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Memorial Day marks the start of summer and a chance for you to enjoy some summer reads. Below are a selection of summer reads for anyone with a passing interesting about flying and aviation, and wanting to learn more.
Tom Wolfe, the recently-deceased author best known for “Bonfire of the Vanities,” also penned “The Right Stuff” — a lesser-known nonfiction work that chronicles the early days of the space program (and was later turned into a movie). Wolfe’s research was exhaustive. The book is a human story, getting into the psyche of test pilots (and their spouses) determined to make their mark in space. Think John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom, each members of the Mercury Seven and real American heroes. After all, these guys strapped themselves to the very top of a huge rocket. Take a read this summer about pilots who went from flying fast to flying in space.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force. Your summer reads should include “Fighter Boys“ by Patrick Bishop, the epic story of how the West as we know it was saved over the course of the summer of 1940. By (quite incredibly) holding back an unrelenting German aerial attack, England was spared an invasion by sea. Hundreds of aircraft dueled over the English Channel and the south of England. To put it into perspective: Imagine some 300-plus aircraft dogfighting in the airspace above JFK airport. This book tells the story of both the heroes who flew Hurricanes and Spitfires and the machines themselves. If you loved the fighter scenes in the movie “Dunkirk,” you’ll love “Fighter Boys.” Stay tuned for “Air Force Blue,” an in-depth history of the Royal Air Force in World War II by Bishop, out in September.
A New York Times bestseller, and for good reason. The author takes a deep dive into how the Wright Flyer got off the ground at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It’s an exhaustive but very readable account of how they went from a bicycle shop in Ohio to extensive use of a home-built wind tunnel to test their designs. Good stuff. What’s most incredible is that their first flight was 76 feet shorter than the wingspan of a Boeing 747, which is 196 feet. (“The Wright Brothers“ is the perfect read at Rockaway Beach while you’re watching the big jets land at JFK.) The brothers possessed plain and simple ingenuity; their largest contribution to flight may be figuring out control surfaces — how to actually control a heavier-than-air plane.
“Stick and Rudder” is a classic book on flying, and I try to read it once a year. This and “Skyfaring“ were the two books that got me off the beach and into an airplane to learn how to fly. Penned by Wolfgang Langewiesche in 1944, the beauty of “Stick and Rudder“ is that it explains flying concepts in a nontechnical “fly by the seat of the pants” way. Langewiesche’s descriptions bring lift to life in an easy-to-understand way that makes for a better pilot. “Stick and Rudder“ brings it all back to the basics. Start here if you’ve ever thought about learning to fly in the front of the plane and not just the back.
William Langewiesche is a longtime writer for The Atlantic and Vanity Fair. (He’s Wolfgang Langewiesche’s son). In “Aloft,” he captures the triumphs and disasters of flight in riveting detail in an unrelated series of essays. For example, he describes the chain of events where mortals fail, in air disasters such as ValuJet 592, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegration and EgyptAir 990, and his own experiences flying sketchy passengers out of Mexico. Langewiesche’s writing is taut, and each chapter is refreshingly distinct. “Aloft” is a much more interesting way to spend some time than the latest Netflix crime drama.
Mike Arnot is the founder of Boarding Pass NYC, a New York-based travel brand, and a private pilot.
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