Aviation books, recommended

While books on specific aircraft (types of aircraft, their manufacturers, or reference books on production lists) seem widely available and enjoy plenty of exposure, other books (fiction, part fiction, memoires) seem relatively unknown. Here is a list recommended by others or me; the aim is to compile a list of books which convey the feeling of what flying or the airline industry was like in the period 1930s - 1960s.


Pilots of the Purple Twilight, by Philip H. Godsell (1955, the Ryerson Press; 2002 reprint by Fifth House Ltd), subtitled 'The Story of Canada's Early Bush Flyers'.
Early (earliest!) aviation in Canada, featuring "Punch" Dickins, "Doc" Oaks, "Wop" May, "Con" Farrell: the pioneers and early bushplane pilots.
Fascinating read, also because the writer had firsthand knowledge of the Arctic North.
There is also a chapter on the pursuit on the Mad Trapper.

Fly the Biggest Piece Back, by Steve Smith (1979, Pictorial Histories Publishing Companies) -4th Printing-, 'including 30 additional photos', 1994)
The story about Missoula's Bob Johnson, how he started his flying career and Bob Johnson Flying Service ending with the demise of the company 52 years later.
Many types of aircraft are written about, from bushplanes through early multi-engines transports such as the lumbering Ford Trimotor, to the state-of-the-art Lockheed L.188 Electra.
Subjects vary from bushflying, the very introduction of aircraft to fire fighting for the Forest Service, as well as charters and later on the attempt to make its mark in scheduled passenger service.
Enjoyed every page of it.

Recently read THE ARCTIC FOX (subtitled: 'Bush Pilot of the North Country'), by Don C.Braun (co-written by John C.Warren; Back Bay Press, 1994). An amazing read and heartily recommended to those interested in aviation pioneering, the hardship of flying in the Arctic North, bush flying, aviation history, etc.

Cleared for Disaster (subtitled: Ireland's most horrific air crashes), by Michael O'Toole (Mercier Press, 2006) as it not merely provides an analysis of air crashes, but many of the chapters describe aviation in wider detail.

Everybody likes (aviation) humor, right? I have good memories of Martin Leeuwis' books: www.humor.aero.

Here is a book that has the DC-3 on Reindeer Lake; Deadline; June 7, by Fred Lockhart. It is a very good read and has several other plane crashes in the book too. Very hard book to get a hold on but you can get it.
Recommended by the King of Obsolete.

Here is Jack Lamb's book, the story of flying in the great white Arctic North:
My Life In The North is a story of Jack Lamb, his father Tom, and his five brothers. They owned and operated Lambair from bases at The Pas, Thompson, and Churchill, Manitoba during the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. They lived all their lives flying as bush pilots in Northern Manitoba and the Canadian Arctic. This book highlights some of their adventures while operating scheduled and charter flights. The company motto was “Do Not Ask Us Where We Fly - Tell Us Where You Want To Go”

Les Bradford suggested:
"All this mention of Alaska and the hard cold labor required for restoration of antique planes made me think of an excellent series of books: the Time Life Book Series, The Epic of Flight, by Russell Miller.
There are riveting volumes on Soviet aviation history with big surprises, bush pilots, path finders, airlines, WWII American planes and tactics in the Pacific and European campaigns, soldiers of fortune, in which our C-119 hero, Earthquake McGoon, is well covered, helicopters,women in flight, and many more. They seem to be well documented, have loads of great pictures (I love pictures) and easy entertaining reading.
I have been reading myself to sleep with these books, sometimes into the early morning hours. Lots of action and hair raising stuff especially about early techniques for flying on instruments before instruments were invented."

Triumph over Turbulence, by Jim Magoffin ("Alaska's luckiest bushpilot") (Library of Congress Catalog-in-Publication Data, 1993)
Jim Magoffin was the founder and longtime CEO of Interior Airways (later renamed Alaska International Air and latere again: Markair) and this book describes the hard struggle he and his wife Dottie had setting up the airline in Alaska; the book starts with details on how Jim's flying career starts in the 1930s and contains many details of a hard life in Alaska (living in a frontier-style log cabin during their starting years).
The book contains many fascinating details about aviation, the competition in Alaska (and also describes exploits in Africa) as well as the Jim's battle with the burocrats ("I broke every aviation law in the book, except the law of gravity"). Jim and Dottie retired in 1982.
Fascinating and recommended reading.
You'll find an interesting photo of Interior's C-46 N67982, stranded in No Luck Lake HERE... More photos of Interior Airways photos on Photos by Friends & Guest 49 and Page 50.

By Dead Reckoning, by Ralph Lewis (Paladwr Press, 1994).
Recollections of a Master Navigator.
Maps by R.E.G. Davies, edited by R.E.G.Davies and John Wegg.
The book gives a good insight in life and work of airline crew in the US in the period late 1930s - early 1960s; much of this period concerns mr Lewis' career with United Air Lines (WW2) and Transocean Air Lines.
Enjoyed it tremendously.

Syd's Pirates - A Story of an Airline
Author: Charles (Chic) E. Eather
Publisher: Durnmount, Sydney, 1983
ISBN: 0 949756 05 9
"Syd's Pirates" is the story of people, from the pilots, the ground staff and other hard working and devoted people that has made Cathay Pacific the Airline it is today.
This remarkable book traces the company from its humble beginnings as the Roy Farrell Import-Export Company prior to becoming incorporated as the airline known as Cathay Pacific Airways.
This Book has been written by a man, Capt. Charles (Chic) Eather who has lived it all. It is written with warmth, humour and sadness and includes such famous events as the world's first skyjacking - the Catalina known as "Miss Macao", a Cathay Pacific aircraft. The shooting down of one of the company's airliners [C-54, VH-HEU] over Hainan Island by communist fighters, to name but two events..
This is NOT an official airline history, but a very personal book by Charles Eather.
The aircraft mentioned in the book is DC-3, DC-4, DC-6, Catalina, Anson, Lockheed 10, Lockheed 12, Lockheed 188 and more. (Nils)

Dave offered the following:
ROUGE HERCULES by Dennis Pitts. Story of gun running by ex military C-130.
Vietnam books with a propliner basis:
BLIND BAT by Frederick F Nyc 3rd (C-130)
SHADOWS OF SAIGON by Elton Fletcher (C-119)
RUNWAY VISIONS by David Kirk Vaughan (C-130)
There is a book that describes the flight of Boeing 314, NC18602, from Pearl Harbour and around the World to New York, in December 1941.
Title: The Long Way Home - Captain Ford's Epic Journey
Author: Ed Dover
Publisher: Paladwr Press, USA, 1999
ISBN: 1-888962-07-0
The story is non-fiction, but it is more adventurous than any novel.
Its illustrated with many photographs and several maps. (Nils)

Lucky No.13, by TONY JONSSON who flew during the Biafra conflict. It is the second part of his autobiography. It was, I believe, published by Cargolux. 13 upon his retirement with that airline. No.13 is the number of Jonsson's Icelandic pilot's licence.
See also the item on my page Questions & Answers

FLYING COWBOYS, by Tad Houlihan
This story is an account of events that led to an historical first in the transportation of whole herds of up to eighty two pregnant dairy cows by airplane from Denmark to countries in the Mid East. An old military surplus cargo plane and a crew of seven young men desperate for work were more than happy to take on the challenge no matter that the rumor mill was saying it couldn't be done. A job was a job, and if the Danes needed to get cows delivered to Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran, they were going to do it, come hell or high water. The timing couldn't have been better, with Denmark's dire need to find a way to improve their balance of trade crisis. (Nicolai)
Flying Cowboys at Authorhouse.com

THE 3 and ME, by Tad Houlihan
This story is an account of events in the life of a furloughed nonscheduled airline pilot who felt compelled to buy a DC-3 in a desperate attempt to create job security, and thereby save his rocky marriage. It is unique, primarily, in how a machine, this DC-3 airplane, became so deeply engrained within the daily lives of people it touched. It is a tale in tribute to the flawless performance and reliability of a magnificent machine and how it raised havoc for America’s government subsidized airline industry, who through dirty politics managed to force the government to rewrite air rules dealing the death blow to a colorful era in American aviation.
THE 3 and ME at Authorhouse.com

A Lineage Rekindled, by Tad Houlihan
Tad Houlihan
This story is an account of events in the lives of two brothers of solid Minnesota farm stock, and their sole living relative, an elderly maid and heiress to the Herjolfsson family estate.
The brothers had returned from World War II having served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as decorated combat pilots. Now far from the daily excitement and grandeur, that of dashing Air Force pilot officers they were seen by prim Aunt Julia as wallowing about in a state of affairs lacking in any show of the kind of gumption true to their ancestry.
Embarrassed by the blight they had placed on the family name Julia agonized over a method to get her beloved nephews back on track.
A Lineage Rekindled at Authorhouse.com

Moondog's Academy of the Air, and other disasters", by Pete Fusco.
The first half of the book is about his first job at a lowcost flightschool, but the story gets better when he drives down to Miami's corrosion corner. AND:
Smoke Screen, by Robert Sabbag.
Drug running with a DC-3 from the northern Colombian coast to the USA.
"All Allen Long had was cunning and a dilapidated DC3; facing him was the might of US customs. But when the cargo is two tons of the world's finest marijuana, the risks are more than worth it. From the writer of the cocaine classic Snowblind, comes a story more high-octane than any fictional thriller. Robert Sabbag recounts how America's most audacious drug smuggler risked everything for a payload of Colombian Santa Marta Gold"

Fate is the Hunter, by Ernest Gann.
"have never read a better factual book about the golden era of propliners!" (Ian)
I would like to add, after having read it recently, it's written with great eloquence and truly a very powerful book.

Chris suggested:
One of Gavin Lyall's books with a strong aviation theme is 'Shooting Script', which I read several years ago but from memory its a good story that moves along at a good pace.
Another book with a prop theme is John J Nance's book 'Fire Flight', which deals with the world of fire bombers and is a really good read, as are most of his other books which (although not prop related) are mainly aviation based.

Other good ones (fiction) by G.Lyall are:
The Wrong Side of the Sky (1961)
Judas Country (1975)
About pilots working in the grey areas of the law, down and out on their luck, looking for a big break.
Gavin Lyall

Gavin Lyall on WIKIPEDIA

Another book by Gann is Ernest K. Gann's Flying Circus, published by Hodder and Stoughton.
This consists of 22 chapters, each a non-fiction account of flying. The majority airliners. Many first-hand experiences by Gann.
Also worth considering is Flights of Fancy, by James Allan, published by Airlife.
14 fictional short stories but mostly with a private aviation perspective. (Lance)

I recommend Trafficking, by Berkeley Rice.
All about drug running in various types, including the story behind Air America Inc with their fleet of ex. Belgian Air Force Percival Pembrokes. Fascinating! (Tom)

Nevil Shute (NS Norway 1899-1961) has not been mentioned yet.
An engineer on the successful R100 (Deputy to Barnes Wallis) and a founder of Airspeed, his autobiography is Slide Rule, valuable for anyone interested in aviation in the 1920s-1945. Moved to Australia post-war.
He is more renowned for novels, some of which were filmed and many of which have an aviation content, including No Highway, a Town like Alice and On the Beach. Bibliography at www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/authors/Nevil_Shute.htm

A Change of Wings, by Don McVicar.
(Illustrated by L.R. Williams)
Airlife, (Shrewsbury, 1984). "...chronicles the winding-down at the end of World War II of the R.A.F.'s transatlantic ferrying operations...also takes the reader behind the scenes of the newly reconstituted. British West Indian Airways, describing hair-raising flights into what were often little more than jungle airstrips. Then, in a dramatic change of scene, Don McVicar returns to the Canadian Northlands he knows and describes so well. Going into partnership with a fur trader, he embarks on an adventure he is sure will make his fortune - ferrying into the wild country Indian fur trappers who will return, he hopes, loaded with beaver and mink. But he is flying a secondhand single-engined float. plane, winter is approaching and maintenance facilities are non-existent..."
Antarctica, A Year at the Bottom of the World, by Jim Mastro.
It includes a scary account of 3 US Navy Hercules having to land on Willy Field in a zero visibilty snowstorm with no possible diversion; it also has some history and photos of the mainly prop powered Air links to the Antarctic
For a real good 'read', get a copy of "No Highway" by Nevil Shute.
Written in the late forties, it is a dramatic prediction of the type of problems that our own Lockheed 'Electra' (Turboprops) began experiencing in the mid-fifties, re: the unexpected fractures of alumin(i)um structural components. It wasn't that he (Shute) was precognitive... that very same Nevil Shute Norway actually owned an aircraft company. The book is a look at the quaint, but very private, life of a fictional aircraft engineer, caught up in a sort of political intrigue. I highly recommend the book. I first read it in the sixties... And still find it enjoyable each time I re-read it.

"North Star Looking Over My Shoulder, a Flying Life", by Bob Buck.
Buck first flew in the 1920s and he joined TWA in 1937; there are many details about flying the DC-2 and DC-3. He was a chief pilot for TWA for a while, flew for Howard Hughes, there were projects such as gathering weather details in a Boeing B-17 (chasing thunderstorms worldwide), the WW2 operations from Presque Isle, trans atlantic operations with the C-54 and Lockheed Constellations and ending with Buck's transition to jets.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Bush Pilot with a Briefcase, Ronald A.Keith (1972).
The incredible story of aviation pioneer Grant McConachie. A book I enjoyed tremendously: in the early 1930s Grant McConachie was a bush-pilot, started his own airline and he flew anything and everything to survive, alomst killing himself in the process. He became instrumental in the merger of a few small outfits to form the airline CPAir. He became Pilot-President of this airline, now history, but the main part is about those aearly years, 1930s-1940s. The book ends with McConachie's death in 1965.
I read the 1997 reprint (Douglas & McIntyre Ltd, Vancouver,BC), with a foreword by Sean Rossiter.
A book deserving many rereads.

TIGER TALES, by LeVerne J.Moldrem, 1996. Published by Flying M Press, 2704-C South Drive, Clearwater, FL 34619.
The book is a personal account of Moldrem's career with Flying Tigers, where he started as an engineer, qualified for a seat in the cockpit and flew types such as the Douglas DC-3, DC-4, DC-6, Curtiss C-46 Commando, Lockheed Constellation, Canadair CL-44 and transferred to jets via the Douglas DC-8 to the Boeing 747. He flew all continents and every chapter in this book offers insights in flight details, anecdotes, considerations and sometimes quotes from friends and/or collegues.
A fascinating and sometimes moving account.


Subtitled 'An American Pilot's Memoir of of the 1975 Phnom Penh Airlift'.
A full description can be found on my page Flying Tigers Remembered.

The MIGHTY TIGER, by Joe Brenner. Subtitles 'adventures of an unlikely pilot'.The MIGHTY TIGER by Joe Brenner
Published Trafford Publishing, Victoria, B.C., Canada (2003)
An easy to read, over 300 pages account by another former Flying Tigers pilot. It's an entertaining composite of different topics whose common denominator is the role they played in inspiring and shaping one man's life, including a less than usual approach into a flying career, the pilot's flying career and his adventures (including 'bars and broads').
'The Mighty Tiger' features history of the legendary (WWII) AVG Flying Tigers, the achievements and downfall of their successor, the Flying Tiger Line; plus true escapes (including an almost fatal plane crash), clever and unusual solutions to difficult problems, aircraft, flying & qualification, interspersed with outrageous escapades.
Very readable.

William S. Carlson's book, "Lifelines Through the Arctic" is very, very good.
Carlson was active as a USAAF Colonel in the planning and building of Sondre Stromfjord air base during Second WW.

Risky Business, by Dean O. Talley.
In the late 1970s and '80s, the South Texas borders spawned a unique group of aviators involved in the dubious industry of smuggling goods into Mexico. They traded their skill and bravado for the fast buck, matching whits with the authorities in Mexico, finding safe haven in the border towns of south Texas.
Outstanding story, well written. A must read for propliner aficionados

Picking Up The Pieces
Published 2002, Trafford ISBN 1-55369-602-6

Denny McCartney worked on contracts for insurance companies to estimate the costs for salvage and repairs of broken aeroplanes. The types varied from Cessna single engine planes to a giant four-engined Lockheed Hercules... He got them home for final repairs.
The period of time this mostly took place was late-1950s to mid-1960s.
Denny succeeded in "first-aid" repairs to fly most of these crashed planes out under own power, some of them were towed or floated by barge.
It is interesting to read what was acceptable as working circumstances, being mostly out in the Arctic North, 19-hour working days, freezing cold, sleeping in tents...
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this book!

Tales from the Lakeview

Tales From The Lakeview, collected aviation stories by Robert S. Grant
Published by www.CanAero.ca in 2011 this book offers the reader an intimate view inside the world of Canadian wilderness flying. The famous Lakeview Restaurant at Red lake, Ontario is a pilot hangout and off-duty gathering place since 1932. More than 20 working airplane types are profiled (e.g. deHavilland DHC-2 Beaver and DHC-3 Otter, Douglas DC-3 and Junkers 52/1m) with special attention to the Noorduyn Norseman as also featured on the cover this little jewel of a book.


DAKOTA HUNTER, by Hans Wiesman (Elikser Uitgeverij, 2012).
As yet written only in Dutch (2012), but plans are underway to translate this account of Hans' interest in the DC-3 Dakota and 12 expeditions he made in attempts to collect DC-3 / C-47 parts and esspecially the wingtips to transform these in ... furniture!
Hans Wiesman travelled the globe to outposts such as Alaska and the Yukon, several times to the jungles of Colombia and tried to salvage parts from DC-3's which were sunk as repairs to the underwater world in Thailand after Tsunami damage. To name but a few exotic places.
The book is a very nice read of a passionate interest, trying to overcome obstacles put in place by Mother Nature and/or Third World military.
I hope an English translation will soon become available (outlook: May 2013).
See updates on www.dakotahunter.org or www.dakota-hunter.com
Dakota Hunter by Hans Wiesman


I have written a 'Remember' page, celebrating the days of the reference aviation books HERE..

These online adresses may benefit while looking for certain out-of-print titles:
Jack Long Books

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Last updated 8.5.2006