Building a Great Air and Space Library

To find the very best books about the world of aviation and spaceflight, we asked for recommendations.


THE WORLD OF FLYING SOMETIMES SEEMS LIKE a small town where everybody knows or is connected to everybody else-until you're in a library, staring at all the books that have been written about all the people and all the inventions of that world. Then it is populous and vast.

To find in that plenitude the very best books about the world of aviation and spaceflight, we asked museum curators, scholars, historians, journalists, and authors for their recommendations and compiled a list of treasures, both old and recent, from a number of categories. (We also threw in a few of our own favorites.)

Part of the pleasure of reading, of course, is the fun of exchanging strong opinions with other readers. We hope our selection will inspire not only some trips to the bookstore but some passionate discussions as well.

Read on...

-- The Editors

Reference Books

What year did Louis Bleriot cross the English Channel? Which B-17 model had a chin turret? A well-stocked aviation library includes reference books that can provide quick answers to even obscure questions.

When building a reference library, National Air and Space Museum archivists Brian Nicklas and Dan Hagedorn-who routinely field all manner of aviation queries posed by the public-recommend going from broad to specific. "You can start a library with general and encyclopedic works first," says Hagedorn. He suggests such titles as Jane's Encyclopedia of Aviation (Crescent, 1996) and The Chronicle of Aviation (JL International Publishing, 1992); the latter, by renowned aviation writer Bill Gunston, is a year-by-year account of major aviation and space-related events. Hagedorn notes that it has a few errors, but adds, "You can hardly point to a book on aviation that doesn't have them."

For military aircraft, Hagedorn and Nicklas recommend the Putnam Aviation Series books, in particular two by Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers: United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911 (Naval Institute Press, 1990) and United States Military Aircraft Since 1909 (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), which covers aircraft of the Army, Army Air Forces, and Air Force. Hagedorn also recommends two works that are out of print but worth the search: John M. Andrade's U.S. Military Aircraft Description and Serials Since 1909 (Midland Counties, 1997) and Francis Dean's America's Hundred Thousand: U.S. Production Fighters of World War II (Schiffer, 1997), an unbeatable guide to World War II fighters. To learn about military aircraft of other nations, try German Aircraft of the First World War (by Peter Gray and Owen Thetford, Putnam, 1962), German Aircraft of the Second World War (by J.R. Smith and Antony Kay, Putnam, 1972), Aircraft of the Royal Air Force Since 1918 (by Owen Thetford, Putnam, 1995), and Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War (by Rene Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1995).

General-aviation scholars like the nine-volume series U.S. Civil Aircraft (Tab Aero, 1993), in which indefatigable researcher Joseph Juptner provides data and photos for 817 non-military U.S. aircraft granted Approved Type Certificates between 1925 and 1957. Airlife's General Aviation: A Guide to Postwar General Aviation Manufacturers and Their Aircraft by R.W. Simpson (Airlife Publishing, 1995) gives the production histories and family trees of manufacturers throughout the world.

Fans of research aircraft should check out Flying the Frontiers: NACA and NASA Experimental Aircraft by Arthur Pearcy (Airlife, 1993), which lists every aircraft flown at every research center. Also good: Jay Miller's recently updated The X-Planes: X-1 to X-45: 3rd Edition (Midland, 2001).

And finally there's the legendary Jane's All the World's Aircraft (Jane's), an annual book series describing in exquisite detail every aircraft currently in production or under development.

Memoir & Biography

The experience of flight can be so life-altering that it is only natural that it would inspire the writing of autobiographies and memoirs. We have included memoirs throughout the categories of this guide; the following are works that fall outside our divisions.

I Could Never Be So Lucky Again by General James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle (written with Doolittle biographer Carroll V. Glines; Schiffer, 1995). Covers Doolittle's racing, his experiments "flying blind," as he called instrument flying, and his experiences during and after World War II.

Forever Flying by R.A. "Bob" Hoover (written with Mark Shaw; Pocket Books, 1996). The famous airshow pilot recalls, as the book's subtitle promises, "Fifty Years of High-Flying Adventures, from Barnstorming in Prop Planes to Dogfighting Germans to Testing Supersonic Jets."

Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed by Ben R. Rich and Leo Janos (Little, Brown, 1994). As much a portrait of Lockheed's legendary Skunk Works, which the author eventually headed, as it is an autobiography of Rich.

Burning the Days by James Salter (Random House, 1997). A literary writer recounts his life's story, including his service as an F-86 pilot in the Korean War.

Jet: The Story of a Pioneer by Frank Whittle (Frederick Muller, 1954). The author's fascinating struggle to invent the gas turbine engine.

Aviation's Superstars

In the bountiful realm of aviation biography and autobiography, the best of the lot was written by the man who stood literally head and shoulders above the rest. Charles Lindbergh's The Spirit of St. Louis (Charles Scribners, 1953) "is one of the few books written by a celebrity that won and deserved to win the Pulitzer Prize," says A. Scott Berg, whose own biography, Lindbergh (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1998), also won the Pulitzer. "The book was written 25 years after the epic flight," Berg says, "and his passion for aviation and his excitement over what he had done still came through 25 years later.

"He cared so deeply about that book because the book that really hooked a generation of young men into aviation was We [written days after his 1927 transatlantic flight], which he never really liked. Lindbergh himself took over the writing of the book from a ghost writer and had to deliver it to Putnam. He was never happy with it. It was the best he could do under the circumstances." At the time, Lindbergh was a 25-year-old college dropout, and he had had to finish the book in just a few weeks.

Berg's biography, destined to become a classic itself, is the only one of the 30-some books published about the aviator to have plumbed the archive of the Lindberghs' unpublished papers, which reside at Yale University. In addition to receiving permission from the pilot's wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, to quote from the archive, Berg interviewed her and the Lindbergh children, and that enabled him to present a rich picture of the aviator's life, including his loving but troubled marriage.

Anne Lindbergh, of course, published several landmark memoirs. The two of most interest to aviation-minded readers--North to the Orient and Listen! the Wind--are both recollections of survey flights the Lindbergs undertook for Pan American Airways. "For me, they are the most vivid and vibrant of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's writing," says Berg. "I think people who are not pilots will catch the fever that gripped her. And her own sense of awe makes those books so wonderful.

"While Anne was always this great literary figure, I'm not sure she would have had an important book career had her husband not pushed her into it," Berg continues. "As she herself said, he gets a lot of the credit for making a published writer out of her. And while that's going on, she helped him find his own voice. In his early attempts at writing, he was self-consciously literary, and she basically said, 'Write it the way you talk it.' "

Aviation's other great celebrity, the second person to fly solo across the Atlantic, has also received considerable attention from biographers. Doris Rich says that before she began Amelia Earhart : A Biography (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), she visited the local library, and what she discovered was discouraging. Do you know, the librarian asked her, that there are approximately 30 books and countless magazine articles already published about Earhart? "Well," Rich told her, "I guess I'll have to read them all."

"But no one, except her sister, wrote about her life," says Rich. "Everybody wrote about her death." Rich's book tells Earhart's story from childhood to celebrity-hood, as does another biography published in 1989, Mary Lovell's The Sound of Wings.

Rich, who has written biographies of three other women pilots, Harriet Quimby, Mathilde Moisant, and Bessie Coleman, and is now working on a biography of Jackie Cochran, says the work that most inspires her as a biographer is The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright (Norton, 1989) by National Air and Space Museum curator Tom Crouch. "Tom Crouch can meld the times with the person's life he's writing about in a wondrous way," says Rich. "You know," she confides, "the 'bishop's boys' couldn't have been two more boring men, and he managed to make them interesting."

Early Flight: World War I

Part of the fun of reading about this period is that the reader can experience how wild and mysterious the world of aviation once was, both for those who flew and those who built the aircraft.

Contact: the Story of the Early Birds by Henry S. Villard (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987). Written in an engaging style, this is probably the best one-stop overview of the pilots and competitions of the period.

A Passion for Wings: Aviation and the Western Imagination 1908-1918 by Robert Wohl (Yale University Press, 1994). An excellent scholarly account of early flight, written by an eminent historian.

The Sky Beyond by Sir Gordon Taylor (Peter Davies, 1936). The book starts with the author's sometimes-harrowing World War I experiences, then recounts his later aerial explorations, particularly for commercial air routes.

Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis (MacMillan, 1970). A superb memoir of World War I and a great coming-of-age book as well.

No Parachute : A Fighter Pilot in World War I by Arthur Stanley Gould Lee (HarperCollins, 1970). Written many years after the war by a noted Royal Air Force pilot, this is a no-holds-barred look at the war. At times very bitter.

The Great War in the Air: Military Aviation from 1909 to 1921.21 by John H. Morrow Jr. (Smithsonian History of Aviation, 1993). The author is perhaps the leading scholar on World War I aviation history, particularly German aviation.

First Air War, 1914-1918 by Lee Kennett (Free Press, 1991). This book is unique in that it documents the non-combat aspects of World War I aviation, such as the use of balloons for observation and transportation.

World War II

Is there any doubt that World War II has been studied and documented more than any other era of aviation history? We are sure that all manner of works about this period will continue to be written long after the last of the combatants is gone.


Black Thursday by Martin Caidin (Dutton, 1960). Recounts a bombing raid that has been called "the worst single day in the history of the Eighth Air Force." The mission: to destroy ball-bearing factories in the German city of Schweinfurt. The result: 60 U.S. bombers lost, more than 600 crewmen dead, and the factories damaged but still standing.

The Narrow Margin: The Battle of Britain and the Rise of Airpower 1930-40 by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster (McGraw-Hill, 1961). An excellent account of the legendary battle.

Wings of Morning by Thomas Childers (Perseus, 2000). The author's uncle was killed when the very last U.S. bomber to be shot down over Europe, a B-24, crashed. Childers found out how, and why.

Flying Tigers by Daniel Ford (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991). Working with Japanese, British, and American archival records, Ford, an Air & Space contributor, pieces together for the first time what may be the most accurate accounting of the combat victories and losses attributed to the American Volunteer Group, or Flying Tigers, during the two years they fought Japanese forces in China and Burma.

Low Level Mission by Leon Wolff (Berkley, 1958). The story behind the enormously costly and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to put the refineries in Ploesti, Romania, out of commission.

Allied Aircraft Piston Engines of World War II by Graham White (Society of Automotive Engineers, 1995). White's encyclopedic treatment covers every manufacturer in the United States and Great Britain, every engine they made, and the aircraft in which the engines were used. Advances in engineering and technology that supported the Allied war effort spanned everything from fuels to metallurgy, and it's all covered here.

Flying Fortress: The Illustrated Biography of the B-17s and the Men Who Flew Them by Edward Jablonski (Doubleday, 1965). An overall look at the beast, with copious black-and-white illustrations.

Falling Through Space (Wings of War) by Richard Hillary (Reynal & Hitchcock, 1942; Time-Life Books, 1991). Only half of the book is about flying a Spitfire in combat. The rest recounts what it's like to recover from the horror of being nearly incinerated in one.

The First and the Last: The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe, 1939-1945 by Adolf Galland (Holt, 1954; Buccaneer Books, 1997). A history of the war from the perspective of a leading Luftwaffe ace and general. (The book includes a few of the author's less proud moments, such as the time his airplane collided with a lamppost.)


Flights of Passage by Samuel Hynes (Naval Institute Press, 1988). Hynes went into the war a boy and came out a 100-mission Marine ground-attack pilot.

Into the Teeth of the Tiger by Donald S. Lopez (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997). Don Lopez, now deputy director of the National Air and Space Museum, was just a kid when he was sent to China. By that time, the American Volunteer Group, or Flying Tigers, had been absorbed into the Army Air Forces as the 23rd Fighter Group; it was this unit that Lopez joined. Much more than a military history, this book is a detailed description of daily life in wartime China, from the grinding diet of powdered eggs to the tragedy of a young flier being pinned in a burning airplane.

Serenade to the Big Bird by Bert Stiles (Drummond, 1947; Norton, 1952). Stiles, a B-17 copilot, died over Hanover, Germany, at 23, but first he wrote this moving memoir of war.

God Is My Co-Pilot by Robert L. Scott (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1943). Much-loved memoir of the war in China, written by the 23rd Fighter Group's commander.

The Big Show: Some Experiences of a French Fighter Pilot in the R.A.F. by Pierre Clostermann (Chatto and Windus, 1951). The author flew 420 operational sorties as a member of the Royal Air Force's Alsace squadron.


Bomber by Len Deighton (Jonathan Cape, 1970). The best of several air war books by the author of the better known Funeral in Berlin and The Ipcress File, Bomber describes the ghastly world inside Royal Air Force night bombers. Deighton creates a dozen or so plot lines and character threads in a masterpiece of storytelling. Most unusual is his inclusion of the viewpoint of the denizens of a tiny village in Germany that is devastated by bombs dropped off target by the RAF. The author is generous with detail; in a scene depicting the villagers trying to put out the fires ignited by the bombing raid, he even describes the local waterworks. Many people have called this the best novel written about World War II aerial bombardment campaigns. (Warning: Some of it is gruesome.)

Piece of Cake by Derek Robinson (Knopf, 1984). Stuffier Englishfolk hated this marvelous novel because it blends unexpected humor with the horror of flying Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain. A young British flying officer must bring some discipline, order, and a badly needed boost in morale to a dissolute unit of RAF pilots who are burned out from fighting the long, drawn-out battle for Britain's skies.

The Wooden Wolf by John Kelly (Knopf, 1983). This novel follows two night-fighter adversaries, one in the RAF and the other in the Luftwaffe, who clash in a climactic night air battle. Kelly, who flew de Havilland Mosquito night fighters during World War II, writes from experience about the weird early days of blind air combat: the arcane electronics, counter-measures, and counter-counter-measures.

Commercial Aviation

In the literature of commercial aviation, one name dominates: R.E.G. (Ron) Davies, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum who has made a long and prodigious career documenting in detail the histories of Continental, Pan Am, Delta, Lufthansa, Aeroflot, TransBrasil... You get the idea. These days, Davies publishes books on individual airlines via his own company, Paladwr Press.

Of his overall histories, his grandest include Airlines of Latin America since 1919 (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984), Airlines of the United States Since 1914 (Putnam, 1972), and History of the World's Airlines (Oxford, 1964). As for a few non-Davies classics:

Bonfires to Beacons by Nick A. Komons (Smithsonian, 1978). A scholarly look at the U.S. government's role in developing commercial aviation.

Sky Gods by Robert Gandt (Morrow, 1995). A Pan Am pilot recounts the dramatic story of his airline's fall.

Airways: The History of Commercial Aviation in the United States by Henry Ladd Smith (Knopf, 1944). The title says it all (but note publication date).

Fate Is the Hunter by Ernest Gann (Simon and Schuster, 1961). A pilot's-eye-view of the thrills and dangers of commercial aviation in the 1930s.


Conveying the concept of "space" to an audience with essentially no first-hand experience of it is a mission that requires both vivid writing and patient explanation.

Test Flight and Exploration

At the Edge of Space : The X-15 Flight Program by Milton O. Thompson (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992). An insider's account, garnished with Thompson's impish sense of humor, of one of the most successful research aircraft ever flown. Thompson, along with Scott Crossfield, Neil Armstrong, and other legendary test pilots, flew the hypersonic rocket-powered X-15 in the 1960s, and these flights provided essential lessons for planners and pilots of the first manned excursions into space.

On the Frontier: Flight Research at Dryden, 1946-1981 (NASA, 1984) and Test Pilots : The Frontiersmen of Flight (Smithsonian, 1988), both by Richard P. Hallion. The author, currently the U.S. Air Force Historian, chronicles the intensive flight research done in California's high desert and the personalities of those who flew on space's ragged edge.

Introduction to Space: The Science of Spaceflight, Third Edition by Thomas Damon (Krieger Publishing Company, 2001). Employing scads of drawings, illustrations, and charts, Damon explains the science of space travel in all of its nuances and variables. He describes how space probes navigate interplanetary routes, how satellites stay in orbit, how the space shuttle works, and how rockets manage to lift so many tons of fuel and material into space.

Conquest of Space by Chesley Bonestell (Viking Press, 1949). This book is a must for collectors. Bonestell, an artist and illustrator, published Conquest of Space in 1949 with space expert Willy Ley, who wrote the text. It is hard to find-though not impossible, thanks to the Internet-but an essential artifact, predicting with imaginatively detailed illustrations what space travel would be like. Bonestell went on to become a regular contributor to Life and Colliers, where his illustrations helped fuel public enthusiasm for manned space exploration.

Apollo: The Race to the Moon by Charles Murray and Catherine Cox (Simon & Schuster, 1990). Beautifully researched and written, this is the best account of the engineering effort behind the Apollo missions, and the story of the flight planners who executed Apollo from mission control.

Chariots for Apollo by Courtney Brooks, James Grimwood, and Lloyd Swenson (NASA publication SP-4205, published in 1979; text is available on line at Not to be confused with a book by the same title, about the lunar module.) This thoroughly researched volume covers essential details of the development of the Apollo spacecraft and the planning of the Apollo missions, based on interviews and NASA documents.

To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist's History of Lunar Exploration by Don Wilhelms (University of Arizona Press, 1994). We didn't go to the moon in the name of scientific discovery, but that was one of the adventure's chief rewards. The story of the geologic exploration of the moon is told by one of its key players, in a thorough and highly readable narrative.

Space Shuttle: The History of the National Space Transportation System; The First 100 Missions by Dennis R. Jenkins (Dennis R. Jenkins Publishing, 2001). This book exhaustively documents the shuttle's development and each mission flown until late 2000.

Space Science and Astronomy

Men, Monsters, and the Modern Universe by George Lovi and Wil Tirion (Willmann-Bell, 1989). Lovi was a guru of skylore to a generation of planetarium folk. This book includes a reproduction of Alexander Jamieson's early 19th century sky atlas (plates printed on the left pages), as well as a modern atlas by Tirion, similar to the ones he did for the newer editions of Norton's Star Atlas (another recommended title). The latter maps are printed on the right side, so you can compare the old with the new. Jamieson's atlas contained the largest number of constellations of all the old-style "pictorial" atlases, and each plate is accompanied by a page of constellation lore written by Lovi. A "must have."

Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe by Terence Dickerson (Firefly Books, 1998). Amateur astronomers of all levels benefit from Dickerson's thoughtful and comprehensive examination of the pastime. Chapters cover learning the night sky, telescopes and their accessories, planetary studies, and the composition of the universe. Basic star charts in the back have extremely helpful descriptions of key objects printed adjacent to symbols of the object.

Burnham's Celestial Handbook: An Observer's Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System by Robert Burnham Jr. (Dover Books, 1983). Although the science in this three-volume work is now quite out of date, this is far and away the most interesting and readable treatment of the sky and all of its wonders. It summarizes the legends behind almost every constellation and describes in great detail hundreds of clusters, nebulae, and other objects. Burnham was an eccentric who worked for years at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. When he lost his position there he drifted through various states of homelessness, passing away in a San Diego park in 1996. Burnham never really profited from the books, but tens of thousands of amateur astronomers know the 1,600-plus pages intimately.

Star Names Their Lore and Their Meaning by Richard H. Allen (Dover, 1963). The quintessential reference on the origins of star and constellation names.

The New Solar System, Fourth Edition by J. Kelly Beatty, Andrew Chaikin, et al. (Cambridge University Press, 1998). This is about as technical as one can get without tripping the reader up with jargon. It features chapters on each of the major bodies of the solar system and extensive detail on the smaller ones as well. Some 30 authorities in planetary studies contributed.

Secrets of the Astronauts

The U.S. space program has inspired a copious collection of tales, replete with heroic adventure, technological sorcery, and bureaucratic derring-do. By far the best is the deservedly famous The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (Bantam Books, 1983). A brilliant piece of journalism and an all-around great read, The Right Stuff explores in great detail the astronaut training program, the psychology of the test pilots who became the early astronauts, and the lives of the Mercury crew--warts and all.

The Apollo program is well documented in A Man on the Moon by Air & Space contributor Andrew Chaikin (Penguin USA, 1998). This excellent narrative, which describes the personalities behind the program as well as the technology, inspired the acclaimed HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon" (video) (DVD).

The astronauts have done their share of writing as well. The best of this category, hands down, is Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys by Michael Collins (Adventure Library, 1998). As a writer, Collins is the Lindbergh of the astronaut corps. Buzz Aldrin and Malcolm McConnell wrote Men from Earth (Bantam, 1989) to offer not only an account of Aldrin's spaceflight experiences but also a picture of the U.S. and Soviet efforts during the moon race.

The shuttle program has spun off its own set of scribes. On his mission, Jeff Hoffman did something every astronaut should: He brought a tape recorder on the shuttle and noted his thoughts and experiences. The results, Astronauts Diary (Caliban, 1986), have a striking immediacy. Entering Space: An Astronaut's Odyssey by Joe Allen (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1987) is a nice coffee table collection of images and text, probably the best book by a shuttle astronaut.

Finally, for a juicy expose of what went wrong during the Mir-shuttle program of 1994 to 1998, check out Bryan Burroughs' Dragonfly : Nasa and the Crisis Aboard Mir (HarperCollins, 2000), based in part on interviews with unhappy crew members.

General/Sport/Recreational Aviation

Flying for the fun of it still requires serious attention to detail, of course. The following books document all different aspects of an experience that, when done well, could never be called a "hobby."

The Student Pilot's Flight Manual (Ninth Edition) by William K. Kershner (Iowa State University Press/Ames, 1998). Even if you have no plans to pursue a pilot's license, you'll want to keep this book on hand for explanations of aerodynamics, cockpit instrumentation, navigation techniques, airspace classifications, sectional charts, and the occasional Kershner cartoon of a pilot who has gotten himself into a dicey situation; one is captioned: "The roughness of the engine is directly proportional to the square of the roughness of the terrain and the cube of the pilot's imagination."

Fly Low, Fly Fast: Inside the Reno Air Races by Robert Gandt (Viking, 1999). This book provides a riveting account of the 1997-98 Reno Unlimited-class air races and intimate portraits of the colorful characters who race the souped-up World War II fighters at death-wish speeds and altitudes in the high desert. Gandt's writing style is reminiscent of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff ("Whooooom! The T-33 flashed overhead. Hinton could see that Smoot had gotten stopped. He'd avoided the great fighter-eating abyss out there in the desert").

Skyward: Why Flyers Fly by Russell Munson (Howell Press, 1989). Scattered among Munson's stunning photos are interviews with a cross-section of pilots: a Concorde captain, a P-51 owner, a corporation president who started flying at 49, and now, at 71, flies her own Cessna Citation. A book editor admits that when weather prevents him from flying his Cessna 172, "I'll go out sometimes and just sit in the damn thing." One of Munson's own stories recounts the challenge of logging 13.5 hours in a DC-3 to get a type rating. On DC-3 brakes: "It's like the first time you stomped on the power brakes of a '55 Chrysler and launched your Mom into the glove compartment." One vertigo-inducing photo captures Munson's blue-jeaned legs suspended 1,000 feet over North Carolina's Outer Banks in an Eipper-Formance ultralight.

Flight of Passage: A Memoir by Rinker Buck (Hyperion, 1998). In 1966, the author, then 15, and his brother, 17, flew their immaculately restored Piper Cub from New Jersey to California, on a mission to emerge from the towering shadow of their father, a former barnstormer, and simultaneously earn his respect and their independence. This coming-of-age classic, told from the cockpit of an airplane with nothing more than a compass to guide it from coast to coast, reached a broad audience but was especially treasured by the aviation community.

The Airman's World by Gill Robb Wilson (Random House, 1953). The modest exterior of this book conceals a treasury of penetrating aviation poetry and prose. Each of the 33 writings is paired with a full-page black-and-white image by some of aviation's greatest photographers. Many of these pieces first appeared in Flying magazine during the 1950s. Wilson was a pilot during World War I, an ordained pastor in the 1920s, a New Jersey state aviation official in the '30s, a newspaper correspondent in the '40s, and Flying magazine's publisher and editor in the '50s and '60s. He was a co-founder of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, an architect of the Civil Air Patrol, and a participant in the creation of World War II's Civilian Pilot Training Program. It is his gift of communicating that earns this unpretentious volume a place on your bookshelf.

Photography & Art books

Can the experience of flight be fully rendered with language alone? These books supplement the written literature with visual images, some so powerful they have an almost physical effect on the reader/viewer.

Steichen at War by Christopher Phillips (Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1981). A master photographer's black-and-white photographs documenting World War II, including the airplanes and air crew.

Women and Flight: Portraits of Contemporary Women Pilots by Carolyn Russo (Smithsonian Institution Press-Bulfinch Press, 1997). A National Air and Space Museum staffer's strong black-and-white portraiture of women fliers, from student pilots to pioneers.

Looping the Loop: Posters of Flight by Henry Serano Villard and Willis M. Allen Jr. (Kales Press, 2000). Beautiful aviation posters that span the years of early flight, the Golden Age, and World War II.

Full Moon by Michael Light (Knopf, 1999). Stunning black-and-white photographs made by the astronauts during the lunar missions.

The Glory of Flight: The Art of William S. Phillips introduction by Stephen Coonts (The Greenwich Workshop, Inc., 1994). Not a nuts-and-bolts treatment of aircraft. Phillips is more like a landscape painter; he uses wonderful muted colors to make you feel like you're in the air.

Aviation, The Early Years: The Hulton Getty Picture Collection by Peter Almond (Konemann UK Ltd., 1997). Rare photographs documenting the early days of flight. Some of the whimsical-looking designs will make readers smile. (To think that these flew at all!)

Ghosts of the Skies: Aviation in the Second World War by Philip Makanna (Chronicle Books, 1995). The grace of these old warbirds and the lovely landscapes in which they are shown flying make an unbeatable combination. Also includes archival black-and-white photographs.

Wings by Mark Meyer (Thomasson-Grant, 1984). Does for Air Force aviation what The Cutting Edge does for naval aviation.

Air to Air by Paul Bowen (North Shore Press; two-volume set, 1998 and 2000). Bowen is known for photos of vortices trailing off bizjets and dramatic in-your-face shots of jets at takeoff. He shoots at dawn and dusk to get the soft colors.

Front Row Center: Inside the Great American Airshow by Erik Hildebrandt (Cleared Hot Media, 2000). An Air & Space contributor's work transports you to the world of airshows. Includes many tight air-to-air shots.

NASA and the Exploration of Space by Roger Launius and Bertram Ulrich Stewart (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1998). The work of more than 85 artists portraying the U.S. space program.

Our Panel of Experts

* Scott Berg, biographer
* William Burrows, aerospace historian and author
* Andrew Chaikin, author, A Man on the Moon
* Geoff Chester, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Naval Observatory
* Richard P. Hallion, U.S. Air Force Historian
* Dan Hagedorn and Brian Nicklas, National Air and Space Museum Archives
* Peter Jakab, curator, National Air and Space Museum
* Phil Jordan, founding designer, Air & Space/Smithsonian
* J. Campbell Martin, external affairs, NASA-Dryden Flight Research Center, California
* Leonard E. Opdycke, publisher, WWI Aero and Skyways
* Doris Rich, biographer
* Chad Slattery, aviation photographer
* F. Robert van der Linden, curator, National Air and Space Museum
* Stephan Wilkinson, writer

Originally published in Air & Space/Smithsonian, February/March 2002. All rights reserved.

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