Whether you’re a brand new pilot or have thousands of hours in your logbook, there’s always more to learn. And one of my favorite ways to learn is from books. Here are the Top10 Best books to read for fighter pilots and aviation enthusiasts:
Put your pressure suit on and strap yourself in for a Mach 3 ride! Former SR-71 Wing Commander Rich Graham tells the amazing inside story of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Graham provides a detailed look at the entire SR-71 story beginning with his application to be an SR pilot through commanding an entire wing.
2. “The F-35 Lightning II: From Concept to Cockpit” Edited by Jeffrey W. Hamstra, By Timothy C. Lieuwen/Lockheed Martin
This is a pricey ($100+USD!) but authoritative technical reference about the non-classified systems of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter across all versions. It is the de facto current F-35 reference book. Since the aircraft has become so ubiquitous and has already established an early and successful combat record with at least two countries, this expensive but outstanding volume will be relevant for a long time.
3. “Topgun Days: Dogfighting, Cheating Death and Hollywood Glory as One of America’s Best Fighter Jocks” By Dave Baranek
Dave Baranek (callsign “Bio”) was one of 451 young men to receive his Wings of Gold in 1980 as a naval flight officer. Four years later, seasoned by intense training and deployments in the tense confrontations of the cold war, he became the only one of that initial group to rise to become an instructor at the navy’s elite Fighter Weapons School. As a Topgun instructor, Bio was responsible for teaching the best fighter pilots of the Navy and Marine Corps how to be even better. He schooled them in the classroom and then went head-to-head with them in the skies.
Then, in August 1985, Bio was assigned to combine his day-to-day flight duties with participation in a Pentagon-blessed project to film action footage for a major Hollywood movie focusing on the lives, loves, heartbreaks, and triumphs of young fighter pilots: Top Gun.
Bio soon found himself riding in limousines to attend gala premieres, and being singled out by giggling teenagers and awed schoolboys who recognized the name “Topgun” on his T-shirts. The book ends with his reflections on his career as a skilled naval aviator and his enduring love of flight. The paperback and Kindle editions include more than 50 rare full-color photographs of fighter jets in action. The fascinating history of one man’s rise from naval flight officer to Hollywood hero.
Published in 1997 by a former U.S. Marine Corps F-4 Phantom II pilot who flew in the Vietnam Conflict, “Phantom Over Vietnam” provides unique insights into the F-4 Phantom and its use in close air support operations in Southeast Asia. There are fascinating insights in communications techniques used by the F-4 pilots in support of ground troops and in coordination with other air assets in the crowded skies over Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s.
5. “The Tornado Years: More Adventures of a Cold War Fast-Jet Navigator.” By David Herriot
Sequel to his widely-acclaimed “The Adventures of a Cold War Fast-Jet Navigator: The Buccaneer Years”, award-winning author David Herriot brings us into the back seat of these remarkable British aircraft and provides insights unavailable until now. More than just an aviation book, Herriot is a skilled literary narrator, and his writing makes this short book a true gem.
If you are a fan of Russian aviation or need a comprehensive reference of the Russian Aerospace Force’s technical capabilities, this book provides an in-depth and detailed overview. You could say, “If you only own one book on Russian aviation, make it this one”. Complete reference to Russian fighters and strike aircraft, written by two eminent experts on the subject matter. In particular, there is great detail about the Sukhoi Su-25, Su-27, Su-30, Beriev A-50 AWACS and many more.
Another definitive reference of Russian aviation by Gordon and Komissarov. This specifically focuses on details of the MiG-29 through new MiG-35 multirole aircraft. This book becomes especially relevant as Russia seeks export customers for their new, generation 4++ MiG-35, a complete update and rework of the original MiG-29 airframe. This book is especially relevant to U.S. readers, whose lagging misconceptions about Russian tactical aviation have them often woefully misinformed.
8. “Spyflights and Overflights: U.S. Strategic Aerial Reconnaissance: 1945-1960” By Robert Hopkins III
No aerial reconnaissance program in history was as vigorous as the U.S military’s surveillance of the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. In this detailed chronicle of the “golden era” of spy flights, author Robert Hopkins exposes many of the lesser known but truly sensational aerial surveillance efforts by the U.S. during the Cold War. If you thought U.S. reconnaissance was limited to border flights and the U-2 program, you will be delighted with the incredible detail and depth of this fascinating insight.
Every aviation enthusiast wonders just exactly what is flying around in the vast, secret training ranges north of Nellis AFB in the Nevada desert. Pioneering adversary simulation pilot and instructor Col. Gaillard R. Peck Jr. was the founding father of the top secret CONSTANT PEG adversary simulation program over the Nevada and California desert that used real, captured and otherwise “obtained” Russian-built MiGs and Sukhois. This is another great read in anticipation of Hollywood’s “Top Gun: Maverick”, but more significantly, this is a historic reference not to be missed and a truly incredible story.
10. “A Higher Call: An Incredible Ture Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II” By Adam Mackos and Larry Alexander
To this day, it’s hard to understand why this remarkable aviation story has not made it to Hollywood. Until it does, we have the beautiful and reverent narrative account of one of WWII’s more unbelievable incidents: the time a German Me-109 pilot escorted a heavily damaged B-17 to safety. This was suggested to us by lb_aviation on Instagram, and it is a rare story of heroism and valor. Far removed from the technical references we’ve recommended, “A Higher Call” is an inspirational tale of chivalry in the age of total war.