by Sir Hugh Dundas (I got a signed copy from him when it was published)

26th Aug 2003, 20:31
Fiction, try the early works of Gavin Lyall. Evocative novels of the world of ex-military pilots scratching a living after the war.

- The Wrong Side of the Sky,
--The Most Dangerous Game,
--Midnight Plus One,
--Shooting Script.

Also try Shadow 81 (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/OopBooks/OopResultsTitle.asp?bfdate=08%2D26%2D2003+08%3A21%3A31&WID=175189&price=&format=&signed=&edition=&dj=&recent=&title=&author=&itm=1) by Lucien Nahum. Jeremy Clarkson rated it one of the best 5 novels he'd ever read. It's stuck in my mind for over 20 years.


The Ravens - Pilots of the Secret War in Laos, and Air America
both by Christopher Robbins.

26th Aug 2003, 20:35
I was fascinated and moved by 'Chickenhawk', must read it again. Another must read is 'Wings on my Sleeve by Eric 'Winkle'Brown, describing his exploits at Farnborough during and after the WWII.

26th Aug 2003, 21:28

I also met Ernie Gann during the London-Victoria airrace.
Going through Narssarssuaq (Greenland) on his way to the start of the race in his Cessna 310, we spent 8 hours talking in my office (the TWR!).

He told me it was his first visit to Narssarssuaq in 27 years! We could have talked forever!

Fate is the Hunter is very close to the top of the list!

28th Aug 2003, 03:50
Menen, thank you. I shall certainly look for the book. I believe his aircraft was called "Frigate Bird."

LIN, yeah I asked him if the freighter was still there.:D

There's another author that no one mentioned here, Don McVicar. Don wrote several books, all of them about his wartime and post war experiences in aviation. Two titles are "Distant Early Warning" and "The Railway From The Sky." Excellent reading.

28th Aug 2003, 20:44
Three stand out for me.

"F4 Phantom - A Pilot's Story" - can't really add much to what others have already said, except that it's the closest I'll ever come to flying a Phantom.

"609 at War" - a pictorial record of 609 Sqn's service between 1939 and 1945. Signed by a number of 609 pilots and the author. Definately one of my most prized possessions.

"First of the Many" - at least I think that's what it's called. I lent it to a mate a few years ago, and he now lives in Oz... :( It's an account of the Eighth's war, written at the time, names and places censored. A real time capsule of a book. Really must try to get hold of another copy...

Aileron Roll
1st Sep 2003, 12:52
Another two good ones (regardless of personal opions of the guys) have to be autobiographies of Chuck Yeager and Bob Hoover.....

... as risk of boring you all silly another good couple of quotes

"There are no old bold pilots"....except Bob Hoover

"A Piper Cub can kill you.... but only just"

1st Sep 2003, 15:18
The way I heard it:

"There old pilots and bold pilots but no old bold pilots" - old aviation Adage.

"Bob Hoover" - exception to old aviation adage. :ok:

1st Sep 2003, 17:42
A book I found very good is titled Beyond the Blue Horizon by Alexander Frater. Described on the back cover as "The romance and excitement of the legendary Imperial Airways Eastbound service-The worlds longest and most adventurous scheduled air route-relived fifty years later in one of the most original travel books of the decade.
Not strictly stick and rudder stuff, but Mr Frater sure knows how to describe the aeronautical feel for the history of the route.


2nd Sep 2003, 20:46
SHAR over the Falklands: A Maverick at war.

CDR Nigel Ward. For some funny reason my favourite chapter in that book is No.5 where he describes his Phantom F4K days and learning the 'tricks of the trade' at the AWI School and later in the squadron. Short but untouchable.

Shaggy Sheep Driver
3rd Sep 2003, 05:58
A book I found very good is titled Beyond the Blue Horizon by Alexander Frater.

Yep, IMHO a good read.

Frater has an interest in the Empire Flying Boats - there was a program on TV some years ago by him called "The Last African Flying Boat". A Catalina was was 'piloting' a unique holiday - fly the Empire route through Africa in a flying boat. The 'Cat' had its limitations (including hot and high take off limitations) and I don't know what happened to the holiday idea. But the program was superb.


3rd Sep 2003, 09:00
Shaggy, I believe that airplane was Z-CAT, ex CF-JCV now ZK-PBY.

3rd Sep 2003, 18:00
Airborne by Neil Williams
John Derry by Anne Bullen & Brian Rivas
Firefox & Firefox Down by Craig Thomas

5th Sep 2003, 01:02
Am I the only person in the world who couldn't get further than one quarter through 'Fate is the Hunter', and found it incredibly boring?

But as someone else suggested above: 'I flew for the Fuhrer' by Heinz Knocke is a fantastic read and my favourite aviation memoir. Forget 'Fate is the Hunter' and read Knocke. I believe it is now available in Cassell Military paperback - check Amazon.

And for another, try 'Phantom over Vietnam'. Forget the name of the author, but another great read.

5th Sep 2003, 02:15
Another good Vietnam book is 'Thud Ridge', by Col. Jack Broughton

Hap Hazard
7th Sep 2003, 04:58
Question to Chuck Ellsworth if you are reading this.
I have just started reading Earnst Gann's books after so many recommendations and was wondering, since you knew him, when did he die as we were discussing one of his books only a couple of days ago when we were down line?
They were sure hard days compared to todays cotton wool wrapped world of airline flying.

Ethel the Aardvark
7th Sep 2003, 19:20
The big Show by Pierre Closterman is a top read,
Round the Bend by Neville Schute is great for the engineer minded pilots and Sugarbird Lady by Robin Miller, She used to deliver polio drops on sugarcubes in the aussie outback hence the name, it may sound potentially non exciteing but the day to day flying of the flying doctors in those early days was pretty impressive, no such thing as duty times then.

8th Sep 2003, 03:24
Read this book years ago when I lived in Australia called "AIRSCREAM" about a New Zealand DC 8 disaster (fiction) covered up by NZ goverment. This was a few years before the DC 10 Antartic crash.
Very realistic novel. Anybody ever read this book? or knows the author?

8th Sep 2003, 06:13
AIRSCREAM was written by John Bruce, published by Collins 1977. Must agree, it was a very good yarn. Mr Bruce certainly did his homework on ATC systems and the Aviation scene in NZ at that time.


astir 8
8th Sep 2003, 22:10
We've been on this topic before, but for those who cite "The Big Show" as excellent (which it is), "Le Grand Cirque 2000" is the complete version of Clostermann's diaries (and believe me there's a lot missed from "The Big Show")

It's a huge pity that it's only available in French, but buy the book and a French dictionary and give it a go.

Are there any professional translators who understand WWII RAF jargon out there?

11th Sep 2003, 06:57

"flightpath south pacific", the exploits of pg taylor and his pby's.
he was first to fly australia to chile.

his last cat, frigate bird three is in the powerhouse museum in sydney. i played in it as a kid.

"the right stuff" is a fantastic book written by tom wolfe.

"red ball in the sky" written by charlie blair is a good bit of fact to read.

i have a complete set of "biggles" books from my younger days.
now that was flying.

pig boat again,

i have a copy of "flight path south pacific".

"the first and the last", adolf galland

George Dicer
15th Sep 2003, 21:53
I must have read all Nevil Shute's novels at least three times but without doubt the best are the "aviation" orientated ones.
No Highway, Round The Bend, An Old Captivity, So Distained, and the best of all.......In The Wet.
Written in a time long ago and so different from today; as some of us say " if only I had lived then".
A superb writer and a great man.

29th Sep 2003, 05:18
West with the night - Beryl Markham - wonderful account, beautifully written (or was it Hemingway?) Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Fate is the Hunter, Flight of the Mew Gull, Airymouse, many more, many to read, too little time!

1st Oct 2003, 00:11
How about "First light" by Geoffery Wellum. It's an autobiography about a BoB pilot, or
"Propellerhead" ( forgoton the authors name ) which is a very good read for microlight pilots, or
"Sagitarius Rising" by Cecil Lewis ... the definative WW1 flying book, or
"Enemy Coast Ahead" by Guy Gibson, about the dams raid, or

"Biggles" .... all of them!

Sorry, getting carried away ... perhaps I'd better get back to reading.


vintage ATCO
1st Oct 2003, 00:42
Having spent a week in outer-Tunisia I took Airbedane's recommendations of 'First Light' by Geoffrey Wellum (excellent, read it two days) and 'Betweeen Silk and Cyanide, a Codemakers War 1941-1945' by Leo Marks. Latter outstanding, lovely style of writing, amusing in some parts, very moving in others. Read it in three days, have already started to re-read it. If you are interested in SOE then it's a must.


3rd Oct 2003, 18:11
Some sharp contrasts between the books mentioned in this thread.

F4 Phantom / Robert Prest and Phantom over Vietnam /John Trotti define one end of the spectrum with SHAR over the Falklands / Nigel 'Sharkey' Ward and Thud Ridge/Jack Broughton anchoring the other.

The Scars of War / Hugh McManners while not solely aviation oriented does deal with its military aspects and identifies the 'immature authority figure'. Draw your own conclusions from the work of Ward and Broughton after reading Scars.

Guarding the Skies / Dennis Barker, one of a trilogy about life in each of the forces, a bit dated now at 15+ years but still a good read.

LikeORAC, on the fiction side, Shadow 81 is one that sticks in my memory although the plot of fabricating the destruction in combat of a jet fighter and subsequently using it for extortion with the threatened shooting down of an airliner isn't a particularly viable one. Pure escapism really. Another good read from the same period (mid 70's) was North Cape / Joe Poyer, the crash and rescue of a high speed reconnaissance aircraft near the Russian artic border.

Anybody recall the author/titles of a trilogy written '77 (about) involving the occupation of the UK by Russian forces with the hero being an ex-army officer fighting in the British resistance? Seemed quite possible back then, all a bit passť now of course

Iron City
3rd Oct 2003, 21:29
For the Gann interested try his bio "Hostage to Fortune". Has the Greenland and "dear God, I nearly hit the Taj Mahal" stories in it plus a lot besides.