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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Ed Dover joined Pan American in 1942 as a Flight Radio Officer and made many flights aboard Pan Am's flying boats, including several on the Pacific Clipper. With the elimination of radio officers after WW II, he joined the Civil Aeronautics Authority (forerunner of the FAA) and during the early years of his thirty-three year career with the FAA he was assigned communications duties in Hawaii and on remote Pacific Islands, including Midway and Wake Islands. Later he became an air traffic controller in the U.S. He retired from the FAA in 1982 and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Captain Ford and his crew are about to embark on the longest leg of the journey - across the South Atlantic 3,100 miles from Leopoldville, Belgian Congo to Natal, Brazil.

The Take-off From Hell

It was midday before all the fuel was loaded. The crew had come on board earlier and now most of them were eager to get going. The stifling heat and humidity made the flight deck feel like a Turkish bath; and the sooner they could get to altitude with cooler air circulating through the cabin, the better they would like it. But before they could go, Ford had to consider one other factor that would affect the takeoff.

When they had landed the day before, he had noted the strong current running in the Congo. The downstream flow was about six knots. The light breeze was blowing downstream also, at about four knots. He could elect to take off upstream, against the wind, but while that would give him the four-knot airspeed advantage of the wind, it would also create a six-knot drag from the current. This could pose a problem when it came time to haul the big flying boat off the water. If he took off downstream, he would lose the four-knot airspeed advantage, but pick up a six-knot push from the current that could help get the hull out of the water. After considering the alternatives, Ford made his decision.

"Okay, Johnny," he turned to John Mack, "we taxi upstream as far as the next bend in the river. Then we take off down stream. With this heat, I'm thinking we'd get better advantage from the six-knot current than from the four-knot headwind."

"Downstream it is, then," Mack agreed.

The temperature was hovering around the 100-degree mark. Everyone was wringing wet with sweat as they took their places on the flight deck. With all engines started and bow lines cast off, Ford shoved the throttles forward, swung around and headed upstream. When they reached the first bend, he swung around again. Immediately he could feel the current carrying them downstream.

"Let's not waste time, Swede. Full takeoff power, NOW!"

The engines roared. The Number One engine, still without its exhaust stack, added the trip-hammer beat of its unmuffled power to the swelling sound. NC18602 surged forward, aided by the six-knot current. Bob Ford concentrated his gaze far ahead, down river to the start of the Congo Gorges, the series of cataracts, rapids, and waterfalls amidst a jumbled maze of canyons and rocks, where the river began a steeper descent toward the sea. They would have to be airborne well before reaching that drop-off point. If not.... Ford preferred not to think about it.

With his left hand pressing the throttles hard against the full power stops, his right hand grasping the yoke, and his eyes concentrating on the river ahead, he mentally measured the rapidly decreasing distance to the gorge.

Below, in the main cabin, 2nd Engineer John Parish watched as the spray whipped over the sea wing. He was aware that the aircraft was well over normal gross weight, and mentally counted the seconds toward what he knew was the maximum allowable time for a full-power takeoff: ninety seconds. Twenty seconds went by. Thirty seconds. Still no liftoff. The spray continued to fly past his window. The surface of the river was just as close as ever. Hell! he thought, get this mother up on the step! With every passing second he had visions of the big ship running off the edge of the gorge, smashing into the rocks.

He wondered how big an explosion 5,100 gallons of 100-octane fuel would make. Subconsciously he cinched his seat belt tighter and stiffened his body against what he thought might be the final moments of his life.

Bob Ford glanced quickly at the airspeed indicator. Seventy knots - the design-rated landing/stall speed. As the airspeed needle crept above that mark he gently brought the wheel back. The Clipper's bow rose above the horizon but it did not break off the water. He let the wheel forward again. With the bow down he could see the edge of the gorge 1,700 yards away. More speed, he needed more speed to break the suction. He kept the nose down, hoping to build up the airspeed.

Fifty seconds now. Sixty. Seventy. Then he decided. If we don't break off in another twenty seconds I'll pull back three engines but keep Number One at full power. Its torque will swing us around and we can head upstream. All eyes on the flight deck were fixed on the rapidly approaching gorge. No one uttered a word. Ford adjusted his grip on the throttles. He flexed his left hand. At that moment NC18602 came off the water.

But the reprieve was only momentary. They barely had flying speed and were not climbing at all, just hovering a few feet off the surface and still headed toward the gorge.

"Ninety one seconds" Swede Rothe called from the engineer's station. "That's past max time for full power. Can we pull it back now?"

"No way! Keep those throttles to the stops. We're not out of this yet!"

"Okay, but the cylinder head temps are over redline! We could blow at any time!"

Ford did not reply, but thought to himself: Hell! We'll either blow up or hit those rocks. Either way we're dead. Might as well die trying. And he kept his hand hard against the throttles. Gingerly he tested the yoke, attempting to find a balance between pulling back too far and risking a stall and maintaining just enough nose-down attitude to build up the airspeed without settling back on to the river.

At that moment they passed the rim of the gorge. The river dropped away into the rocky defile and the water turned to white foam as it crashed against the boulder-strewn bottom. Without the cushioning effect - the so-called "ground effect" - of being only a few feet above the water surface, NC18602 also began to descend into the gorge. In seconds they were flying within the confines of a narrow canyon, still not too far above the surface. But the extra separation from the water surface did allow Ford to drop the bow a little more and gradually the airspeed began to pick up.

"Eighty five knots," John Mack called out.

Okay, Ford thought, that gives us about five knots to play with to get some climb out of this baby. Gently he exerted enough back pressure on the yoke to raise the nose and drop the airspeed to eighty knots.

"Rate of climb ten feet a minute, up!" Mack exclaimed. "...twenty feet, up! ...fifty feet, up! We're going to make it!"

"We're not out of the woods yet, Johnny," Ford cautioned. "Look up ahead, there."

Directly ahead the gorge took a curve to the right. They were still below the edge of the precipice and the rocky ledge loomed before them. "There seems to be room to take a shallow turn and follow the canyon."

"Yeah, as long as we don't bank too far. We're still marginal for a stall."

Cable Jam

Ford watched the approaching curve in the gorge and mentally gauged the point at which to begin a gentle turn. As they reached that point he gently applied pressure to the wheel, turning it to the right, while at the same time feeding in a light pressure on the right rudder pedal. The wheel would not move. He increased pressure. The yoke would not budge. He could move it forward and back, but he could not get it to turn. With no aileron movement and the slight amount of right rudder, the ship skidded left.

"Now what the hell is wrong?" he exclaimed. "Hey, Swede, we've got no aileron control. The damn wheel won't budge! What gives?"

Swede Rothe made a quick assessment: "The aileron cables must be jammed. Hang on! I'll check it out."

He rose from his seat and went to the starboard hatch leading into the wing. He opened it, peered into the tunnel, and saw the problem immediately. Looking out along the catwalk tunnel he could see that it had a tilt to it, only slight, but noticeable to his trained eye. Then he turned his attention to the aileron cable running through the channels in the wing. At a point where the cable went through a pulley, it was clamped tightly between the groove of the pulley wheel and the pulley housing. Quickly he returned to his station.

"Skipper, the aileron cables are jambed in their pulleys because the wing is flexing. We're going to have to get up into cooler air before those pulleys will free up."

As Ford digested this news from Rothe he was, at the same time, trying to improvise some way to make the big ship follow the twists and turns of the gorge. After some experimentation he found he could use the rudder by itself to skid around the turns. Each time he applied right rudder, the ship would skid left and the right wing would dip down. Conversely, it worked the same when he attempted left rudder. In this way they continued; airspeed just above stall, gaining about fifty feet per minute, following the curves of the gorge.

Slowly the flying boat was able to gain enough height to put them above the surrounding terrain. Ford was eventually able to let up enough on the yoke to build up a little more airspeed. Finally they had a safe altitude and Ford called to Rothe to throttle back to normal cruise climb. The four engines had been held at full power for a full three minutes, far longer than the engineers at Wright had ever designed them for.

"By God, I don't want to try that again any time soon!" Rothe exclaimed to no one in particular.

As the tension eased and NC18602 approached its normal cruising altitude, Ford relaxed a little. But he listened carefully to the engines. Except for the hammering of Number One, they all sounded good. Well, he thought, I guess they're none the worse for wear. But that was too close!

Satisfied that the engines had not suffered any damage from the extended time at full power, Ford called to Rod Brown for a compass-heading to Natal. When the customary small slip of paper with the heading written on it was taped to the brow of the instrument panel, he turned the Clipper westward, heading toward the South Atlantic and what he hoped would be the final episode in this strange odyssey. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Ed Dover; Revised edition (November 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 061521472X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0615214726
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In the Fall of 1942, when I was 18 years old, I completed a course of study at the Frank Wiggins Trade School in Los Angeles and earned my FCC Second Class Telegrapher's License. Now comes one of those serendipitous moments in my life that sets me to wondering about the fickle workings of fate. Just as we were completing the course work, a personnel representative from Pan American Airways visited the school. He announced that Pan Am was hiring licensed radio operators to train as Flight Radio Officers for assignment to flight crews flying with Pan Am under contract to the Navy. Pan Am had entered into a war contract with the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS). All of Pan Am's flying boats had been turned over to the Navy, but Pan Am was still providing the flight crews to operate them as logistics flights to Hawaii and the South Pacific in support of the war effort. Along with the Martin and Boeing Clippers, Pan Am would also operate Navy Consolidated PB2Y3 and Martin PBM flying boats on the supply runs into the South Pacific all the way to Australia. The increased schedules of flights required many more flight crew personnel in order to meet the contract schedules. When this announcement was made at the school I signed up immediately, along with three other fellow classmates. Most of the other guys (there were no girls in our class) eventually wound up as radio operators on board surface vessels or enlisted or were drafted into the army or navy. Those of us who went with Pan Am were enlisted into a special division of the Naval Reserve created for the express purpose of keeping NATS contract crews from being subject to the draft. It was just like being in the military anyway. Each of us was assigned a military rank according to our level of education and experience. I was given the rank of Navy Radioman First Class.

The first couple of months were spent in training classes at Treasure Island. We became acquainted with the radio equipment on board the Clippers. We spent many hours improving our skill at using Morse Code so that we could qualify at the 30 words per minute speed required of all Pan Am radio operators. We learned to draw the electrical schematic diagrams of each piece of radio gear by heart. And we each got an orientation flight on board one of the Clippers as an introduction to our eventual working environment. My very first time aloft in an airplane was an orientation flight over San Francisco Bay on board one of the Martin M-130 Clippers. The flight deck of the Martin was rather cramped compared to the Flight deck of the Boeing B-314. The radio operator sat at a small desk directly behind the co-pilot and the flight engineer sat on what amounted to a small shelf just above and behind the radio operator. If the radio operator was in his seat, he had to get out and step down to the main deck in order to allow the flight engineer access to or exit from his operating location.

One other assignment was to get outfitted for our uniforms. There were two styles of uniform. When we were assigned to fly on the Pan Am Clippers we wore the standard Navy blue double-breasted suit with white peaked hats and a small half-winged badge pinned to the breast pocket denoting our status as a Flight Radio Officer. When we were assigned to fly on the Navy PB2Y3 or PBM aircraft we wore light khaki uniforms with soft campaign caps as headgear. As soon as we were outfitted in these uniforms they took our pictures. These were filed in our personnel folders for use by the company as public relations photos when needed. We called them our "obituary photos". You can guess why. Despite the advances in air transportation, commercial flying - especially over the oceans - was still a risky business. I was soon to learn just how risky.

On January 20th, 1943 I received my first assignment as a flight crew member. I came on board one of the Boeing B-314 flying boats as the Second Radio Officer on a regular schedule flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. We departed Treasure Island at about three in the afternoon. As we headed west we encountered a strong storm that created very strong headwinds and heavy turbulence. After about three hours the Captain decided that the headwinds were too strong to make it all the way to Honolulu, so we turned around to return to Treasure Island. By the time we arrived back over the Bay, the storm was going full blast. In low clouds and rain, with poor visibility, we made either two or three attempts at landing in the seaplane channel alongside the Oakland Bay bridge before we got down safely and tied up at the dock. The crew was ordered to stand by while the operations office examined the weather reports to determine if we could try again later, when they thought the winds would die down enough. By this time it was very late at night. I decided to take a nap on one of the couches in the terminal, assuming someone would awaken me in time to depart again if they had decided to give it another go. But they never did. On the morning of January 21st, when I woke up it was just daylight. The storm was still raging. Our flight had been canceled. But the terminal was abuzz with news about another Pan Am Clipper overdue on a flight from Honolulu. It was the Martin M-130 Philippine Clipper. Under the command of Captain Robert Elzey, it had flown through the same storm, but the winds that were headwinds for us had been tailwinds for the Martin. It had made the crossing from Honolulu in a record nine hours - unheard of in those days. But the quick crossing brought it to the California coast much earlier than anticipated. Due to the bad weather the captain had elected to try landing at the alternate landing site at Clear Lake, near Ukiah, California, a short distance up the coast where he hoped the weather would be better. It was not. Upon attempting a let down to Clear Lake in heavy clouds, the Clipper crashed into a mountain and all aboard were killed. This was my introduction to flying over the ocean.

While awaiting my next flight assignment I caught a bad cold. I developed a severe case of laryngitis. Upon getting over it I was sent to the Pan Am flight surgeon for a thorough examination to be sure that I was okay for flight duty. When they examined my throat they found a small cyst on my epiglottis. I had to have it removed before they would clear me for flight duty. The operation was performed at a hospital in either Berkeley or Oakland - I can't remember which. By the time I was well enough to fly again I was given a different assignment. Besides working on board the aircraft, Pan Am's radio operators also did duty as ground station operators at their various en route stations. I was assigned temporary duty as a ground station operator at the Pan Am base at Pearl City in Pearl Harbor.

I do not recall the date, but my next flight was on board one of the Navy PB2Y3s from Treasure Island to Pearl Harbor. This flight was uneventful and routine. It took about 18 and a half hours. I settled quickly into the routine of shift work at the Pearl City radio desk. The Pearl City base was located right on the shoreline and we had a good view of the harbor. Most of the wreckage from the December 7th attack had been cleared by then but there were still some bits of it visible. The Pan Am personnel were housed in a large mansion on the waterfront. I was assigned an upstairs bedroom. The Navy ran the commissary and mess hall. Movies were shown in the mess hall in the evening after supper. As I had some experience with movie projectors, my projectionist skills were called into play as I took on the assignment of running the projectors for the movies whenever I was not working the evening shift.

After a couple of months at Pearl City I was transferred to another ground station at Noumea, New Caledonia. This was my introduction to the small atolls and islands of the South Pacific. Our flight route took us to Palmyra Island, Canton Island, Suva, Fiji and Noumea. It took three days, island hopping from Pearl City. I thought it was a wonder of modern technology!

My time at Noumea was fairly routine. There was one incident, however, that was far from routine. I was on duty in the radio room on the midnight shift. This was normally a very quiet shift but we had to maintain 24 hour communications capability. I was seated at the desk with my back to the open window which faced the harbor. Suddenly there was a loud explosion and a concussion that sent me flying out of my chair onto the floor. I was not hurt, but after a few seconds of crouching, not knowing what to expect next, I slowly rose up and looked out the window. Far across the bay there was a huge fire. Something had apparently exploded. It was not until sometime later that we learned that an ammunition ship had exploded. Apparently they were unloading live ammunition from the ship onto the dock. Some of the shells had slipped or fallen from the ship's crane onto the dock and exploded, causing a chain reaction amidst the ordnance already on the dock. The entire place went up in one gigantic blast. I don't recall exact figures, but there were many casualties. And the loss of all that ammunition was a severe blow to the military supply. I don't know if this incident ever received news coverage back home. Most likely it was kept secret as a security measure.

I was assigned to flight duty sometime around the end of 1943 or the beginning of 1944; I do not recall an exact date. By the time I returned to San Francisco Pan Am had moved its base of operations to the Marine terminal at Mills Field, south of San Francisco. Treasure Island was now strictly a Naval base. The housing accommodations at Berkeley had long since been vacated as each of the original four of us went to various other assignments. I had to look for other accommodations. Berkeley was now too far out of the way. I had to find a place closer to San Francisco. I located a rooming house just south of downtown San Francisco. The address was 900 Ashbury Street.

It was about a three block walk down a very steep hill to the streetcar line that ran on Haight Street. I was three blocks from the intersection of what was to become known as "Haight-Ashbury" to legions of hippies that invaded the neighborhood after the war. While I lived there it was a very quiet neighborhood. It was walking distance to Golden Gate Park. I spent many hours exploring the park on my free time. I also resumed my interest in photography.

Sometime earlier I had purchased a new camera. It was called a Robot. A small 35mm camera that was one of the first to offer automatic film advance. It had a large spring that you wound up. After each shot, it automatically advanced to the next frame. I got in the habit of carrying it with me everywhere, even while on flight assignments. I had it with me on one of my Honolulu flights. As we began the return flight to San Francisco I took it out of my carry on bag and went to the navigator's dome in the rear cargo compartment of the B-314 to see if I could get a good shot of Diamond Head as we came around the eastern tip of Oahu. I fired off several shots and returned to the flight deck. Apparently one of the other flight crew members saw me do this and reported it to the Captain. When we got back to San Francisco I was called into the office and received a royal chewing out for doing that. Apparently, any photography in or around the Hawaiian Islands was prohibited as a war time security measure. They confiscated my film but let me keep the camera.

A few history sidelights:
On the morning of April 12, 1945 I returned from a long flight, went to my room on Ashbury Street and settled in for some much needed sleep. When I awoke I turned on the radio and heard the news about the death of President Roosevelt.

I was on one of the South Pacific runs in the Martin PBMs in May, 1945. While overnighting at Canton Island on May 8, 1945 we received word that the Germans had surrendered and the war in Europe was over.

In June, 1945 representatives from many nations met in San Francisco to begin work at creating the United Nations. I remember seeing many foreign uniforms while walking the streets of downtown San Francisco. The Russians were particularly noticeable by their numbers.

With the European war at an end and the war in the Pacific winding down, the Navy was cutting back on its contract operations with the civilian airlines. The NATS contract was terminated and Pan Am instituted a mass transfer of many of its flight personnel to other assignments. We had a choice of transferring to either New York or Miami where the contracts with the Army Air Transport Command were still in effect. Since I had relatives in New York and it was a more familiar place than Miami, I opted for a transfer there. In July, 1945 I boarded the train for the cross-country trip to New York. I wound up renting a room in a home in Woodside on Long Island that was fairly close to LaGuardia Field where Pan Am had its flight operations.

This change was not only a great geographic change, but also an operational change. Pan Am was no longer using flying boats but had made the transition to land planes. The first of these that I flew on was the Douglas DC-4, or, as the Air Transport Command referred to them, the C-54. It took me a while to get used to landing on hard runways instead of on the water.

Now, to make a long story short....

By the Spring of 1948 aircraft communications equipment had improved to the point where pilots could communicate with controllers and operations bases by voice and the use of Morse code was being phased out. The need for flight radio operators was coming to an end. I resigned from Pan Am sometime in March or April, 1948 and eventually got a job with the CAA (now the FAA) as a communications specialist. My first assignment was at the communications station in Honolulu. There followed a number of career moves within the CAA/FAA during which time I worked as a communications specialist, or air traffic controller at a variety of locations including Midway Island, Wake Island, Maui, Kansas City, St Louis, and finally Albuquerque. I retired on January 1, 1982 as a station supervisor from the Albuquerque Flight Service Station after 33 years with the FAA.

For more information about me and my book go to my web site at

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Martin P. Cassell on March 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is a good addition to the library of any serious student of Pan Am's great history. In these days of mass production, we don't think of one aircraft as a national asset. But the owners and operators of this one did, and rightly so. Only 12 B-314 flying boats were built and they played a critical support role in all theaters of WWII. This author has a clear and direct style. The description of the difficult take-off from the Congo River put you right on the flight deck. This book would actually make a good movie. As you read this account, you cannot help but think of what present day air travellers owe these pioneers. And, you also will have one more reason to say thanks to the WWII generation.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have always been a big fan of the Boeing B-314 and of Pan Am. When I heard a book about the big airliners ordeal at the dawn of World War II, I immediately picked up a copy. I'm glad I did.
A quick synopsis: The Pan-Am airliner Pacific Clipper was enroute to New Zealand from San Francisco at the exact moment the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In an effort to save the aircraft and crew, the decision was made to fly the plane from New Zealand to New York the long way via India, Africa and South America; something that this type of aircraft had never done before.
Mr. Dover did a tremendous job of research for this book and it shows. "The Long Way Home" touches on the well-known details as well as the personal stories that made up this incredible adventure. Although I had read brief articles about the clipper's around-the-world flight before, I found many fascinating nuggets of new information. The spotting of a Japanese submarine in the Indian Ocean is just one example.
The only things that keep this book from being a five are some glaring spelling errors and Mr. Dover's occaisionally flat narration.
A fascinating read that is just begging for a movie to made from it.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By G. Paschal on September 3, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are interested in historical events during the World War II era, or if you are a fan of the Boeing B-314, or the Pan Am Clippers in general, you will enjoy this book. It is obvious that Mr. Dover has done a great deal of research (including interviews with actual participants) in order to present an accurate, detailed account. What this book lacks in sparkling dialogue, it more than makes up for with interesting details. As a former Pan Am B-314 crew member, Mr. Dover is in a unique position to relate this tale with historical accuracy. I am glad he took on this project, and invested the time and effort necessary to research and record this account for future generations.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Trent Nickson on January 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I bought the third edition of this book directly from the author himself via Amazon - it was seven days from placing the order to receiving the book. Very impressive shipping time USA to Australia!!
I devoured the book in two sittings! It has one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen on a book, and the content is succinct, informative, and fairly well written. While you know the outcome (as the story has been covered in much briefer form before), the fun is getting there - and finding out all the little details that weren't available before.
My only minor criticism would be that the editing could have been slightly better. At one point, a crew members wife is mentioned by name and it wasn't when she was introduced - that was a bit jarring. There are a couple of little things like that!
I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in Pan Am, the great flying boats, airline history, or someone just after a good tale!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Dan Fendel on June 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I bought this for my brother who is an airline pilot, but read it myself in a single night. This is a "documentary" true story, but it reads like the best adventure thriller and should be made into a movie. Heroism, the kind of quiet bravery so common in wartime, and a fun look at cultures and bygone times around the world, the author knows how to bring color to history and share details that matter while not letting mere reportage get in the way of a "ripping yarn" of a story. Aviation buffs, WWII history lovers, and even people who enjoy tales of travel in a bygone age of luxury will especially enjoy the book.

IMPORTANT NOTE: While the price is more or less the same from all vendors on Yahoo, the AUTHOR HIMSELF offers the book with the latest revisions AND will autograph it for you---turning a great read into a sure-fire collector's item for the same price. He's also an interesting guy who I had some follow-up email with re. the books' details. Thanks!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. C. Ling on September 21, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book to be very engrossing and well-done in capturing the flavor of the life and times of the early 1940s. I had the opportunity to communicate with the author by e-mail and found him to be very personable and enthusiastic on the subject of aviation. He impressed me with his period knowledge of flying and airplanes.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By E-4B Strap Hanger on September 28, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very interesting, little known piece of history. Trials and tribulations of an aircrew at the outbreak of WWII. The story line is worthy of a movie but the dialogue, admittedly created by the author,is elementary at best. That fault detracts from the enjoyment one should get from reading such a wonderful slice of aviation history.
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