Passable anecdotal history of aviators, along with a sincere but flat account of the author's fragile relationship with his pilot dad. As a child, rookie book-writer Rawlings, son of a TWA pilot, adored flying and his dad, but grew up alienated from them both. Recently, though, he began to yearn to do some piloting and set out to explore the world of aviators--and of his dad--by talking with dozens of pilots, including his dad. Here, he shapes his findings into a loose private and public history, beginning--after a brief recap of boyhood as a pilot's son--with the wing-and-a-prayer memories of Clarence Mulholland, whose first piloting license was signed by Orville Wright himself. These teeth-clenching tales of "contact flying"--by visual contact alone--segue into appealing yarns of later generations of pilots, including one man's tale of pilot-training an arrogant Howard Hughes. Chapters on fighter-piloting (the WW II crash over enemy territory of Rawlings' dad gets big play here), on the charged relationships between stewardesses and pilots and pilots and co-pilots, and on the pilots' code break up the histories--as does a look at high-tech in aviation centered around an account of sitting in at a flight simulator. It's aviation's worship of high-tech that gives Rawlings' book its bittersweet air and title: "Airline pilots," he writes, "are changing from airmen to airborne computer operators." Still, the romance of flying remains, and at book's end he's about to go up with his dad and, for the first time, take the stick and fly. The plethora of flying lore should interest aviation buffs; but the son-father probings here are of no general interest, and the overall pedestrian prose and approach keep this strictly earthbound.