Books on the History of Flight

Purdue University Press has a fascinating collection of books on the history of flight, from the writings of eight early women aviators to stories on the lives of notable Hoosier pilots. Read through the list below, or check out the rest of our books on flight & space.

In Their Own Words: Forgotten Women Pilots of Early Aviation

by Fred Erisman

Amelia Earhart’s prominence in American aviation during the 1930s obscures a crucial point: she was but one of a closely knit community of women pilots. In Their Own Words takes up the writings of eight early women pilots—Harriet Quimby, Ruth Law, sisters Katherine and Marjorie Stinson, Amelia Earhart, Louise Thaden, Ruth Nichols, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh—as evidence of the ties between the growth of American aviation and the changing role of women.

Their writings confront issues relating to the developing technology and possibilities of aviation, the importance of assimilating aviation into daily life, and detail the part that women might—and should—play in advancing aviation. These writings also talk about how aviation may enhance women’s participation in contemporary American society.


British Imperial Air Power: The Royal Air Forces and the Defense of Australia and New Zealand Between the World Wars

by Alex M. Spencer

British Imperial Air Power examines the air defense of Australia and New Zealand during the interwar period. It also demonstrates the difficulty of applying new military aviation technology to the defense of the global Empire and provides insight into the nature of the political relationship between the Pacific Dominions and Britain.


IN THEIR OWN WORDS is out on January 15, 2020.


Cheerio and Best Wishes: Letters from a World War II Hoosier Pilot

by Ralph H. Schneck and Donald R. Schneck

Cheerio and Best Wishes is told entirely through letters written by a young Hoosier pilot to his family and friends during service in World War II. One hundred thirty-eight letters are presented in the book, curated by his family and recently rediscovered by his son, along with carefully created photograph albums.

The letters and pictures in this book offer a comprehensive story of how US airmen were prepared and trained for war, and detail the daily experience of a bomber pilot flying missions over Germany.


Flying the Beam: Navigating the Early US Airmail Airways, 1917–1941

by Henry R. Lehrer

The systems, regulations, and technologies of civil aviation that we use today are the product of decades of experimentation and political negotiation, much of it connected to the development of the airmail as the first commercially sustainable use of airplanes.

Flying the Beam draws on period documents, pilot memoirs, and firsthand investigation of surviving material remains to trace the development of aeronautical navigation of the US airmail airways from 1917 to 1941. From the lighted airways of the 1920s through the radio navigation system in place by the time of World War II, this book explores the conceptualization and ultimate construction of the initial US airways systems.


BRITISH IMPERIAL AIR POWER is written by Alex M. Spencer, who curates two collections at the National Air and Space Museum.


“Cap” Cornish, Indiana Pilot: Navigating the Century of Flight

by Ruth Ann Ingraham

“Cap” Cornish, Indiana Pilot tells the story of Clarence “Cap” Cornish, a Hoosier pilot whose life spanned all but five years of the Century of Flight. Dedicating his life to flight and its many ramifications, Cornish helped guide the sensible development of aviation as it grew from infancy to maturity. Through his many personal experiences, the story of flight nationally is played out.

Cornish’s many accomplishments include piloting a “Jenny” aircraft during World War I, serving as chief pilot for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, monitoring and maintaining safe skies above the continental United States during World War II, and directing Indiana’s first Aeronautics Commission. In 1995, at the age of ninety-seven, he was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest actively flying pilot

You can get 30% off all Purdue University Press titles by entering the code PURDUE30 at checkout on our website.