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The Top Six Historical Aviation Novels You So Need to Read

There Are Many Good Ones And Plenty of Bad Ones, But You’ll Like These!

Official US Air Force photograph

Some historical novels about aviation are excellent and some are better left on the shelf. Some of them maintain realistic timelines and technical accuracy while some don’t come close. Your hard-earned entertainment coin deserves to be spent on something you wouldn’t mind reading at least once, doesn’t it? The following books have all been read several times by this particular writer, and they’re all highly recommended without reservation. Not just by this writer either. To the list then, in no particular order:

Official US Air Force photograph

The Wild Blue by Walter J. Boyne and Steven L. Thompson

The Wild Blue was Walter J. Boyne’s first novel. A 23 year US Air Force veteran, Boyne followed it up with more than 50 books and 1000 magazine articles. Boyne is also a former director of the National Air and Space Museum. Boyne teamed with Steven L. Thompson, an accomplished author and also a veteran, to write a book that traces the careers and lives of several main characters through their Air Force careers beginning with the birth of the Air Force itself. The book reads like watching the movie (but not so much the book) Forrest Gump. Historically accurate and intricately detailed, the characters jump off the pages of this one. It’s a little bit long, but it takes a long time to cover that many years. The hardcover edition is 626 pages as published by Random House Publishing August 6th, 1988. ISBN-10: 0517562855. ISBN-13: 978-0517562857.

Photo via National Archives 

Duel Over Douai by Jack Woodul, Robert “Boom” Powell, and Barrett Tillman

Set during World War I and portraying three aviators as they fly and fight over the war-torn fields of Europe, Duel was written by three gentlemen who know a thing or two because they’ve seen a thing or two. Jack Woodul and Boom Powell both have decades of military and airline flying experience. Both have also authored previous books. Barrett Tillman is an award-winning and accomplished aviation author, having penned and co-authored nearly 60 titles. Duel Over Douai is immersive, entertaining, and the fun the authors had writing the book comes through the narrative. The hardcover edition is 392 pages as published by Theogony Books May 16th, 2017. ISBN-10: 1942936680. ISBN-13: 978-1942936688.

Official US Air Force photograph

Flight of the Old Dog by Dale Brown

A former US Air Force navigator-bombardier in B-52G Stratofortresses and FB-111A Aardvarks, Dale Brown has written more than 40 books. Old Dog was his first novel, and he went yard his first time up to the plate. The book features the Megafortress, a heavily modified B-52 tasked with penetrating and attacking a heavily defended target. Suspension of disbelief is not required but helps, although the plot, characters, and the tech all fit together well making the book eminently believable. The Flight of the Old Dog introduces a group of characters Brown has since developed through 22 of his novels. The hardcover edition is 347 pages as published by Harper-Collins 1995. ISBN-10: 026167269X. ISBN-13: 978-0261672697. ASIN: B000XAOOG8.

Official US Navy photograph

Punk’s War by Ward Carroll

Ward Carroll was a Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) in F-14s for 20 years. His first novel, Punk’s War, features a young Naval Aviator, callsign Punk, and his more experienced RIO, callsign Spud. These two well-matched and complimentary characters fly the F-14. The book is irreverent and at times a little bit cynical, but very entertaining and guaranteed to have you laughing out loud at times. Carroll also wrote two other Punk novels, Punk’s Fight and Punk’s Wing, along with two additional novels. The hardcover edition is 224 pages as published by Naval Institute Press April 1st, 2001. ISBN-10: 1557502366. ISBN-13: 978-1557502360.

Official US Navy photograph

North SAR by Gerry Carroll

Gerry Carroll was a decorated US Navy pilot who served for 21 years. He wrote three novels, the first of which was North SAR. Carroll might have been another writer who turned out a bunch of great books, but he passed away in 1993. North SAR is set late in the war and focuses on intrepid A-7 Corsair II pilots hitting targets in North Vietnam and getting shot down while heroic Search and Rescue (SAR) helo crews do their level best to pull them out of harm’s way. Carroll’s two other books, No Place to Hide and Ghostrider One, are also excellent reads. The hardcover edition is 320 pages as published by Pocket Books November 1st, 1991. ISBN-10: 0671731823. ISBN-13: 978-0671731823.

Photo via National Archives

Dauntless by Barrett Tillman

Barrett Tillman’s novel about the battles at Midway and Guadalcanal is entertaining and historically accurate, which is no surprise with Mr. Tillman’s work. Douglas SBD Dauntless pilots and Japanese scout plane pilots along with crews and others are portrayed beginning as the battle at Midway is about to commence and then followed through the long slog that was the Guadalcanal experience. The book is immersive and the characters believable. Tillman’s other easily-recommendable novels are excellent too. The hardcover edition is 412 pages as published by Bantam May 1st, 1992. ISBN-10: 0553075284. ISBN-13: 978-0553075281.

Official US Navy photograph

Flight of the Intruder by Stephen Coonts

Another first novel, Flight of the Intruder portrays a US Navy A-6 Intruder pilot and his struggles with right, wrong, duty, and honor while serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Coonts, a former combat A-6 pilot and author of nearly 50 books, did an outstanding job conveying the stress, fatigue, and routine of carrier-based pilots while making the reader laugh and want to scream simultaneously. As with the vast majority of books made into movies, Flight is a far better book than a movie but is still highly entertaining in either form. The hardcover edition is 344 pages as published by Naval Institute Press in 1986. ISBN-10: 1591141273. ISBN-13: 978-1591141273.

That’s the list- or at least a list anyway. Some of these titles are a little long in the tooth, so try Alibris or Abe Books if you can’t get them locally or via Amazon or eBay. Several are available as paperbacks and eBooks too. Of course there are many more titles out there and we want to hear about your favorites. Comment with your recommendations. If they’re legit we’ll include them in the next book piece. Thanks for reading!

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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