Robert F. Dorr’s 365 Aircraft You Must Fly is a great introduction to the fascinating variety of civilian and military aircraft of the world, although sometimes let down by its editing and layout.
Did you know Armand Deperdussin was a cabaret singer before he headed his ill-fated aircraft company? That “Tiny Bubbles” singer Don Ho flew KC-97 tankers? That the Royal Australian Air Force briefly flew P-39 Airacobras? That the intense noise and vibrations from the XF-84H’s turboprop engine induced vomiting in ground crew?
These capsule descriptions of 365 winning, weird, worthless or wonderful aircraft won’t give you every detail, from their absolute ceiling to their all-up weight. What they will often do is give you a summing up and a thumbnail sketch of an aircraft that you won’t get in typical, dry reference works. Their essence is distilled from the writer’s several decades of experience, more than 70 books, and hundreds of interviews and articles, and you are likely to glean more incisive and fascinating bits of information from this book than you’ll get from a cartful of generic aircraft encyclopedias.
Which planes are beloved and which were only grudgingly tolerated or hated outright? Typical references won’t tell you, for example, that while the C-133 Cargomaster indeed set cargo-carrying records, it was disliked by pilots and crew; that the F-105 “Thud,” derided by some pundits for high loss rates in Vietnam, was beloved by its pilots, if not by its maintainers; or that the McDonnell XP-67 so often praised for its unusual design was “excruciatingly difficult to fly.”
This book is dotted with fun trivia and little-known facts. Did you know Armand Deperdussin was a cabaret singer before he headed his ill-fated aircraft company? That “Tiny Bubbles” singer Don Ho flew KC-97 tankers? That the Royal Australian Air Force briefly flew P-39 Airacobras? That the intense noise and vibrations from the XF-84H’s turboprop engine induced vomiting in ground crew?
Along with Dorr’s sometimes pungent observations – for example, “The C-123 arguably had more talent than any other participant in the Nicholas Cage movie Con Air (1997)” – you’ll get those of pilots, crewmembers, and engineers. These quotes from those most intimately connected with the aircraft are worth reams of statistics. From an A-5 Vigilante pilot: “This airplane was a real badass.” A Douglas XA2D-1 Skyshark program engineer: “It was a dog.” An engineer describing the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin: “Scary.” A TBF/TBM Avenger pilot: “Tough as a tin can.” Then there are the aircraft nicknames, like Porky, Buddha, Stringbag, Brisfit, Cockroach, Whale, Hopeless Diamond, Bone, Bomb, Ford, FRED, Grizzly, Drut, and White Rocket, to name just a few.
Unfortunately, while Dorr clearly knows his subject, he is sometimes let down by typographical errors as well as errors with the photos. The entry on the P-40, for example, is illustrated with an image of a BT-13 trainer; the Focke Wulf FW-190 has a Nieuport 11 photo with just an inset of the actual FW-190; the P-39 entry features a color photo of a P-38 Lightning. While the all-color format and high-quality glossy paper are appreciated, it’s clear that the book might have benefited more from an editor and a designer with knowledge of aviation subjects. Despite these faults, 365 Aircraft You Must Fly is well worth the investment, especially as a gift for a budding aviation enthusiast or aspiring pilot.