Top Ten Nonfiction Aviation Books

By Dave Baranek 

These days I read a variety of books: fictional thrillers, pop culture, classics, and aviation. People occasionally ask for recommendations, so here is my list of Top Ten Aviation Books. As an author, I have published three books that I think you will enjoy but I did not include them on this list. 

To create this list I used my proprietary formula that considers subject, writing style, and other factors. I don’t really have a formula, but I did consider multiple factors when evaluating candidates. Books are listed in random order except for #1 – it’s a remarkable book. 

1.The Death Mist – by Alan G. Fischer. A powerful book. Incredible flying action told candidly by an A-6 Intruder pilot from the Vietnam War who hardly believed he survived it all. Includes insights on topics such as aircraft mishaps, combat rescues, and Vietnam POWs and MIAs. 

2.Three-Eight Charlie: 1st Woman to Fly Solo Around the World – by Jerrie Mock. Unassuming and entertaining story of an intrepid pilot who set multiple records in 1964. She reveals her concerns, fears, and irritations, but also the joy and satisfaction she experienced. In addition, readers can’t help but notice that the world and the USA were different places in 1964. 

3.No Man’s Land: The Untold Story of Automation and QF72 – by Kevin Sullivan. The exciting and important story of a Qantas Airbus A330 that experienced sudden pitch-downs commanded by the computers, how the flight crew saved it, and the aftermath. The author was the pilot during the incident and he was a former US Navy F-14 pilot, and that experience helped him save the plane. Relevant to the increasing automation we see today. 

4.Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-1942 – by Daniel Ford. Well-researched and authoritative, yet exciting and personal. The exploits of the American Volunteer Group, later known as The Flying Tigers, in China at the start of WW2. Corrects many errors and brings these historical figures to life.  

5.Hell Hawks!: The Untold Story of the American Fliers Who Savaged Hitler’s Wehrmacht – by Robert F. Dorr and Thomas D. Jones. Detailed account of the P-47 pilots and men of the 365th Fighter Group as they fought their way through the final year of WW2 in Europe, from D-Day (June 6, 1944) to Germany’s surrender (May 8, 1945). Describes not only their aerial combat experiences, but also conditions on the ground as they leapfrogged forward to a series of rough airfields. 

6.Blue Moon Over Cuba: Aerial Reconnaissance During the Cuban Missile Crisis – by Captain William B. Ecker, USN (Ret.) and Kenneth V. Jack. Grand and complex, combines the personal memoir of the Navy RF-8 Crusader squadron commander (who flew the first missions over Cuba) with extensive additional material on US Air Force missions, Cuban and Soviet activities, and the political situation. Excellent tension, such as when the crisis was building the squadron received a mysterious phone call: “Do not hang up this phone. You can man your aircraft and start your engines.” Then a short while later, “Launch your aircraft,” which gave them permission to fly over hostile Cuba. Ranges from the cockpit to the White House.  

7.Scream of Eagles: The Dramatic Account of the U.S. Navy’s Top Gun Fighter Pilots and How They Took Back the Skies Over Vietnam – by Robert K. Wilcox. An intense and detailed account of the fighter pilots and RIOs who started Topgun. Starts with the poor state of air combat training for Navy fighters in the early 1960s, and how a few aviators realized things needed to change. Well-chosen and well-written stories of aerial combat in Vietnam provide the incentive. Thoroughly describes the dedicated few who overcame many obstacles and launched the Topgun school, and how their efforts were rewarded later in the war.   

8.Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11 – by Lynn Spencer. The complete, behind-the-scenes story of air traffic control and air defense ops on 9/11. A reminder of how the events of that day, now so familiar, were almost unimaginable until they happened, and an excellent study of how individuals handled the terrible dawning reality. 

9.Dragon’s Jaw: An Epic Story of Courage and Tenacity in Vietnam – by Stephen Coonts and Barrett Tillman. An overview of the US air war in Vietnam, using the Thanh Hoa bridge as a reference. (The bridge was the “Dragon’s Jaw” of the title.) Full of factual information and flying action, with the personal stories that grab the reader and a healthy dose of commentary on the political decisions that complicated the war. 

10.I Always Wanted to Fly: America’s Cold War Airmen – by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel. A collection of stories about US Air Force pilots, navigators, and crewmen who flew during the Berlin Airlift, Korean War, dangerous Cold War spy missions, and Vietnam. Some of the events were well-known, some were obscure, but the author brings them all to vivid life. (Several books use this title.) 

One of the books I recently enjoyed, TOPGUN’s Top 10 by CDR Guy Snodrgass, isn’t on this list because it’s primarily a professional development/leadership book. But CDR Snodgrass uses his aviation experiences to illustrate the top 10 leadership principles, so it is loaded with aviation content. 

It was difficult to limit myself to only ten books, but made easier because I can also tell you that my full list of recommended aviation books is on my website, http://www.topgunbio.com/links/. The list on my website shows more than 30 books and is regularly updated. This is also a good time to mention that my reviews are all positive; I’ve read a few books that I did not enjoy and can’t recommend, but if I didn’t like a book I don’t list it. Finally, several books on the full list are difficult to obtain but will be worthwhile if you can find them. 


Dave Baranek is a retired US Navy officer, a former F-14 RIO and Topgun instructor. He works as a defense contractor and has written three books about his Navy experiences. His latest, Tomcat RIO, tells of his return to the F-14 after serving at Topgun and eventual command of an F-14 squadron. 

Dave can be reached on his website, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and GoodReads. 

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/7595670.Dave_Bio_Baranek

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