Solo: My Adventures in the Air
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When Clyde Edgerton was four years old, his mother took him to a local airport to see the airplanes. Eighteen years later, she would take him to the same airport to catch a plane to Texas for Air Force pilot training. She’d been his first passenger when he got his aviator’s license. She’d supported his decision to join the Air Force. All the same, she wished he’d kept up his piano lessons instead.
But Truma Edgerton’s only son had fallen in love with flying, and had fallen hard. His plan was to pilot the newest, sleekest, fastest aircraft available. The first time he soloed in a jet, he felt “a strange pride and power.” By then, the only access to the cockpits of fighter jets was via the war in Vietnam. So he spent a year flying combat reconnaissance over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and he won the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Back at home, he took up another passion—writing. By and by, he bought himself his own airplane, a Piper Super Cruiser that he named Annabelle. Now, thirty years after Vietnam, Clyde Edgerton looks back at his youthful passion for flying, at the joy he took in mastering it, at the exhilaration—and lingering anguish—of combat flight.
Solo is a story told with empathy and humor—and with searing honesty that will resonate with every pilot who remembers the first take off, the first landing, the first solo. For those of us who always choose the window seat, it’s a thrilling story to experience vicariously.
else could life be about? In New Orleans we checked into our naval air station barracks, and after dinner, Captain Dunning told me we were going downtown. So I got dressed and we caught a cab for Basin Street. Captain Dunning served as tour guide, but after about fifteen minutes of touring, he said, “Let’s go in here.” It was a strip joint. Captain Dunning was not at all obnoxious about his religion. He generally kept it to himself. But a kind of saintly attitude seemed to define him. He
if lead’s tail end suddenly fishtailed a little bit (accomplished with rudder pedals), we knew to move into “route” formation, that is, loose formation. At that time we could quickly look inside our own aircraft to check fuel remaining, engine temperature, and so forth, and then look back at lead (though number four always looks at number three, who relays messages from lead when necessary). When the pilot of the lead aircraft brought his thumb to his mouth in a drinking motion while the flight
could no longer wear them, I held on to branches of small fir trees while slipping and sliding down hillsides, and sometimes a branch would cut my hand or finger. And my feet: One night, during snowfall, I put my wet boots too close to our campfire to dry out. The soles bubbled up, the boots shrank, and in order to get them on the next morning, I had to cut slits in them. They left blisters. I headed for the officer’s club dining room. (Several days later I’d find out that I had lost twenty
argued with Sergeant Cheek, laughing the whole time. “We can’t leave the room? We can’t go to our own rooms?” “No, sir. Those are my orders.” Jake Brooks had a piece of paper and a pencil. “What’s your name, sergeant?” “Cheek, sir.” “How do you spell that? Is it C-h-e-e-k or C-h-e-a-k?” Sergeant Cheek didn’t see the humor. “Two e’s, sir.” “Can I make a phone call?” asked Johnny. (There was a pay phone in the hall.) “No, sir.” “Wait a minute! We’re allowed one phone call.” “You have to
it, reliving it, owning the experience forever. And he will have been trained, back in the States with friends, in ways that are generally enjoyable. He will have been thoroughly trained to handle most of the situations he confronts. He will work with men who normally think and act as he does. He may win medals, as I did, that proclaim his courage. And while there is no doubt about the bravery of many soldiers, sailors, and airmen under far more trying conditions than I’ve ever faced—especially