Let me say this right at the beginning. Â ”Hangar Flying” by General Merrill “Tony” McPeak is not a lofty lecture about his days as Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force; nor is it a tell all book about higher power military politics in the Pentagon. Â Rather, the book’s title is truth in advertising in its purest form. Â ”Hangar Flying” for the uninitiated is a euphemism aviators use to describe discussions—fueled orÂ non fueledÂ by alcohol—during which pilots or crew members describe memorable experiences in the air. Â These discussions can be educational, cautionary, inspirational or just plain entertaining depending on your viewpoint. They should not be confused with “war stories” which tend to increase in hyperbole with each telling, often burnishing the image of the teller in the process. Â There is plenty of hangar flying to go around in this book, mostly of the educational and inspirational kind.
“Hangar Flying” is divided into roughly three parts. Â The first part is mostly auto biographical; where he describes his modest upbringing and his long uphill journey through the Cold War and Vietnam Conflict to the top of his profession. The writing style in this section, as well as in most of the book, is modest and selfÂ deprecating; Â sometimes pointing to errors inÂ judgmentÂ as a young officer that did little toÂ promote his image as a future Chief of Staff.
The second part of the book will appeal to those who watched and admired the skill and precision flying of the Air Force aerial demonstration team, The Thunderbirds. Â General McPeak flew with the team in 1967 and 1968. Â In this section he takes care to describe all you ever wanted know about The Thunderbirds—the personality of each team member and how they worked together; Â theÂ intricaciesÂ of each maneuver and how it was performed; and the rigorous training required to keep the team at the top of their game. He also provides ample proof that the flying in the shows not onlyÂ lookedÂ dangerous, butÂ wasÂ dangerous.Â Fascinating stuff, to say the least.
The last part of the book describes General McPeak’s tour in Vietnam. Â He arrived at Phu Cat AB, RVN in 1969, and left Vietnam approximately a year later as part of an ongoing force withdrawal; flying over 250 combat missions. At one point, he was the commander of Detachment One, 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, most commonly referred to as the “Mistys” after their call sign in the theater. Â Misty pilots performed an extremely dangerous mission, flying high speed, low altitude, visualÂ reconnaissance in the two place, F-100F Super Sabre Â along the Ho ChiÂ MinÂ Trail; identifying and directing air strikes against military traffic found along the road. Â It was so dangerous that 25% of the crews were shot down performing the mission.
In the last few chapters of the book, the author Â makes an interesting and telling change in his narrative. While moving along theÂ time lineÂ of his combat experiences he begins to interweave observations about the application of air power during the war and how it was limited by interference from the highest level of the government; the tangled and ineffective chain of command within and outside the theater; and the lack of up to date weaponry—most specifically smart bombs. Â Doubtlessly these thoughts were revisited when he became Chief of Staff. Â AfterÂ summarizingÂ his thoughts on the war in the final chapter, the book ends rather abruptly with the following quote: Â ”The war was always the South’s to win and itÂ couldn’t. Â It was always ours to lose, and we did.”
“Hangar Flying” by General Merrill McPeak belongs on the book shelves of retired and active duty members of the Air Force, aviation enthusiasts, and historians interested in theÂ development of air power in the second half of the twentieth century. Â A well written and fascinating book.
Â· Hardcover:Â 364 pages
Â· Publisher: Lost Wingman Press; First edition (May 1, 2012)
Â· Language: English
Â· Available at online book retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble
According to the books publisher, “HANGAR FLYING is the first book of a three-volume series. The second title will take General McPeak through the 1970s and 80s, during which he served in a series of increasingly important staff and command positions and rose to four-star rank. The final volume will cover his four-year period as the Air Force’s 14th chief of staff.”
About the Reviewer
Ron Standerfer is a novelist, freelance writer, book reviewer, and amateur photographer whose articles have appeared in numerous news publications including online editions of the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and the Honolulu Star Advertiser. He is a member of the International Travel Writers & Photographers Alliance (ITWPA) and American Writers & Artists Inc (AWAI). He is a retired Air Force fighter pilot who flew 237 combat tours in Vietnam War. His novel, The Eagles Last Flight, chronicles the life of an Air Force fighter pilot during The Cold War and Vietnam years. He also publishes an online magazine, The Pelican Journal.