Facing a last-minute book idea emergency? If you are ready to scramble, here are some gift ideas for aviation geeks.

A Complete History of US Combat Aircraft Fly-Off Competitions | Erik Simonsen

Specialty Press | ISBN: 978-1-58007-227-4

While ‘what if’ military aviation books are often great fun, they almost inevitably disappoint because of lack of technical accuracy and realistic illustrations. However as Simonsen proves in his latest publication, these pitfalls have been avoided through meticulous research, thorough understanding and – above all – excellently lifelike illustrations.

These are created by the author using a technique which integrates 3D models and actual aircraft with aerial photography backgrounds mostly snapped, no doubt, out of airliner windows.

Together with a mesmerizing collection of archive photography and detailed text, Simonsen uses many of his unique images to tell the story of 10 U.S. military aircraft competitions spanning from the birth of the jet age to today’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. 

Sub-titled “Winners, Losers, and What Might Have Been,” the book is a fitting follow-on to Simonsen’s “Project Terminated” and makes for fascinating reading.


SR-71 Flight Manual – The Official Pilot’s Handbook | Commentary by Richard. H. Graham

Quarto Publishing Group | ISBN: 978-0-7603-5174-1

As dauntingly thick and heavy as a telephone directory, this declassified and expanded facsimile of the Lockheed SR-71 flight manual puts you right in the cockpit of the legendary Mach 3 Blackbird. 

Fascinatingly detailed, the reconnaissance aircraft’s manual is brought to life by a well-illustrated commentary written by veteran Blackbird pilot Col. Richard Graham. 

Containing anecdotes about operational missions as well as descriptions of the many advanced systems and features of the supersonic spyplane, the commentary itself could justifiably stand as a book in its own right.

Because of the SR-71’s remarkable operating characteristics and with a speed and altitude performance still unmatched to this day, the flight manual is packed with intriguing detail.

Guidance is given to the crew on everything from dealing with an engine ‘unstart’ to general handling, the latter containing some occasional unexpected advice. Intentionally spinning, for example, was prohibited, though a recovery technique – no matter how low the probability of success – was suggested. “However, ejection may be the best course of action because spin recovery has not been demonstrated and is considered extremely unlikely,” it adds.

For anyone really wanting to probe the inner secrets of the fabled Blackbird, this book is highly recommended.


The Projects Of The Skunk Works | Steve Pace with forward by Eric Hehs

Quarto Publishing Group | ISBN 978-0-7603-5032-4

Despite the obvious challenges of attempting to chronicle the achievements of an organization that thrives in secrecy, author Steve Pace has excelled at throwing off the covers and separating fact from fiction over this sometimes murky subject.

This impressively researched book covers around 80 known projects developed by Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs – better known as Skunk Works – all the way from its earliest beginnings in World War 2 to the present day.

Replete with excellent archive photographs, detailed graphics and three-view drawings, the book takes us in eight chapters through almost 75 years of aircraft, weapons, space vehicle, airship and sea going vessel projects conceived by the Skunk Works. 

Particularly fascinating is the chapter dealing with the evolution of the Archangel – Lockheed’s proposed design to succeed the U-2 under Project Gusto.  Archangel produced the A-12 and, ultimately led to the creation of the SR-71.

The era of stealth is nicely recorded from Project Harvey (a Darpa low-observable air vehicle project which ironically the Skunk Works was not selected for) and Have Blue, to Senior Prom (a stealth cruise missile) and Senior Trend and the F-117A.

Later chapters include rare images such as inside Skunk Works’ radar cross section range at Helendale in California, but are increasingly filled with artist impressions as we near the more recent age of mostly classified unmanned, hypersonic and future combat aircraft programs. 

Altogether this is a great read and a cohesive guide to the first seven decades of the Skunk Works.