3 out of 4 stars
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If you have ever wondered what it feels like to be a fighter pilot in combat, this book will appal and fascinate you in equal measure. Lynn High always dreamed of becoming a combat jet pilot and he was able to fulfil his childhood dream during the Vietnam War. This book recounts the author's experiences as he learns to fly and is trained as a combat pilot. We follow Lynn on two rounds of duty in Vietnam where he is awarded several medals in recognition of his outstanding bravery.
Combat Jet Pilot by Lynn High offers many interesting insights into the life of a fighter pilot. I was intrigued to learn about the G-suit that pilots wear to help them manage high speeds without passing out. I was also surprised by how close pilots can fly during formation, sometimes with only three feet of clearance. In particular, I was incredibly impressed by the sang-froid shown by the author when faced with emergencies such as low fuel. On one occasion, he managed to land alongside a fellow pilot on the tiniest of runway strips and was so low on fuel that both pilots had to land in tandem, using only the noses of their planes to adjust their speeds and avoid collision.
This is not an easy book to read if you feel ambivalent about war. I make no judgement of the author as his heroism floored me at times. To face a missile flying towards your cockpit is bad enough, but the author's descriptions of flying in low at night to rescue soldiers who are under attack from enemy fire are terrifying. As a result, I swallowed my response to the occasional false note struck by the use of language such as the word 'fun' to describe gunnery. The author recognises that his fighter pilot personality can arouse sensitivities; he recalls his family's reaction to receiving a postcard of him posing alongside his armed jet.
There are some incredibly moving moments. When the author attends a celebration for receiving yet another award for bravery, he encounters a former soldier whose life he had saved during one of his more dangerous night sorties in theatre. As the two men break down in tears, I confess that I did too.
That said, I only rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. The writing is not the best; it feels a little too much like a personal diary and there are times when random anecdotes appear as if they had previously been forgotten. There are also quite a few grammatical errors.
One of the biggest surprises for me was the realisation that this book was written by the author as a septuagenarian. I had pictured a young man telling his story and I strongly suspect that Lynn High remains a young man in spirit.
Combat Jet Pilot
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