For those of us who love to fly, “Fate Is The Hunter” by Ernest K. Gann gives us an insight into the early days of commercial aviation. While he did not start out to fly for the airlines, the Great Depression and circumstances combined with his love for flying led him to join American Airlines and claim 267 – his number in the seniority list at American. Written in the first person, Mr. Gann details his career flying Douglas DC-2 and DC-3 aircraft and describing the many difficulties and dangers encountered by pilots in the early days of commercial aviation. I like the way the author not provides us with details about his experiences, but how he describes the feelings he had about them as well. As a DC-3 type rated pilot myself, I readily identify with some of the things Mr. Gann encountered as he learned his trade flying the DC-3. Long before modern navigation and radar control centers around the country pilots had to rely upon their experience, aeronautical knowledge and instincts to keep them (and their passengers) safe. Early on in this book Mr. Gann tells us “My hands freeze on the control wheel. In the blackness ahead there is a sudden and hideous apparition; the mass no more than a thickening of the night, but it supports a green wing-tip light and, just below it, two flickering tongues of engine exhaust flame.” In the blink of an eye disaster is averted as two aircraft pass perilously close in the night. Modesty becomes the cloak worn by line pilots as the author tells us that “It would be inconceivable for a line pilot to approach his fellows at the end of a flight and announce that he had just executed a complicated holding pattern without a moment’s delay, flown an exact instrument approach, and topped it off with a perfect landing. Instead he would say “Well, I barged around for a while not knowing where I was, as usual, and when I final got the clearance through my head, I managed to locate the range station. Of course, I still have a lot to learn about an ILS approach …’” Sound familiar? If you are a pilot, you understand. But the story gets much better. As the Second World War starts many airline pilots were called upon to serve the military flying aircraft in what would later become the Air Transport Command. This led Gann to flying all over the world, requiring training in navigation and learning to operate aircraft beyond their limits in hostile environments. Throughout the book we learn of the tragic end of many crews, and towards the end of the book Gann observes that aircraft accident investigations often led to “the official verdict was ‘Pilot error’, but since their passengers, who were innocent of the controls, also failed to survive, it seemed that fate was the hunter. As it had been and would be.” For me the book was like a brush stroke filling in a part of aviation of which I had scant knowledge, and reinforced my belief in flying airplanes as a passion and a danger, both at the same time. If you like to fly, love aviation and want to understand the early days of aviation, then “Fate Is The Hunter” is a must read! Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 ps: Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter "All Things Aviation" here!
by John M. White • • 1 comment