Soaring Reads: Aviation Themed Page Turners

From the first balloons sent up into the atmosphere to every device invented that elevated humans above the earth, our imaginations have been captured by the wondrous idea of flight.

 “National Aviation History Month’’ observed in November, is dedicated to exploring, recognizing and celebrating America’s great contributions and achievements in the development of aviation. Aviation history refers to the history of development of mechanical flight — from the earliest attempts in kites and gliders to powered heavier-than-air, supersonic and space flights.”

Here are some suggested fiction and nonfiction reads that can help us rediscover major milestones in the history of flight, stories of pioneering aviators, accounts of aerial combat, and memoirs of fighter pilots.

Air power : the men, machines, and ideas that revolutionized war, from Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II by Stephen Budiansky

Drawing on combat memoirs, government archives, and museum collections, Budiansky creates a sobering and dramatic account of the air wars of the last hundred years. A story of ideas and men, of intricate machines and fierce passions, this is an edge-of-the-seat drama of contemporary warfare and technology.

Amelia Earhart: The Turbulent Life of an American Icon by Kathleen C. Winters

In this nuanced and often surprising biography, acclaimed aviation historian Winters moves beyond the caricature of the spunky, precocious pilot to offer a more complex portrait. Drawing on a wealth of contemporary accounts, airline records, and other original research, she reveals a flawed heroine who was frequently reckless and lacked basic navigation skills, but who was also a canny manipulator of mass media. Winters details how Earhart and her husband, publisher George Putnam, worked to establish her as an international icon, even as other spectacular pilots went unnoticed. 

The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight by Winston Groom

This is the fascinating story of three extraordinary heroes who defined aviation during the great age of flight. These cleverly interwoven tales of their heart-stopping adventures take us from the feats of World War I through the heroism of World War II and beyond, including daring military raids and survival-at-sea.

Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies by Lawrence Goldstone

A thrill ride through flight’s wild early years and a surprising look at the personal clash that fueled America’s race to the skies. The feud between this nation’s great air pioneers, the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss, was a collision of unyielding and profoundly American personalities. On one side, a pair of tenacious siblings who together had solved the centuries-old riddle of powered, heavier-than-air flight. On the other, an audacious motorcycle racer whose innovative aircraft became synonymous in the public mind with death-defying stunts. For more than a decade, they battled each other in court, at air shows, and in the newspapers. The outcome of this contest of wills would shape the course of aviation history–and take a fearsome toll on the men involved.

Dare to Fly: Simple Lessons in Never Giving Up by Martha McSally

America’s first female combat jet pilot and Arizona Senator Martha McSally shows you how to clear the runway of your life: embrace fear, transform doubt, succeed when you are expected to fail, and soar to great heights in this motivational life guide.  Initially rejected from Air Force flight school because she was too short, she refused to give up, becoming the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat and the first to command a combat fighter squadron in United States history. During her twenty-six-year military career, she fought to free American servicewomen stationed in the Middle East from restrictions requiring them to don full-body, black abayas and ride in the backs of cars – and won. She shares how her experiences propelled her to become a fighter for justice in and out of the cockpit.

Empires of the Sky:Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men’s Epic Duel to Rule the World by Alexander Rose

The golden age of aviation is brought to life by the story of the giant Zeppelin airships that once roamed the sky and ended with the fiery destruction of the Hindenburg.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, when human flight was still considered an impossibility, Germany’s Count von Zeppelin vied with the Wright Brothers to build the world’s first successful flying machine. As the Wrights labored to invent the airplane, Zeppelin fathered the wondrous airship, sparking a bitter rivalry between the two types of aircraft and their innovators that would last for decades in the quest to control one of humanity’s most inspiring achievements.

Fighting for Space: Two Pilots and Their Historic Battle for Female Spaceflight by Amy Shira Teitel

The mostly-unknown tale of Jackie Cochran and Jerrie Cobb-two accomplished aviatrixes, one generation apart, who each dreamed of being the first woman in space, but along the way battled their egos, their expectations, and ultimately the patriarchal society that stood between them and the stars.

The Flight: Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 Trans-Atlantic Crossing by Dan Hampton

From one of the most decorated pilots in Air Force history comes a masterful account of Lindbergh’s death-defying nonstop transatlantic flight on the morning of May 20, 1927in his single engine monoplane Spirit of St. Louis.  Hampton draws on his unique perspective to bring alive the danger, uncertainty, and heroic accomplishment of Lindbergh’s crossing. Hampton’s deeply researched telling also incorporates a trove of primary sources, including Lindbergh’s own personal diary and writings, as well as family letters and untapped aviation archives that fill out this legendary story as never before.

Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History by Keith O’Brien

The untold story of five women who fought to compete against men in the high-stakes national air races of the 1920s and 1930s — and won.  Florence Klingensmith, a highâe’school dropout who worked for a dry cleaner in Fargo, North Dakota; Ruth Elder, an Alabama divorcee; Amelia Earhart, the most famous, but not necessarily the most skilled; Ruth Nichols, who chafed at the constraints of her blueâe’blood family’s expectations; and Louise Thaden, the mother of two young kids who got her start selling coal in Wichita. Together, they fought for the chance to race against the men — and in 1936 one of them would triumph in the toughest race of all.

Higher, Steeper, Faster: The Daredevils Who Conquered the Skies by Lawrence Goldstone

This book takes readers inside the world of the brave men and women who popularized flying through their deadly stunts and paved the way for modern aviation. Includes heart-stopping accounts of the action-packed race to conquer the skies, plus photographs and fascinating archival documents.

Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger, III & Jeffrey Zaslow

The inspirational autobiography by one of the most captivating American heroes of our time, Capt. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger—the pilot who miraculously landed a crippled US Airways Flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew.Sully’s story is one of dedication, hope, and preparedness, revealing the important lessons he learned through his life, in his military service, and in his work as an airline pilot.  

The DVD of Sully, the movie by Cline Eastwood based on the book can be found here.

Jet Girl: My Life in War, Peace, and the Cockpit of the World’s Most Lethal Aircraft, the F A-18 Super Hornet by Caroline Johnson

Caroline Johnson was an unlikely aviation candidate. A tall blonde debutante from Colorado, she could have just as easily gone into fashion or filmmaking, and yet she went on to become an F/A-18 Super Hornet Weapons System Officer. She was one of the first women to fly a combat mission over Iraq since 2011, and she was the first woman to drop bombs on ISIS.Jet Girl tells the remarkable story of the women fighting at the forefront in a military system that allows them to reach the highest peaks, and yet is in many respects still a fraternity. Johnson offers an insider’s view on the fascinating, thrilling, dangerous and, at times, glamorous world of being a naval aviator.

The Race of Aces: WWII’s Elite Airmen and the Epic Battle to Become the Masters of the Sky by John R. Bruning

The story of how five American pilots contended for personal glory in the Pacific in the 1940s while leading General George Kenney’s resurgent air force against the most formidable enemy America ever faced. The pilots — Richard Bong, Tommy McGuire, Neel Kearby, Charles MacDonald and Gerald Johnson — riveted the nation as they contended for Eddie Rickenbacker’s (America’s deadliest fighter pilot) crown. As their scores mounted, they transformed themselves from farm boys and aspiring dentists into artists of the modern dogfight.

The Rocket Man: and Other Extraordinary Characters in the the History of Flight by David Darling

Darling tells the stories of the true life adventurers whose wonder has translated into bizarre contraptions, magnificent achievements and, sometimes, startling folly.

Discover outrageous attempts to fly like a bird and fall from the edge of space. Meet Napoleonic ballooniste Sophie Blanchard and her daredevil husband; the real “X-Men” who flew the supersonic experimental “X-planes” for the US Air Force; stuntman Lincoln Beachey, looping-the-loop in a pinstripe suit; and, of course, The Rocket Man himself: Yves Rossy, who in 2006 was the first person to cross the English Channel using a jet-pack.

Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot by Mark Vanhoenacker

The twenty-first century has relegated airplane flight–a once remarkable feat of human ingenuity–to the realm of the mundane. Mark Vanhoenacker, a 747 pilot who left academia and a career in the business world to pursue his childhood dream of flight, asks us to reimagine what we–both as pilots and as passengers–are actually doing when we enter the world between departure and discovery. In a seamless fusion of history, politics, geography, meteorology, ecology, family, and physics, Vanhoenacker vaults across geographical and cultural boundaries; above mountains, oceans, and deserts; through snow, wind, and rain, renewing a simultaneously humbling and almost superhuman activity that affords us unparalleled perspectives on the planet we inhabit and the communities we form.

Wally Funk’s Race for Space: The Extraordinary Story of a Female Aviation Pioneer by Sue Nelson

Wally Funk was among the Mercury 13, the first group of American pilots to complete NASA’s 1961 Women in Space program… Undeterred, Funk went on to become one of America’s first female aviation inspectors and civilian flight instructors, though her dream of being an astronaut never dimmed. In this offbeat odyssey, journalist and fellow space buff Nelson travels with Wally Funk, approaching her 80th birthday, as she races to make her giant leap.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

The dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly–Wilbur and Orville Wright.  In this enjoyable, fast-paced tale, master historian McCullough shows as never before how two Ohio boys from a remarkable family taught the world to fly and captures the marvel of what the Wrights accomplished. He draws on the extensive Wright family papers to profile not only the brothers but their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them.

Fiction

The Aviator’s Wife: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin

A fascinating historical novel based on the experiences of an extraordinary woman, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of wildly famous Charles Lindbergh and pioneering aviatrix and accomplished author in her own right. Though their courtship is the stuff of every girl’s romantic fantasy, time and reality combine to reveal a much different story. Plagued by tragedy and often stifled by her domineering husband, she eventually manages to carve out a quasi-independent life and career for herself. 

The Flight Girls: A Novel by Noelle Salazar

1941. Audrey Coltrane has always wanted to fly. It’s why she implored her father to teach her at the little airfield back home in Texas. It’s why she signed up to train military pilots in Hawaii when the war in Europe began. And it’s why she insists she is not interested in any dream-derailing romantic involvements, even with the disarming Lieutenant James Hart. Then one fateful day, she gets caught in the air over Pearl Harbor just as the bombs begin to fall, and suddenly, nowhere feels safe.

Flight of Dreams: A Novel by Ariel Lawhon

A fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey, On the evening of May 3rd, 1937. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.

-Archana, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian 

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