U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission home page

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

"High Flight" was composed by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force.




Robert Scott

Robert L. Scott in front of his F-100 at Luke AFB.




Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart has been the subject of many biographies. She also wrote a book herself titled The Fun of It.




Pancho Barnes portrait

Lauren Kessler recently wrote a book about Pancho Barnes, a barnstormer and later the proprietor of a ranch where flyers from nearby Edwards Air Force Base gathered.



Aviation in Literature

 

From Wiley Post's travelogue "Around the World in Eight Days" (not to be confused with the Jules Verne classic Around the World in Eighty Days) to John Gillespie Magee Jr.'s inspirational poem "High Flight" to test pilot Chuck Yeager's yarn-filled autobiography, aviation has been the subject of, and the inspiration for, some of the great literature of the 20th century. The freedom, beauty, and adventure of flight have inspired many participants to write about their experiences in an attempt to share their excitement and emotions with a wider audience.

 

Two of the earliest works of aviation-related literature were written by the most famous aerial adversaries of the First World War, Captain Eddie V. Rickenbacker of the United States and Germany's Baron Manfred von Richthofen. Rickenbacker's book, Fighting the Flying Circus, published in 1919, describes the activities of the 94th "Hat-in-the-Ring" Squadron, the first U.S. flying unit to participate actively at the front. The 94th's primary opponent was the famous "Flying Circus" commanded by the German ace, von Richthofen, better known as "The Red Baron." Von Richthofen's book "The Red Battle Flyer," was first published in German in 1917 as Der Rote Kampfflieger and an English language version appeared in 1918, the same year that "The Red Baron" was killed in action.

 

Another notable early work is WE, written by Charles A. Lindbergh and published just weeks after his May 1927 solo transatlantic flight. The "Lone Eagle," as he was known, writes about his childhood, the early years of his flying career including his Army Air Corps training and experiences as an airmail pioneer. With events still fresh in his memory, Lindbergh recounts the preparations for his daring voyage, the minute details of his solo flight and the riotous celebrations upon his safe landing in France.

 

Lindbergh's wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, also contributed to the literary world by writing a best-selling, and highly acclaimed, account of their early flying experiences. In North to the Orient, published in 1935, she describes in lyrical style a 1931 surveying flight with her husband that followed the great Arctic circle route over to Japan and China, a remarkable and dangerous accomplishment in aviation's infancy, years before the invention of radar. North to the Orient is also a time capsule of sorts, poetically describing people and cultures in the years before modern communications and World War II.

 

More than a quarter-century after his solo transatlantic flight, Lindbergh was awarded the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for his autobiography, The Spirit of St. Louis, a personal yet descriptive account of one of the 20th century's greatest achievements and an insight into one of aviation's most noted personalities. Written over a period of 17 years and painstakingly researched, Lindbergh was able to put his historic flight into perspective, filling in the finer details and in doing so, providing a deeper insight into Lindbergh the man. And rather fittingly, 45 years after the publication of The Spirit of St. Louis, A. Scott Berg's acclaimed biography Lindbergh was also awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1999.

 

Another best-selling account of aviation's "Golden Age" is the story of the around-the-world voyage of the Winnie Mae, a specially built Lockheed 5C Vega, titled Around the World in Eight Days (the title itself is a play on Jules Verne's classic 1873 novel about flying around the world by balloon, Around the World in Eighty Days). On June 23, 1931, famed aviator Wiley Post, accompanied by navigator Harold Gatty, took off from New York in the Winnie Mae in a successful attempt to circumnavigate the globe in record time, flying a route that carried them over England, Europe, the Soviet Union, Alaska, Canada, Cleveland, Ohio, and finally back to New York.

 

Aviatrix Amelia Earhart's 1932 book, The Fun of It, written shortly after her first transatlantic flight, describes her childhood and the realization that she preferred flying airplanes to almost any other activity, urging young women to test their own limits and tackle new challenges "just for the fun of it." Earhart's life and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her disappearance has also been the subject of numerous books.

 

Three critically acclaimed biographies, Amelia Earhart: A Biography by Doris L. Rich; East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart by Susan Butler; and Amelia: A Life of the Aviation Legend by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, explore the life, personality, and private relationships of the legendary pilot from different perspectives. A 1996, best-selling novel, I Was Amelia Earhart, by Jane Mendelsohn, is a fictional account from the perspective of the aviatrix herself, painting a scenario of what may have happened on Earhart's final flight before she disappeared near the New Guinea coast in 1937, during an attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world.

 

Author and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupery was awarded France's prestigious Prix Femina literary prize for his second novel, Night Flight(Vol de Nuit), published in 1931. As a young pilot, Saint-Exupery helped establish airmail routes to French colonies in northwest Africa and the South Atlantic, and Night Flight was inspired by his experiences as an airmail pilot in South America. Saint-Exupery's descriptive use of language and his ability to impart the concepts of leadership and moral duty turned Night Flight and his 1939 novel, Wind, Sand and Stars (Terre des Hommes) into aviation, and literary, classics. Best known for his 1943 work, The Little Prince , a widely read and beloved children's book that sells 300,000 copies per year in France alone, Saint-Exupery was killed on July 13, 1944, when the aircraft he was piloting was shot down by German fighters over Corsica.

 

War, by its nature, is filled with situations that almost defy the imagination, creating instant heroes in the process. It should not be a surprise that wartime exploits inevitably lead to best-selling accounts and novels, with many relating to aviation.

 

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, veteran fighter pilot Robert L. Scott was assigned to China as executive and operations officer of the Assam-Burma-China Ferry Command and was soon named commander of Claire Chennault's legendary Flying Tigers. Scott flew 388 combat missions from July 1942 to October 1943, shooting down 13 enemy aircraft to become one of the earliest aces of the war. His memoir, God is My Co-Pilot, published in 1944, graphically told the story of his wartime experiences and became a best seller during the height of the war, and was later made into a motion picture.

 

Famed author James A. Michener penned a riveting novel of the Korean conflict, focusing on pilots, fighter jets, and aircraft carrier operations in 1953's The Bridges at Toko-Ri, another aviation classic later transformed into a movie of the same name. Modern novelists Dale Brown (Day of the Cheetah, Sky Masters, Chains of Command), and Stephen Coonts (The Red Horseman, The Minotaur) have made a cottage industry of mass-market aviation yarns, turning out best selling books at a breakneck pace. Other more mainstream writers, not usually associated with flying, have also created aviation novels with wide appeal, such as Jack Higgins' Flight of Eagles and Michael Crichton's Airframe.

 

A best-selling 1979 book by Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff (later made into a 1984 motion picture of the same name) reintroduced the public to the exploits and dangers of aviation and spaceflight and one of its principal subjects, legendary test pilot and architect of "The Right Stuff," Chuck Yeager, as well as a number of the astronauts. Yeager himself also wrote of his unique experiences as the first human to break the sound barrier in his 1986 autobiography Yeager. Pancho Barnes, barnstorming pilot and colorful proprietor of the favorite watering hole for Edwards Air Force Base (California) test pilots in the 1930s, and an accomplished aviator in her own right, was recently profiled in The Happy Bottom Riding Club by Lauren Kessler.

 

Modern-day aviators have also written memorable books recounting their adventures in the skies. Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager's 1986, non-stop circumnavigation of the globe, without refueling is narrated in Voyager, the name of their ultra-light aircraft. Balloonists Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones recount their epic voyage, the last great around-the-world flight of the millennium, in 1999's The Greatest Adventure.

 

Perhaps the most famous work involving aviation, loved by pilots and non-fliers alike, was composed by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force in England during the months before the United States' entrance into World War II. In late summer 1941, Magee composed a poem describing his emotions while flying and sent a copy to his parents. Within weeks, on December 11, 1941, Magee was killed at age 19 when his Spitfire collided with another aircraft and he crashed to his death. Titled "High Flight," its message is so powerful, so reassuring that it was used as the closing to President Ronald Reagan's speech to the Nation following the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

 

High Flight

 

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew -

And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

-John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

 

Roger Guillemette

 

Sources:

 

Berg, A. Scott. Lindbergh. New York: Putnam, 1998.

Butler, Susan. East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1997.

Earhart, Amelia. The Fun of It. New York: Brewer Warren & Putnam Inc., 1932.

Goldstein, Donald M. and Dillion, Katherine V. Amelia: A Life of the Aviation Legend. London: Brasseys, Inc., 1997.

Kessler, Lauren. The Happy Bottom Riding Club. New York: Random House, 2000.

Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. North to the Orient. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1966. (Reissue edition).

Lindbergh, Charles A. The Spirit of St. Louis. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. (Reissue edition).

Lindbergh, Charles A. WE: The Famous Flier's Own Story of His Life and his Trans-Atlantic Flight, Together with His Views on the Future of Aviation. New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1927.

Mendelsohn, Jane. I Was Amelia Earhart: A Novel. New York: Knopf, 1996.

Michener, James A. The Bridges at Toko-Ri� New York: Random House, 1953.

Piccard, Bertrand and Jones, Brian. The Greatest Adventure. London: Headline Book Publishing, 1999.

Post, Wiley and Gatty, Harold. Around the World in Eight Days. London: John Hamilton Ltd.,1931.

Rich, Doris L. Amelia Earhart: A Biography. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.

Rickenbacker, Eddie V. Fighting the Flying Circus: The Greatest True Air Adventure to Come Out of World War I. New York: Doubleday, 2001. (Reissue edition)

Rutan, Dick & Yeager, Jeanna. Voyager New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.

Saint-Exupery, Antoine de. Night Flight. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1986 (Reissue edition)

______________. Wind, Sand and Stars. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1992 (Reissue edition)

Scott, Col. Robert L. God is My Co-Pilot. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1944.

Von Richthofen, Manfred. The Red Battle Flyer. New York: McBride Co., 1918.

Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1979.

Yeager, Chuck with Janos, Leo (Editor). Yeager: An Autobiography. Minneapolis: Econo-Clad Books, 1986.

 

Online sources:

Pilot Officer John G. Magee, Jr., U.S. Air Force Museum. http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/

Rickenbacker, Captain Edward V. Fighting the Flying Circus. The War Times Journal. http://www.richthofen.com/rickenbacker/

Von Richthofen, Manfred. The Red Fighter Pilot. The War Times Journal. http://www.richthofen.com/

Winnie Mae, Lockheed 5C Vega, National Air & Space Museum. http://www.nasm.si.edu/collections/artifact.cfm?id=A19360030000

 

Educational Organization

Standard Designation (where applicable)

Content of Standard

International Technology Education Association

Standard 4

Students will develop an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 7

Students will develop an understanding of the influence of technology on history.