Veteran journalist and author of The Commandos Douglas Waller chronicles his rare and intimate experience with the training program for Navy pilots in this “engrossing saga that will likely become an unofficial recruiting tool for naval aviation” (Publishers Weekly).
Waller, who was granted permission to participate in the pilots’ grueling training regime, has written an absorbing behind-the-scenes account of the physical and psychological trials endured by the most specialized group of pilots in military history.
From his bird’s-eye view in the passenger’s seat, Waller follows pilot trainees through two years of intense preparation. He offers vivid illustrations from the fray: hair-raising aerial dogfights; stomach-swallowing dive-bombing runs; high-speed tactical maneuvers grazing the desert floor; and numerous nerve-twisting aircraft carrier takeoffs and landings. In addition to his own experiences and those of the group of trainees he joins, his research is based on interviews with hundreds of other students and their instructors. Hurtling through the air at death-defying speeds, these pilots-in-training struggle to maintain their composure while withstanding conditions that are designed to challenge them to the very limits of human endurance.
Waller’s deftly drawn portraits of the men and women he encounters in this singular culture of elite pilots are as satisfying as his adventure narrative. The pilots, whose grit, determination, and mental agility operate on an elevated threshold, come into sharp focus behind Waller’s keen lens: their aspirations, awe inspiring. Air Warriors combines an examination of the modern Navy, recovering from past sex scandals, with a portrayal of a privileged cadre of men and women whose ambition and commitment coexist within a tightly knit group. Waller is able to capture images of these pilots training, living, and fighting with an acuity and intelligence that are often absent from Hollywood and television treatments of this diverse and fascinating subculture.
Air Warriors takes us inside the cockpit and behind closed doors for the real story of the making of a Navy pilot.
After much negotiating with top Navy brass, Waller (The Commandos), the national security correspondent for Time magazine, was granted permission to perform an amazing journalistic feat. In the process of researching his book on the training of Navy pilots, Waller was allowed to take part in the program. He endured disorientation exercises in which he was deprived of oxygen, or spun in circles at nausea-inducing speeds. He was blindfolded and dunked, upside down, into a water tank. As reward for having passed those grueling tests, he was permitted to ride in the cockpit of most of the training flights recounted in this thoroughly documented work. Waller resists the easy temptation of presenting a book centered on "my adventure with the Navy"; instead, he relies on his eyewitness experience, plus interviews with more than 200 aviators, to craft an in-depth profile of the Navy's aviation training program and its participants. Readers expecting to follow a core of main characters from start to finish may at first find the format disorienting. Waller offers quick takes on individual students, both male and female, going through a particular phase of pressure-cooker training, then moves on. But once readers catch on, they won't want to put down this engrossing saga that will likely become an unofficial recruiting tool for naval aviation. Throughout, the would-be aviators are revealed as supremely talented, courageous and intelligent young people. And by showing how individual aviators have been unfairly tarred by the Tailhook scandal, Waller offers a powerful argument that repercussions from the infamous sex-capade have gone too far. The Navy will love this exemplary book; but so will the vast corps of military supporters and adventure-lovers. Photos.