Review: The Aviators

Winston Groom’s The Aviators takes a look at some of the men who most changed the face and scope of aviation in the 20th Century.  The fact that he looks at only three people who found themselves at the center of international attention as often as they did says something about how rough and tumble aviation was, and perhaps still is.  The Aviators provides an overview of the aviation careers of Eddie Rickenbacher, Jimmy Doolitle, and Charles Lindbergh.  Again, it’s fascinating that so many qualifiers are needed in that sentence.  This is an overview – Richenbacher has more to say about himself than Groom can reasonably allot to him; on the other side, Lindbergh’s contributions to medical prosthetics and ecology are shoved out.

Without covering any of the men in detail there’s still plenty to say.  While I imagine one could produce a boring work about these three, they don’t make it easy.  Just hitting the high points:


  • Was the US Ace of Aces in WWI
  • Ran Eastern Airlines profitably for decades
  • Was nearly killed in an Eastern crash
  • Crashed during WWII and spent 24 days on a life raft in the Pacific


  • Designed, built and flew the first instrument approaches
  • Was at the center of nearly every controversial discussion about military aviation between the World Wars
  • Personally led the famous one-way raid on Tokyo that both acted as a symbol of American resolve after Pearl Harbor and shifted Japanese defence posture in the Pacific make it possible for the US to restore their presence there.


  • Became an international celebrity for being the first to fly from New York to Paris non-stop (and solo).
  • Defended and promoted aviation causes for years between the the world wars
  • Studied and improved the operation techniques of the P-38 Lightning in the Pacific, providing significant enough improvements to change the course of the war in the Pacific.  And flew combat missions as a civilian.

There’s no shortage of incident or impact, and Groom brings it all to life accurately and with some flair.  Overall it’s a great way to whet a reader’s appetite for deeper histories of the period.


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