It amazes me that a single person could have so many noteworthy experiences in a single lifetime.
What’s even more amazing about Gann is that aviation was just one of many careers. He wrote plays, was a low-level spy, fished, sailed, painted and became a hugely successful author to name just a few.
I make it a point to re-read ‘Fate’ every year and even though I know much of it by heart the experience never gets old.
Thanks to Gann there’s a small part of me on every flight that’s flying the Fjord to Bluie West One.
Bob Buck’s ‘North Star Over my Shoulder’ is another stellar tale of a bygone era. Buck started with TWA in DC-2s and retired as a 747 captain. A contemporary of Gann, he had an equal share of adventures and captured them beautifully.
Re-reading ‘The Cannibal Queen’ has become a Christmas tradition. I got a copy of Stephen Coonts’ tale of flying a Stearman to all of the lower 48 as a gift years ago. I keep it at my mother’s house and when I’m back for Christmas I dig it out and read it again.
It’s an adventure that I could actually duplicate and while I can’t afford a Stearman I can’t look at an ad for an old rag and tube taildragger without thinking what a blast it would be to spend a summer flying low and slow around the country.
I stumbled across a copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s ‘North to the Orient’ at a used bookstore in Bayfield Wisconsin last summer and read it in a single sitting. It was that good.
To be honest, I’ve always been ambivalent about her husband but Anne Lindbergh’s recounting of their 1931 trip to survey the Arctic route to Japan and China in a massive open-cockpit floatplane is mesmerizing. She is a lovely storyteller and one of those rare people who are as sensitive as they are courageous. If I had the cash I’d buy a Cessna 208 Caravan amphib and retrace their trip.
'True North' is another tale of the Arctic and was written by a Minnesotan, George Erickson. It’s part flying story, part geology lesson, part history lesson with a bit of sociology thrown in. Erickson seems like a pretty interesting guy and steeped in the culture and history of a part of the earth to which few people would even consider traveling, especially alone.
‘Zero Three Bravo,’ by Mariana Gosnell, is a wonderful tale of small airplanes, small airports the the people Gosnell met flying her Luscombe around the country in the 1970s.
In ‘One Zero Charlie,’ Laurence Gonzales looks at small, simple airplanes and the people who fly them. Gonzales documented life, and death, at a small Illinois airport and takes a look at what motivates people to not only fly, but to fly competitive aerobatics.
‘Flying South’ by Barbara Cushman Rowell is worth picking up as much for the lessons in aeronautical decision making as it is for the inside look at what it’s like for to fly throughout contemporary Latin America.
It’s a book that has generated controversy, with some folks labeling her a bad pilot or at least a pilot in over her head and succumbing to pressure from her husband. I’m not so sure that sits well with me.
All pilots make mistakes and all pilots exercise poor judgment occasionally – it’s simply a matter of degree -- but they usually don’t write honestly about the experience. I’d argue that Lindbergh pushing on in the miserable conditions described in ‘North to the Orient’, or Gann guessing that he was in the right Fjord to arrive at Bluie West One were reckless, yet they’re held up as heroes.
How do you make good decisions? Experience. How do you gain experience? Bad decisions, be they your own or not.