FIGHTER PILOTS by Kelly Rollins


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From a USAF combat pilot and fighter commander who saw action in Germany, Korea, and Vietnam: a thoughtful, sensitive, effectively autobiographical novel narrated by college dropout John Copley, whom we first meet in a P-51 Mustang about to enter a dogfight with the Luftwaffe. Swiftly, then, it's 1947, the Army Air Force is dismantled, new planes being sold for junk, and Copley is at Williams Field, Arizona, now a regular officer and getting jet upgrading. . . until Korea hits; after training in advanced jets, he's off to Seoul. Combat is rain, no visibility, hours locked into a cockpit on instruments (""Well, this is really glamorous, being a hypnotized clam. . .""). Logging 100 missions, he comes home to become a flight commander at last, training young pilots. . . while friends die in battle. Next duty is France with NATO (where Copley is joined by wife and son)--then Germany, Libya, a desk job at the Pentagon (where he learns to be cynical about a pork-barreling Congress and Air Force requirements), and a tour at Armed Forces Staff College (necessary for promotion). So finally, when Vietnam erupts, Copley is given a tactical command in Thailand, assigning missions over North Vietnam (himself flying over 40)--with one emergency flight home, for his father's funeral, which leads to a slight case of marital infidelity. Linear, episodic material--and first-novelist Rollins has given it none of the dramatic shape or depth needed for fully satisfying fiction. But his combat scenes are admirably gritty; the military camaraderie and personal strains (from family tensions or the deaths of comrades) are well-sketched; and those interested in the realities of Air Force life will find enough non-fiction values here to compensate for the storytelling minuses.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown