Aviation: Good reads


Here’s a very quick guide to some interesting books for aviation enthusiasts.


Ultimate Fighter: Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

Bill Sweetman (2004)


Superbly well-researched and wonderfully readable, this book has also aged extremely well. Sweetman’s deep understanding of the subject and his clarity of thought makes this a must-have for those interested in modern military aviation.

Flight to Arras 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1942)



Probably the only masterpiece of literature that tells the true story of a single Bloch MB.170 reconnaissance mission. This haunting book details the thoughts of a man who has watched the destruction of his nation, as he flies a pointless – and likely suicidal – mission.


A Passion for Wings: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1908-1918

Robert Wohl (1996)


This book looks at how the arrival of the aeroplane affected the Arts in the West. Though a trifle dry in places it is full of extremely interesting images and accounts. When originally released it was favourably reviewed by no less a figure than J.G. Ballard.

What was the most combat effective piston-engined fighter ever made? An analysis can be found here.

You may also enjoy top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an alternate history of the TSR.2, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is the The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker.

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit




  1. pjstoddart

    Try: ‘Project Cancelled’ by Derek Wood. A very interesting account of the many post WW2 military and civil aircraft projects that came to nothing after much time and expense. Or ‘Interceptor Fighters for the RAF 1935-45’ by Michael J F Bowyer. This is a very detailed account of the thinking, options and decisions in a period of great technological change and the imperative of a war of national survival.

  2. Jon Lake

    My top four

    4) Attack Aircraft of the West by Bill Gunston
    3) The Shepherd by Frederick Forsyth
    2) Stranger to the Ground by Richard Bach
    1) Wild Blue by RJ Chick Childerhose

    • Hugh Bacon

      Hi Jon, it is a while back but as an F 86 RCAF driver long since retired am trying to get a copy of Wild Blue. Read Splash One Tiger. Any ideas. Hugh

  3. elleetoo

    Good lord, I am halfway through ‘Flight to Arras’ at the moment. For the Nth time. It is just lovely. St E’s ‘Night Flight’ is good too. For your list, Neville Shute’s ‘An Old Captivity’ is very useful on how to explore Greenland in the 1930s by seaplane. If aero engines qualify, then ‘The Power to Fly’ by LKJ Setwright is a masterpiece.

    Clearly there are no good left-wing aviation writers, if the above three are anything to go by. Maybe it’s the fact that lefties tend to be earnest about aircraft, whereas the right can let rip romantically, and in consequence their style is so much better. One exception: David Edgerton’s ‘England and the Aeroplane’.

  4. navalairhistory

    Some of my favourites books about flying (as opposed to aviation books) written by pilots:
    Biplane, Richard Bach (an account of the author’s flight across America in a 1920s Parks P-2A biplane)
    Illusions, Richard Bach (short novel about a ‘reluctant messiah’ flying from field to field in the American midwest in the 1960s)
    Winged Victory, VM Yeates (novel about a Camel squadron in 1918, written by a pilot who survived the Western Front, and, elleetoo, proof that there was at least one very, very good leftwing aviation writer)
    The Hunters, James Salter (novel about F-86 pilots in the Korean war, by a former fighter pilot who saw action in Korea and WW2)

  5. Michael Carley

    Plus one for The Hunters. Salter really could write, which does make the novel a cut above. There is an interview with him here about flying and writing:

    A novel also worth a look, which might just count as by a leftie, is Jed Mercurio’s Ascent, which has great early chapters about Korea from the point of view of a Soviet pilot.

    Edgerton is very good, and also Empire Of The Clouds, which makes a very fine state of the nation in the fifties book, seen through the lens of the UK’s aviation industry.

  6. James Pacheco

    Three reads (x2! I couldn’t resist! 😛 )

    *Project Terminated- Erik Simonsen
    *Secret US Proposals of The Cold War
    -Jim Keeshen
    *Convair Advanced Designs, Volume II
    – Robert Bradley
    *US Secret Projects: Fighters & Interceptors- Tony Buttler
    *US Secret Projects: Bombers, Attack, & Antisubmarine Aircraft- Tony Buttler
    *Secret Projects: Flying Wings & Tailless Aircraft- Bill Rose

    And that’s just for starters! Honorable mention for BLUE GEMINI by Mike Jenne.

    All books well worth every cent! 😀

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