On seeing a “Top 10 Aviation Books” list, I was curious how many we had in the Massey Library and it turns out we have 9. Here is that list plus two more FYI.
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Top 10 Aviation Books Written by Claire Ellis 27 July 2018 https://www.aircharterservice.com/about-us/news-features/blog/top-10-aviation-books
Looking for a great book about flying? Here are 10 of the must-read books about aviation, perfect for both professional pilots and aviation fans. There’s something to suit all tastes, whether you’re looking for a pilot manual, flight history or fiction. Top picks include the fascinating true stories of wartime pilots and the first trans-Atlantic crossing.
Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying – Wolfgang Langewiesche (IF.41)
Stick and Rudder is one of the most famous pilot manuals and has been in print for over 70 years. The writer walks you through the process of flying, explaining what the pilot does, how he does it, and why. Learn all about why airplanes stall, what the rudder is for, why the aeroplane doesn’t feel the wind and more. Since the basics of flying haven’t changed since the book was written in 1944, it remains a popular text for professional and trainee aviators as well as test pilots.
The Wright Brothers – David McCullough (BIO.WRI)
Read the true story of Wilbur and Orville Wright, two unschooled Ohio boys who changed the course of aviation history. This inspiring tale was written by Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough and draws on private diaries, notebooks and over 1,000 family letters. Learn about the engineering process and death-defying trials that went into creating the first real aircraft. This is one of the most inspiring history books about aviation, which illustrates the courage and determination that led to the brothers’ first flight in 1903.
Weather Flying – Robert N. Buck (IFW.14)
This is one of the most technical books on the list, considered the bible of weather flying. Buck draws on his experience as a commercial pilot with thousands of hours in the air to describe techniques for flying in various weather conditions. Sections include weather research, the psychology of flying, techniques for flight forecasting and taking off in bad weather.
The book has been updated five times and includes the latest advances in flight weather services, including radar. This is a good read for both aspiring and professional flyers, with simple explanations on how to judge and negotiate weather conditions. Weather Flying won the Safety Foundation’s Publication Award and is recommended by the FAA.
The Spirit of St. Louis – Charles A. Lindbergh (BIO.LIN)
Charles Lindbergh is famous for his solo nonstop trans-Atlantic journey from New York to Paris in 1927. This autobiographical account of the landmark flight details the thrilling danger of Lindbergh’s journey in his single-seat, custom-built aircraft: the Spirit of St. Louis. The Pulitzer Prize-winning adventure tale gives readers a glimpse into the history of aviation before the days or commercial flights and air charter services.
Fate is the Hunter – Ernest K. Gann (BIO.GAN)
This illuminating biographical tale covers Ernest Gann’s life as a pilot during war and peace times. Gann has spent nearly 10,000 hours in the air, including flying for American Airlines in the 1930s, which gives a captivating insight into the history of commercial flying. During the second world war, he flew cargo missions across the Atlantic and also made white-knuckle flights across Asia and the Himalayas. Gann depicts Fate as a hunter in search of pilots and tells of his many near-death experiences. Readers are taken right into the plane as Gann deals with mechanical failures, storms and human error.
Fly the Wing – Jim Webb (IF.36)
Ideal for commercial flyers, Fly the Wing is a comprehensive pilot training book offering valuable tools, techniques and advice for operating a transport-category aircraft. Chapters cover the psychological, technical and physical preparation required to gain an ATP certificate. Learn about speed control, take-offs and landings, air navigation, high-speed aerodynamics and high-altitude flying. The book has also been updated to include contemporary cockpit automation and comes with online resources.
West with the Night – Beryl Markham (BIO.MAR)
West with the Night is the riveting autobiography of aviator adventurer Beryl Markham. The beautifully-written memoir is largely set in 1920s and ’30s Kenya, where British-born Markham grew up. She discovered her love of flying while scouting elephants from a tiny jet and became one of the country’s first bush pilots. Markham was also the first woman to receive a commercial Kenyan pilot’s licence, as well as make a solo trans-Atlantic crossing in 1936. Read the gripping tale of this 3,600-mile journey, which she navigated against strong headwinds in an aeroplane that flew only 163 miles per hour. West with the Night is a true non-fiction aviation classic.
You can be a Pilot! Answers to 25 Popular Questions about Learning to Fly – Chris Findley (NOT AVAILABLE)
Discover the answers to 25 of the most common questions about becoming a pilot. Instructor Chris Findley covers key training queries such as how to choose a trainer and aircraft. Sections include medical requirements, what to expect during training and how to find a job. The book is one of the bestsellers in the field of aviation books, perfect for people who want to become a pilot.
Chickenhawk – Robert Mason (BIO.MAS)
Chickenhawk is set during the Vietnam War, when author Robert Mason flew over 1,000 helicopter assault missions in the UH-1 Huey. The best-selling personal story details his life, from boyhood dreams of flying to helicopter school training in Texas. After joining the US army, Mason was sent to Vietnam from 1965 to 1966. Read his first-hand account of the horror and madness of war, including the battle of La Drang and rest periods in Saigon and Taiwan. Mason also recounts meeting South Vietnamese soldiers and extracting ground troops from the jungle. Over half a million copies of Chickenhawk have been sold to date, making it one of the most popular aviation books set in war.
Night Flight – Antoine de Saint-Exupery (IW.7)
Night Flight is a novel based on the real-life experiences of author Antoine de Saint-Exupery. In the 1930s, the French pilot flew perilous mail routes across Africa and the South Atlantic. The book tells the story of aeroplane pilot Fabien, who makes mail flights between Chile, Patagonia and Paraguay to Argentina. Set in the early days of aviation when aircrafts didn’t come with jet engines, GPS or radar, the journeys were fraught with danger. In the novel, Fabien attempts a particularly terrifying trip during a heavy night-time thunderstorm in Argentina.
Other great aviation books include The First of the Few: Fighter Pilots of the First World War by Denis Winter and naval aviation classic, Feet Wet: Reflections of a Carrier Pilot by Paul Gillcrist. If you’re looking for additional books for professional flyers, try 50 Real-World Pilot Tips by Mark Robidoux, which comes with illustrations, diagrams and photographs.
Add 2 more from Epic Flight Academy: https://epicflightacademy.com/favorite-aviation-books/
NORTH STAR OVER MY SHOULDER: A FLYING LIFE By Bob Buck (2002) (BIO.BUC)
This book is much more than a memoir; it is a record of a time we will never see again – the glory days. Robert Buck lived from 1914 to 2007, so he bore witness to the birth of the commercial aviation industry, and, luckily for us, he shared his perspective from the cockpit. Much like Mark Twain immortalized the golden age of steam-boating in Life on the Mississippi, Bob Buck leaves a richly detailed record of the heydays of early commercial aviation. His achievements made the history books: he was, for a period, America’s youngest licensed pilot; and, in 1930, he broke the junior transcontinental air speed record. He flew B-17s during WWII and enjoyed a long career with TWA and flew everything from DC-2s to 747s. Facts and figures aside, every page of his memoir is written with evidence of love, awe, and respect of life in the cockpit. Hilarity, white-knuckled terror, surprising friendships, and intimate stories await. Read this one sooner rather than later.
And Epic Flight Academy’s #1 favorite…
FLIGHT OF PASSAGE: A MEMOIR By Rinker Buck (BIO.BUC)
Whether you have any interest in flying or not, this book is one of the finest memoirs we’ve ever come across. Imagine two brothers, ages 15 and 17, restoring an old Piper Cub and flying it coast to coast. The year is 1966, and the siblings’ cross-country adventure was unprecedented. It was a simpler time then, especially in the world of aviation. The author was the 15-year-old brother, and his storytelling skills are on par with his piloting and navigation skills. The boys’ father was a barnstorming pilot, so the boys came by their love of planes honestly. The characters you’ll meet in this book are unforgettable. Even the “geezers” sharing advice at quiet, rural airports will stay with you long after you finish reading the incredible adventure of the boys who became the youngest duo to fly across America. It’s unlikely you’ll ever restore your own Piper Cub and replicate this trip, but reading a firsthand account of the boys’ adventures offers a pretty close second.
From a British Perspective:
Ian Mackersey’s top 10 books on aviation (Massey has 5) https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/nov/24/top10s.aviation
Ian Mackersey is an aviation biographer. His most recent book, The Wright Brothers: The Aviation Pioneers Who Changed the World, tells the story of the aeroplane’s inventors: eccentric geniuses Wilbur and Orville Wright. Visit Ian Mackersey’s website: http://www.ianmackersey.com/index.html
1. Winged Victory by VM Yeates (N/A at Massey)
One of the great first world war novels, the aviation equivalent of All Quiet on the Western Front. Yeates, who died of tuberculosis in 1934 soon after publication, wrote movingly of the horrors of the air war in France, about combat, loneliness, fear, fatigue, comradeship, women, excitement. During the second world war RAF pilots would pay up to £5 a copy to lay their hands on this powerful evocation of the horrors of life in the Royal Flying Corps.
2. Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (IW.7)
The book that made the celebrated French aviator famous. ‘Saint Ex’ was a 1930s airline pilot who flew the north African and south Atlantic mail routes. During his long hours in the cockpit he meditated on solitude, friendship, the meaning of life and liberty. Night Flight is one of a string of novels in which he conveyed the unique magic of piloting an aeroplane, in lyrical poetic language that has rarely been equalled.
3. The Last Enemy by Richard Hillary (W2E.62)
The great RAF novel of the second world war. A searing rendering of a young fighter pilot’s operational life and terrible suffering in the Battle of Britain, during which he was shot down and his face grotesquely disfigured by burns.
4. Amy Johnson by Constance Babington Smith (N/A at Massey)
Many books have been written about Britain’s pioneer woman pilot – the young Yorkshire secretary whose solo flight to Australia in 1930 made her an enduring aviation folk hero. But this splendid biography, published in 1967, remains quite the best of them all.
5. West with the Night by Beryl Markham (BIO.MAR)
The vividly told story of a woman who grew up in the heady, promiscuous ‘Out of Africa’ white society of 1930s colonial east Africa. Markham learnt to fly in Kenya and her later spectacular solo north Atlantic flight provided the title of her book, praised by Ernest Hemingway, but just possibly written by her second husband, American screenwriter Raoul Schumacher. Nonetheless, a terrific read.
6. Beyond the Blue Horizon by Alexander Frater (N/A at Massey)
Frater’s engaging account of how he set out in the 1980s to retread, in modern airliners, the route of 1930s Imperial Airways services from England to Australia, a journey which could take 12 days to complete. A wonderfully told story skilfully cross-cutting between the two eras.
7. No Highway by Nevil Shute (FIC.19)
One of Shute’s best suspense novels. The story of a British aeronautical structural engineer who tries to convince the flight crew of a transatlantic airliner that its tail is in imminent danger of falling off. The story eerily foretold the structural failures that two 1950s BOAC Comets were subsequently to suffer.
8. Propellerhead by Antony Woodward (N/A at Massey)
How a successful London advertising copywriter set out to snag a girlfriend – by learning to fly a microlight in a bid for glamour. How Woodward became a dangerously incompetent pilot, terrifying the women he persuaded to join him in the air, is rivetingly and self-deprecatingly described in this seriously page-turning 1990s memoir. A definite must for every pilot.
9. Sir George Cayley by J. Laurence Pritchard (N/A at Massey)
A comprehensive biography of the little-known Yorkshire baronet who invented the modern fixed-wing aeroplane over a century before the Wright brothers (in 1799, to be precise). Later, in 1853, unknown to most of the world, Cayley successfully launched his coachman on a glider flight across a Yorkshire valley – a feat colourfully re-enacted by Sir Richard Branson in 2003.
10. The Sky Beyond by Sir Gordon Taylor (BIO.TAY)
Taylor was a brilliant 1930s Australian aerial navigator who accurately steered his country’s great aviation hero, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, across the width of the Pacific with the aid of a sextant and a crude drift sight. His account of the perilous 1934 oceanic flight approaches at times the beauty and narrative power of Saint-Exupéry’s writing.
Air Facts https://airfactsjournal.com/2012/07/12-aviation-books-i-like/ (Massey has 5)
12 Aviation Books I Like by Phil Scott
Among aviation history geeks, the titles of many early written works are as familiar as their family’s names—provided they’re not so geeked-out or senile that they’ve forgotten the names of their family. Anyone who’s read a biography of the Wright brothers learns that they were deeply influenced by such works as Progress in Flying Machines by their mentor Octave Chanute, or Pierre Mouillard’s shorter L’Empire de l’air, or Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst by Otto Lilienthal. (How’s that for pretentious? Three different languages in one sentence. And I didn’t even attend one of them expensive Eastern colleges.)
Yet in recent times, few have personally gazed upon these ancient—often wildly inaccurate—texts, pamphlets and articles, except the aforementioned senile aviation history geeks or people who are writing aviation-history books. And it’s not only because they’re written in three or four different tongues. Instead, we rely upon the power of historians to describe the works to us, and something invariably gets lost in translation.
Take, for instance, this excerpt from the obscure Aeronautical and Miscellaneous Note-book by Sir George Cayley, the now-little-known English gentleman-farmer scientist who discovered the principles of flight through acute observations of nature:
“I was much struck with the beautiful contrivance of the chat of the sycamore seed. It is an oval seed furnished with one thin wing, which one would first imagine would not impede its fall but only guide the seed downward, like the feathers upon an arrow. But it is so formed and balanced that it no sooner is blown from the tree that it instantly creates a rotative force preserving the seed for the centre, and the centrifugal force of the wing keeps it nearly horizontal, meeting the air in a very small angle like the bird’s wing, and by this means the seed is supported till a moderate wind will carry it in a path not falling more than one in 6 from an horizontal one, so that from a moderately high tree it may fly 60 yards before it reaches the earth.”
Thus from a single seed sprouted the airplane. Could today’s scientist so poetically describe orbital mechanics as it applies to the retired space shuttle? Hell, I’ve interviewed a bunch of astronauts and other than talking about having to eat crappy food on the space station I can’t understand what they’re saying.
Cayley’s musings reminds me of Henry David Thoreau’s The Dispersion of Seeds, though Cayley lacks Thoreau’s Transcendentalist bent and his gentle insight into the nature of nature—but then the two do have different purposes. Thoreau built a house for a little over $20, and Cayley bankrolled a flying machine. Anyway, here is a brief list of my favorite aviation books, making special note of the practical hands-on airplane knowledge they impart. And what’s more important, they’re all in easy-to-understand English.
1. The Spirit of St. Louis, Charles Lindbergh (BIO.LIN)
- This 1954 Pulitzer prizewinner is probably the best-known first-person account of a solo cross-country flight, if you’re willing to accept the Atlantic Ocean as a country. Magnificently written.
- Practical Knowledge: 33.3 hours’ worth of fuel conservation tips.
2. On a Wing and a Prayer, Ernie Pyle
- Before he was the best war correspondent in the history of war correspondenting, Pyle wrote an aviation column for the Washington Daily News in which he honed his famous style by writing about fliers and flying. I’m a huge Pyle fan; had Pyle lived to blog, he’d be the best blogger in the history of blogging.
- Practical Knowledge: Sometimes it’s just good to read a few paragraphs of genius from time-to-time. Plus it’s really short.
3. The Wooden Horse, Eric Williams
- In 1942 three British pilots held prisoner by Germany build a wooden vaulting horse and, while their fellow prisoners work out in the prison compound, they hide inside the horse and dig a tunnel under the camp fence (and German noses) and make their escape.
- Practical Knowledge: Basic tunnel engineering using only contents found inside a prison barracks.
4. The Forgotten 500, Gregory A. Freeman
- To cut off Hitler’s petroleum supplies, in 1943 America launches bomber strikes on Romanian oil fields, which are ringed by withering artillery. On the flight back to base hundreds of crewmen bail out over Serbia, where peasants round the men up, then help them build an airstrip on a remote peak, where they escape in C-47s.
- Practical Knowledge: Emergency aircraft evacuation, basic airfield construction, elements of radio communication, short takeoffs and landings.
5. 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, Ted Lawson (W2P.46)
- My favorite stories have heroes overcoming overwhelming odds and surviving. Lawson commanded one of the 16 B-25s of Doolittle’s Raiders that take off from the deck of the carrier Hornet and bomb the Japanese mainland. Badly injured crashing off the coast of China, Lawson and his crew band with Chinese rebels to elude Japanese occupiers.
- Practical Knowledge: Short takeoffs, ditching, first aid, basics of amputation using only scrounged items.
6. Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, Marvin W. McFarland (P.11)
- Two volumes, 2,000 total pages from cover-to-cover, and yet it’s still a good read. So long as you’re into the subject. The majority of it consists of letters between Wilbur Wright and his mentor Octave Chanute, in which Wright describes their technical progress, then their years of legal battles to protect their exclusive patent rights to the airplane. Ultimately the patent battle killed their friendship only a few months before Chanute’s death, and just two years before Wilbur’s. There’s also plenty of badly reproduced Wright glass-plate photography and drawings, along with technical detail of Wright flying machines.
Or if 482 pages is more your style, there’s 7. Miracle at Kitty Hawk: The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, Fred C. Kelly (P. 2)
- Edited by Orville’s official biographer, unless you’re writing a book, this is the one to get.
- Practical Knowledge: Come on, they’re the Wright brothers.
8. They Fought for the Sky, Quentin Reynolds
A nice history of World War I airmen by a popular World War II correspondent and author of around 25 books. Written with a kind of goofy, 1950s innocence, Reynolds tells of the four years that take aviation from the frail single-seat Bleriot to the bomber capable of flying the Atlantic Ocean nonstop.
- Practical Knowledge: No matter how you slice it, war drives aeronautical development.
9. The Lady Be Good, Dennis E. McClendon (W2E.67)
- In 1961 an expedition searching for oil stumbles across an empty World War II B-24 bomber in the middle of the Sahara. Fresh coffee, no crew. McClendon sets out to investigate.
- Practical Knowledge: Navigation, wisdom of remaining near the crashed aircraft.
10. Jet Age, Sam Howe Verhovek
- Kids will love the race between Boeing and de Havilland to field the first jetliner, and adults will enjoy hearing how Sperry of gyro fame fails in his attempt to become the first member of The Mile High Club. Yes, there’s something here for everyone.
- Practical Knowledge: Good explanation of pressurization. And the dangers of attempting to enter the Mile High Club while you’re behind the controls.
- (and 12). And finally, the official instruction manual for whatever it is you’re flying
11. & 12. My personal favorites are my original Cessna Model 150 manual and my Pilots Manual for Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. I haven’t been checked out in the second one, but I’m willing to accept offers.
Link to a list of Movies Too:
Aviation Films: Can Watching Movies Help You Learn to Fly?