WWII Pilots, Topgun, Navy’s First
Airplane Focus of New Books
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
BLACK SHEEP: The Life of
By John F. Wukovits. Annapolis, Md.:
Naval Institute Press, 2011. 288 pp.
Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was a
legendary World War II fighter pilot
who served with the American
Volunteer Group — the Flying
Tigers — in China and later as a Marine Corps fighter
squadron commander in the Solomons campaign. The
subject of earlier biographies and a television series,
Boyington receives a “warts and all” treatment by
Wukovits, an expert on the Pacific war. Boyington was a
black sheep to his superiors and many associates, and
inspired either love or hate. But he was a superb leader in
mentoring his F4U Corsair pilots to an outstanding performance against Japanese opponents and the formula for
success in post-war life. Boyington was shot down in
January 1944 and spent the rest of the war in a Japanese
prison camp, where his leadership and courage helped
sustain the morale of fellow prisoners. He received the
Medal of Honor shortly after the war ended.
PACIFIC AIR: How Fearless
Flyboys, Peerless Aircraft and
Fast Flattops Conquered the
Skies in the War with Japan
By David Sears. Cambridge, Mass.: Da
Capo Press, 2011. 372 pp. $27.50
Sears follows up his 2010 book on
Korean War naval aviators, Such Men
as These, with this account of carrier-based aviators in World War II and the aircraft they flew.
It is based, in part, on interviews with Navy ace Alexander
Vraciu, who highlights the cast of thousands of pilots and
crewmen who flew missions against the Japanese in the
carrier actions from early 1942 through the Battle of the
Philippine Sea in July 1944. A third of Navy pilots would
not live through the war, felled by combat, mishaps,
weather and captivity. The detailed action anecdotes are
interspersed with the background of the Grumman
Aircraft Co.’s development of the F4F Wildcat and F6F
Hellcat fighters that many Navy pilots flew.
TOPGUN DAYS: Dogfighting,
Cheating Death and
Hollywood Glory as One of
America’s Best Fighter Jocks
By Dave “Bio” Baranek. New York:
Skyhorse Publishing, 2011. 308 pp.
Dave Baranek was an F- 14 Tomcat
fighter radar intercept officer who
recounts his career in this personal look at the Navy’s
fighter community, optimized by the famous “Topgun”
Fighter Weapons School popularized in the mid-1980s
by the Hollywood film of the same name. Baranek, a former Topgun instructor, gives an engaging look at life in
the cockpit and in a fleet squadron, as well as the role he
and his fellow aviators played in the production of the
film that made Tomcat and Topgun household words.
Baranek captures the energetic culture of carrier-based
fighter aviation and the men who stood ready to take on
the Soviet threat in the Cold War.
U.S. Navy’s First Airplane
By Bob Woodling and Taras Chayka.
Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing
Ltd., 2011. 172 pp. $59.99
The centennial of U.S. naval aviation is an appropriate time for this comprehensive
book on the service’s first airplane, the Curtiss Hydroaeroplane. In its short five-year history, the Hydroaeroplane trained many of the Navy’s first aviators and
proved the value of the airplane to the service’s leadership. The Curtiss airplane was the first Navy aircraft to
fly combat missions — in 1914 in Veracruz, Mexico —
and the first to be damaged by hostile fire. The Hydroaeroplane also served in the navies of Imperial
Russia, Japan, Italy and Germany, and was used as a
barnstorming aircraft. The book is lavishly illustrated
with photographs, engineering drawings and color
plates of the aircraft.