Let us be honest, very few of us have the "right stuff". The world is not full of would be fighter pilots with bad eyesight, but more wannabe fighter pilots with bad eyesight, co-ordination and delusions of grandeur. I am one of them. So how do you deal with this crushing reality day to day? Well short of dropping 100k on an ATPL and flying 747s to earn a living flying you can read about it, and share just a peek at the life of these extraordinary aviators. There is also another, more serious reason: history. The men and woman fighting these awesome machines need to be remembered; their stories need to be told.
So here goes my 10 top fighter books you need to read.
Strike Eagle-William L. Smallwood
1991 saw the most devastating use of airpower in the 20th century, and the newest kids on the block were the Mudhen drivers in their shiny new F-15E's. There was barely one mission ready Strike Eagle squadron sat as Seymour Johnson AFB as news of Saddam's invasion broke, but they were among some of the first assets deployed to Saudi to commence operation Desert Shield. This book lets the crews and support staff tell the story, from the top brass all the way down to the support assets. It is told through interviews that are embedded within the authors own research. This creates an incredibly engaging book that is one of the best accounts of aerial fighting in the Gulf War.
Viper Pilot-Dan Hampton
The book starts as it means to go on. It is hard hitting, full of action and has a dose of well earnt arrogance. It reveals what life as a viper pilot means. The author is an extremely experienced fighter pilot, and the book takes you through his career. From the first moments in combat in the First Gulf War to nights out in Europe. It is extremely well written and is entertaining from start to finish. It also explores the world of the Wild Weasel and is almost a manifesto for the "Hard Kill" style of weaseling. Fascinating stuff.
First Light-Geoffrey Wellum
Barely 18 and thrown into the most destructive conflict in History, First Light is Geoffrey Wellums memoir of flying Spitfires in the Battle of Britain and Malta. His book covers the training and fighting, and really conveys the emotion that a young pilot all alone at 20,000ft feels. It is an excellent and poignant read.
The German Aces Speak-Heaton & Lewis
History is written by the victors. Germany wants to forget the past, and very little literature has been written in comparison to the allied histories. Yet the Luftwaffe were one of the most powerful air arms ever to exist, and fought a hard war against the allies. The German Aces speak lets four iconic German flyers tell there stories, in their own words. Galland, Krupinski, Neumann, and Falck. It doesn't glorify and it isn't an apologist essay. It is the story of the four fighter pilots in a horrific period of history. Truly fascinating stuff.
Tumult in the Clouds-James A. Goodson.
This book follows an American ace through his days in the Eagle Squadrons, to flying Spitfires in the USAAF, through to the P-47 and P-51. Goodson's book is as entertaining as any Hollywood blockbuster, but what he writes is real. Goodson was part of the 4th Fighter group based at RAF Debden, the highest scoring fighter group of the 8th Airforce. Goodson himself scored 15 kills in the air and 15 strafing kills on the deck. One of my most cherished reads.
Spitfire-Dibbs and Holmes
Any aviation photographer should know who John Dibbs is. He is the air to air master responsible for the best images of aircraft that have ever been produced. Spitfire is a history of surviving warbirds, with pilots stories, restorers stories and some of the best pictures of the iconic warbird you have ever seen. Words can't do his images justice...... just get it.
The F-117 was revealed to the public in 1988, after years of black USAF operations. The shadowy jet made daily news during the 1991 Gulf War, and earned the nickname "Shaba", Arabic for Ghost. O' Connor tells his story of flying the F-117 in combat during Allied Force (1999) and the process of selection, training and combat deployment. The book also reveals some of the fighter pilot culture, from naming ceremonies and parties to the struggle of moving around from posting to posting. Really interesting read. It also has some awesome cockpit diagrams.
Wings on my Sleeve- Eric "Winkle" Brown
2,407 carrier takeoffs, 2,271 Carrier landings. 487 aircraft types. He is the ultimate pilot. The book is his flying career in his own words. It is the most fascinating book to read for variety. The pace of flying and the sheer number of types is astonishing. It is a testament to his skill, hard work and a touch of luck, that he survived not only combat, but many years of test flying. A fantastic read and an aviator who will be missed and admired for many, many years.
Malta Spitfire-George Beurling.
27 aircraft in 14 days over Malta. A non conformist whose service would be terminated before the wars end, but perhaps one of the most lethal fighter pilots of the second world war. Tragically losing his life in a delivery flight to Israel in 1948 to carry on operational flying, Beurling was a fighter through and through. This book, written in wartime is a fantastic insight into the life of an almost perfect deflection shooter.
Open Cockpit- Arthur Gould Lee
Tales of facing off against the "Flying Circus" and stories from over the trenches, Open Cockpit offers an insight into the skies of France 100 years ago. Whether it is observation balloons, or enemy aircraft, Lee places you right in the cockpit of a Camel or Pup, in those formative years of aerial combat. A truly wonderful read as it keeps the stories of those first fighters alive, long after that generation has passed.
These are only ten of the books that have stood out to me. There are hundreds of fantastic books out there, many I have waiting on my bookshelf. This is by no means a definitive list, so post below any of your stand outs and challenge my bank account to an Amazon spree!