Classic Aviation Literature
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View From the Left Seat

Aviation in the nineteen-thirties and forties inspired much great writing. Here are samples from several of the best accounts from the period...

Winnie Mae in NewfoundlandAround the
World in Eight Days

Wiley Post and Harold Gatty

The clock on the instrument board showed that it lacked 5 minutes, maybe a fraction less, of being 5 A.M. when I pulled the "Winnie Mae" back on her tail at Roosevelt Field. The grass was wet, and I was relieved that no side gust hit us as we plunged along. I wouldn't have dared to use the brakes.
The stout old wing mushed along for 100 feet without pulling the ship off. A hard hummock hit the right wheel and flexed the shock absorber to its limit. A rut sent the plane bounding into the air, but it settled back with a light bounce.
Suddenly, as the airspeed hit 80, the stick became rigid and sensitive to my touch. From its mushing position the wing pitched to a higher angle, and I moved forward a little to hold the ship down.
The wheels spun idly, and I could see, through the rain, the eaves of the white hangars and the flashing track of the propellor. The red roof of the Air Associates hangar, which had been the home of the "Winnie Mae" for a month, swept underneath...

Anne Morrow LindberghNorth to the Orient

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

...Nothing could bridge the gap but "Sayonara!"
For Sayonara, literally translated, "Since it must be so," of all the good-bys I have heard is the most beautiful. Unlike the Auf Wiedersehens and Au revoirs, it does not cheat itself by any bravado "Till we meet again," any sedative to postpone the pain of separation. It does not evade the issue like the sturdy blinking Farewell. Farewell is a father's good-by. It is - "Go out in the world and do well, my son." It is encouragement and admonition. It is hope and faith. But it passes over the significance of the moment; of parting it says nothing. It hides its emotion. It says too little. While Good-by ("God be with you") and Adios say too much. They try to bridge the distance, almost to deny it. Good-by is a prayer, a ringing cry. "You must not go - I cannot bear to have you go! But you shall not go alone, unwatched. God will be with you. God's hand will be over you" and even - underneath, hidden, but it is there incorrigible - "I will be with you; I will watch you - always." It is a mother's good-by. But Sayonara says neither too much nor too little.

Wind, Sand and StarsWind, Sand and Stars

Antoine de Saint Exupery

Under orders, I flew an empty ship down to Agadir. From Agadir, I was flown to Dakar as a passenger, and it was on that flight that the vast sandy void and the mystery with which my imagination could not but endow it first thrilled me. But the heat was so intense that despite my excitement, I dozed off soon after we left Port Etienne. Riquelle, who was flying me down, moved out to sea a couple of miles in order to get away from the sizzling surface of the sand. I woke up, saw in the distance the thin white line of the coast, and said to myself fearfully that if anything went wrong we should surely drown. Then I dozed off again.
I was startled out of my sleep by a crash, a sudden silence, and then the voice of Riguelle saying, "Damn! There goes a connecting rod!" As I half rose out of my seat to send a regretful look at that white coast-line, now more precious that ever, he shouted to me angrily to stay as I was. I knew Riguelle had been wrong to go out to sea; I had been on the point of mentioning it; and now I felt a complete and savage satisfaction in our predicament. "This," I said to myself, "will teach him a lesson."
But this gratifying sense of superiority could obviously not last very long. Riguelle sent the plane earthward in a long diagonal line that brought us within sixty feet of the sand - an altitude at which there was no question of picking out a landing-place. We lost both wheels against one sand dune, a wing against another, and crashed with a sudden jerk into a third.
"You hurt?" Riguelle called out.
"Not a bit," I said.
"That's what I call piloting a ship!" he boasted cheerfully.

Colonel Robert L. ScottGod Is My Co-Pilot

Robert L. Scott

The little fighter and I "topped out" over Makalu. On the other side, towards Everest, I saw Kamet. Then peak after peak met my gaze. There was Chamo Lhani, Chomiomo, Kanchenjau, Cho-oyu at 26,870 feet, Gyachung Kang, Lhotse (the South Peak of Everest) - until finally and with reverence, as though I had saved the greatest for last, my eyes centered on Everest, in Tibet called Chamolang, the Sacred One.
I guess my real reason for finally yielding my eyes to the great mountain alone was that by now it was the only summit above me - the others had gradually sunk beneath the mounting altitude of the little fighter plane. Now even Everest was slowly giving away, and I headed directly for that mass of reddish yellow rock, all of it covered with snow and ice except where the everlasting winds of the upper air had torn the covering away. At 30,000 feet and just south of the center pyramid, I saw the "plume" of Everest, formed by snow being blown from the summit. On this day it is pointed to the South, borne by a North wind, and the sun shining through it made a rainbow that was beautiful.

Engine OutThe High and the Mighty

Ernest K. Gann

Like the bellbuoys, lighthouses, and foghorns, certain aids are provided the airman to ease his San Francisco approach when bad weather moves inland from the Pacific and wraps the coastline in clouds. There is first the radio beacon on the Farallon Islands, which stand as outposts twenty-six miles off shore. It is a powerful beacon and like a magnet draws the searching needle of a direction finder surely, when the airplane is still far to westward over the ocean.
Once the Farallons have been passed, a situation made evident by a half-revolution of the direction finder needle, there are other aids which are designed to carry the airman further. They must be used in quick succession for at this point there is little time remaining.
The airport itself is south of the city. Hills almost touch its very borders to the west and to the north, but to the east and to the south, the waters of the Bay and the flat land provide a clear approach. Thus any plane bound for San Francisco is compelled to descend from these directions if the terrain is obscured.

Spirit of St. LouisThe Spirit of St. Louis

Charles A. Lindbergh

...I'd thought I could climb above the fog and leave it beneath me, a neat and definite layer. Now, I realize what a formidable enemy it is. It's forces have been in ambush all around me, waiting only for the cool of the night to show their form.
Why try to hold onto those stars? Why not start in now on the instruments? After all, they were put there so I could fly through fog. This game of hide and seek with a half-dozen stars is child's play. But if I start flying blind, God only knows how many hours of it lie ahead. It might go on through the entire night - the monotony of flying with my eyes always on the instrument board; the strain of flying by intellect alone, forcing the unruly senses of the body to follow the doubted orders of the mind - the endless bringing of one needle after another to its proper position, and then finding that all except the one my eyes hold tight have strayed off again. The Spirit of St. Louis is too unstable to fly well on instruments. It's fast, and it has a greater range than any plane that flies; but it's high-strung, and balanced on a pin point. If I relax pressure on stick or rudder for an instant, the nose will veer off course.

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