Facing a terminal illness, an aviator reflects on his time above and below the clouds.
Long before he ever stepped into a cockpit, McCartney seemed destined to fly. As a boy, the kitchen table was his airplane, and he watched World War II bombers train near the family farm in Arkansas. So it was fitting that he became a professional pilot who crisscrossed the country for almost 50 years. Co-written with his sister Angela, this hefty memoir actually tells two tales. One covers the ups and downs of McCartney’s career, from Air Force-maintenance crew chief to check airman with America West Airlines and beyond. The other recounts McCartney’s battle with pancreatic cancer. The book sometimes gets overcrowded with details, and the authors’ distinct voices don’t always harmonize, but what it lacks in literary finesse it makes up in storytelling. McCartney spins yarns of nearly being arrested for smuggling in Mexico while flying for Pan American Sulphur and having an unfortunate encounter with Lady Bird Johnson. With professional precision, he describes the dangerous aspects of flight—engine failures, bomb threats and crashes that claimed the lives of colleagues. While very much a dying man’s reminiscence, the book also deserves credit for revealing how an airline is far more complicated than merely flying passengers from here to there. McCartney helped improve safety and secure better working conditions for pilots through his work as a union negotiator. McCartney Miro contributes the heartrending final section as doctors give her brother just months to live. She dutifully records his cancer treatments and her own quest to understand the disease, capturing the family’s anxiety as they confronted the loss of a loved one. McCartney eventually came to terms with his own mortality: “I look forward to the next great adventure when I see what God has planned for me.”
A ride alongside a master flier with a cool head and sly sense of humor who, even facing death, refused to be grounded by circumstance.