Review: Terror of the Autumn Skies

Fun fact: All pilots have a period of aviation that made us fall in love with the idea of flying, often before we ever have the opportunity to fly ourselves. For me, that’s World War I.  I’m going to find something cool about any WWI aviation book including Blaine Pardoe’s Terror of the Autumn Skies.  My bias aside, Pardoe’s subject, Frank Luke, is well worth knowing about.

Luke’s a remarkable character whose story I hadn’t heard.  His credentials are impeccable: briefly US Ace of Aces, multiply decorated including the Medal of Honor, and arguably America’s most accomplished balloon buster in WWI.  Luke was a larger-than-life character who anyone who has seen a popular film with fighter pilots in it will recognize.  He’s a westerner (Arizona) who shows up in his squadron boasting and irritating his flight mates.  Though he backs that up – on one occasion calling his shot on a distant observation balloon a la Babe Ruth – he frequently disobeys orders and is continually at odds with his commanding officer.  He forms a tight bond with a fellow outsider with a complementary personality who becomes his wingman.  His life of outlandish risk and selfless bravery ends in a hail of wartime bullets.

It’s a great story, and Pardoe’s research in telling it is exemplary.  He hunts down military records, personal letters, and contemporary news accounts and interprets them all well.  He makes a clear story of these fragments.

The writing is a little episodic and has spots where a bit more editing would help.  Overall, I’d call it solid if not inspiring.  Interested readers will find an interesting story here, though it may not draw outsiders in.


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