Instagram and Twitter users were asked to name their favorite aviation-themed books on National Read a Book Day in September. There was a strong reaction, as you can see. To cut down the list, we asked GE Aviation employees to rate the top 20 books on a scale of one to five stars. The books you see here were ranked based on the number of stars each one got.
Far from us to say that this list is the best. (How can it be?!) But as far as #avgeek literature goes, it’s pretty darn close to what I read. If you don’t see your favorite aviation book on this list, we want to know about it! It would be great if you could leave a comment so that the rest of us could see it.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
Orville and Wilbur Wright are the subject of two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough’s next book. He’s written about a lot of big events in American history before, like Johnstown’s flood and Manifest Destiny, so it makes sense that he’d focus on them. The Wright Brothers looks at the courage and curiosity of two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, who went on to “invent the future of flight” for all of us. It’s clear that McCullough’s skills as a biographer and storyteller are at their best when he writes about the brothers’ unwavering support for each other during both good times and bad. As McCullough makes clear, Orville and Wilbur showed how to be resilient in the face of hardship. No wonder GE Aviation employees gave the book top marks. It’s a great read!
If you live near GE Aviation’s headquarters in Evendale, Ohio, you might want to check out Wright State University’s Special Collections and Archives, which has a lot of interesting things. When we were writing the book, McCullough needed help with his research. We went to Dawne Dewey, who runs the archives and has been a Wright expert for 30 years, to find out what it took to help him. Check out her reminiscence in this video. It’s very interesting.
Herman the German: Just Lucky I Guess by Gerhard Neumann
Gerhard Neumann, a volunteer with the Flying Tigers, was more than just a fan of flying. He was a “avatar.” When Neumann was an airplane mechanic in China during World War II, he worked with the legendary Flying Tigers. Then he became a “aircraft engineer” and became a very important person in the company that made GE Aviation one of the best companies in the world. Neumann had a poster on his desk that said, “The more I work, the luckier I get.” This was a perfect representation of his daily philosophy.
Fate Is the Hunter by Ernest K. Gann
To walk around in the shoes of an airplane pilot is nothing but exciting. It is important that you read Fate Is the Hunter before this. People who read Gann’s book get to ride in the cockpit and go back in time to a time when the air travel business was just beginning. Gann tells you how he went from being a new pilot for American Airlines in the 1930s to flying C-54s, C-87s, and Lockheed Lodestars during World War II. He also talks about the challenges the aviation business faced as it changed. Fight or flight: Fate Is the Hunter is an introduction to the world of airline pilots. It shows off their intensity, openness, and later-day nobility.
Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed by Ben R. Rich and Leo Janos
Another story! A lot of people call Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs “Skunk Works.” This one talks about Ben Rich’s time as the boss and chief engineer of what’s called “America’s most secret and successful aerospace operation,” also known as “Skunk Works.” The name “Skunk Works” came from a newspaper comic strip. Rich looks back on Lockheed’s work during the Cold War, from the 1950s to Operation Desert Storm, with honesty. He talks about top-secret military projects that both worked and didn’t work. Rich doesn’t hold back when he tells stories about the CIA and Air Force pilots who played a big role in some of Skunk Works’ most important secret missions during its peak. Air combat missions are all over the book. You can’t go wrong with the Skunk Works for a vivid record of daring feats that changed how planes flew.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
If you’re looking for a fast-paced book that gets to the heart of what it took to get America’s aerospace projects off the ground, this is the book for you. The Right Stuff tells the story of an elite group of seven U.S. military test pilots who are chosen by NASA to be the country’s first astronauts for Project Mercury. It’s written in Wolfe’s unique style. project: The goal was to send a human into Earth’s orbit and bring him back to Earth’s surface in a safe way. Wolfe talks about the people who live with the seven astronauts and their families. The Mercury Seven did six space missions from 1961 to 1963, in the middle of the Cold War and on the verge of huge changes in the country. Wolfe shows what it means to have “the right stuff” by telling the stories of his friends’ successes, failures, dark nights of the soul, and scientific breakthroughs, and how they all came together.
GE Aviation: 100 Years of Reimagining Flight by Rick Kennedy
It took Rick Kennedy 30 years to get to know the people and personalities who live and breathe the engine projects at GE Aviation. That’s why he had to write a quick history of this company. It’s also a great book to read. Kennedy talks about how engines have changed over the last 100 years, starting with Sanford Moss’s invention of the turbosupercharger and going all the way to the LEAP engine, additive technology, CMCs, and more. 100 Years of Reimagining Flight was released in time for the company’s 100th anniversary. It has been a big hit with #avgeeks, GE employees, and retirees from all over the world. No, I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. Check out Amazon to get your own copy of the book. (Note: All money raised goes to charity.)
The Power to Fly: An Engineer’s Life by Brian H. Rowe with Martin Ducheny
There was a time when Brian Rowe worked for GE Aviation as an engineer, but he ended up as its head. In between, he worked hard to improve the technology of jet engines. He led a number of important engine lines, from the CF6 to the F101 to the GE90, and never stopped learning. In this book, Rowe shares his business and management ideas as well as his enthusiasm for life through anecdotes, remembrances, insights, and lessons that all work together to pass on Rowe’s ideas. When Rowe talks about how hard it was to get an engine program started or how he thinks politicians are “like talking to pieces of wood,” he doesn’t hold back. This is what makes the book so valuable. Insider’s view, sure, but one where the insider is just as honest about what he learned from failure as he is about what it takes to be a winner, too. GE90 or any engine project: “The legacy of the GE90, or any engine project, is that improvement never stops,” says the man. People who are engineers have to always try to do better. This is both the curse and the joy of their heart.
Brian H. Rowe, the person who came up with the original idea for the GE90, stands in the cowl of a GE90.
Fundamentals of Aerodynamics by John D. Anderson, Jr..
Because so many smart people work at GE Aviation, it would be bad form if this list didn’t include at least one classic engineering book, given how many smart people work there. The book Fundamentals of Aerodynamics is full of interesting information about aerospace engineering. It’s written in a conversational, easy-to-understand way. If you want to learn more about aerodynamics, read (or maybe re-read) this book.
Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
For kids, The Little Prince was written by the same person who wrote The Little Prince. Now, he’s written a memoir about his time as an airmail pilot for Aéropostale during the 1930s. Saint-Exupéry talks about how terrifying and exhilarating it was to fly above the Sahara Desert and the Andes Mountains. He also talks about the deeper meaning behind the experience. Wind, Sand, and Stars is one of the best pieces of writing about flying that we have today. It talks about bravery, friendship, loss, strong spirit, and wisdom that comes from that, especially when things are hard in his life.
Sled Driver by Brian Shul and Sheila Kathleen O’Grady
The SR-71 Blackbird was made by Lockheed’s famous Skunk Works team. It was known as the world’s fastest and highest-flying jet. Flight was so high that the pilots had to wear space suits to protect them from the sun. Best of all, the jet was a secret from the moment it was first used by the U.S. Air Force in 1966. Its name was “The Sled.” Whether you’re an airplane fan or not, very few people on this planet know what it was like to fly the SR-71. In Sled Driver, author and former Blackbird pilot Brian Shul takes you on an exciting ride. It amazes you how far the aviation industry has come in a short amount of time when you read about Shul’s journey.