Can you guess which holiday I look forward to celebrating when I turn my calendar to November? Two hints: It doesn’t involve American flags or turkey dinners. Instead, I turn my thoughts to the sky and feel so lucky to live in a time of easy air travel (never mind those TSA lines).
Why? Because November is National Aviation History Month. According to the U.S. Government Printing Office, this month “is dedicated to exploring, recognizing and celebrating America’s great contributions and achievements in the development of aviation. Aviation history refers to the history of development of mechanical flight—from the earliest attempts in kites and gliders to powered heavier-than-air, supersonic and space flights.”
For whatever reason, I love to fly and have been in all kinds of aircraft, including hot-air balloons, Cessna four-seaters, helicopters, and gigantic commercial jets. I’ll be forever sad I never flew in a Concorde, but I’m looking forward to whatever advances in air travel the future holds.
So how does one celebrate National Aviation History Month? You could book a flight for your next vacation, visit a museum (like the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum), or do it my way: Listen to a good audiobook! This month’s Take 5 roundup will set your sights on the clouds.
Although humans had taken to the skies via hot-air balloons for over a hundred years before the Wright brothers had success at Kitty Hawk, NC, the world credits Wilber and Orville with being the first to fly. There are few historians who could tell their story better than David McCullough, who both wrote and narrates THE WRIGHT BROTHERS. His well-balanced biography celebrates the brothers’ steadfast determination as they worked past their failures and compensated for their limited formal education to finally achieve the most famous 12 seconds in aviation history.
In the 1920s, one of the challenges for air travel was flying long distance over open water. After Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, the next hurdle was flying west from California to the Pacific islands. When James Dole (of pineapple fame) offered a prize for the first flight to Hawaii, there was no shortage of willing pilots. Jason Ryan’s RACE TO HAWAII tells this story, complete with all its Roaring Twenties derring-do. Keith Sellon-Wright’s performance makes the excitement of the competition pop.
Almost from the start, women, too, took to the air, finding a home in front of the control panel, even amid the backlash of sexism. In FLY GIRLS, Keith O’Brien showcases five female pilots (one is Amelia Earhart) who competed in races and performed breathtaking stunts in the 1930s. Although these pioneers faced criticism, they held fast to their dreams of flight. Erin Bennett’s performance highlights both the devastation of the crashes and the joys of the successes.
Two women pilots I had never heard of before flew in WWII for the Third Reich. Clare Mulley tells their stories in THE WOMEN WHO FLEW FOR HITLER, detailing the women’s careers as German test pilots as well as their intense dislike of each other. The women were both war heroes, though their motives were different: One tried to protect her family and the other wanted to devote her life to Hitler. Narrator Christa Lewis contrasts the pilots’ personalities and dreams in this dual biography that doesn’t gloss over the horrors of Hitler’s Germany.
In the immediate postwar years, U.S. test pilots in the California desert were in a race to break the sound barrier. Everyone knows that Chuck Yeager is credited with doing just that in October 1947. But was he really the first? In CHASING THE DEMON, Dan Hampton details the technological advances that allowed humans to fly faster than the speed of sound and makes the case that Major Dick Bong may have beaten Yeager to the punch. Our reviewer noted that narrator John Pruden keeps this “engaging and enlightening” audiobook “moving at a good clip.”
I hope I’ve given you a head start on your own National Aviation History Month celebrations with these five true-life stories. What are your favorite audiobooks about flying? Suggestions for fiction listens welcome!