Hangar Flying. By General Merrill A. McPeak. Lake Oswego, Ore.: Lost Wingman Press, 2012. Photographs. Tables. Notes. Appendix.. Index. Pp. 364. $24.95 ISBN: 978-0-9833160-1-5
With the first book of an intended autobiographical trilogy, McPeak becomes the first Air Force Chief of Staff since Curtis LeMay to author or co-author a book regarding his career in the Air Force. This is fitting because Tony McPeak may be the most controversial Air Force Chief of Staff since LeMay. This first book covers his early life and career focusing on his motivations to enter the Air Force, training experiences, flying F-104s, performing with the Thunderbirds, and his combat experiences in Vietnam.
Unlike most pilot memoirs, this book is not about the culture of flying, drinking, driving, and chasing skirts. This is a thinking man's account of what it was like to be a fighter pilot in the early jet age. McPeak often tries to relate his career to larger social, political, and cultural currents swirling around him but largely fails to connect these events in more than a superficial way to what he is actually doing as a junior officer. As a chronicle of Air Force culture during the Cold War, it is valuable. However, the real strength of the book is the insight it provides into the mindset and thinking of McPeak as a senior Air Force leader. As he recounts his early experiences, one can see direct correlations to the many changes he engineered as Chief of Staff in the 1990s.
It is telling that his time with the Thunderbirds takes more pages than his time in combat. This experience, more than any other, served as the touchstone for his career. Unlike many other pilots who pen memoirs, McPeak was not as motivated to fly early in life. He came from extreme circumstances as a child, literally earned every break he got in life, became an accomplished collegiate debater, and entered the Air Force for what he believed would be a brief sojourn. However, his desire to master the craft of flying (as he describes it) set him on the professional fighter pilot path. His descriptions of how flying training worked and how it influenced him set him apart once more from the standard stereotypical accounts and elevate his analysis. These early chapters, through his presentation of life in the Cold War Air Force...