Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book #57

Viper Pilot, by Dan Hampton. Hardcover.
While serving in the USAF, Lt. Col. Dan Hampton flew over 150 combat missions, earning himself multiple Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Purple Heart, among other honors. Known as "Two Dogs," Hampton was a top F-16 aviator. This is his memoir of his time in the service.

Hampton writes a little about his upbringing, and touches on his father's career as a flyer. He then moves quickly into his own Air Force pilot training, and we see exactly why so many trainees wash out of the intense program. Much of Hampton's active flying career took place in the Middle East, receiving an injury in the Khobar Towers attack and flying in the 1991 liberation of Kuwait. He returned to the area in 2003, fighting in Iraq. The chapter "Sandstorm" details a few of his missions over Baghdad, showing the reader how difficult it is to fight in desert conditions.

Hampton was in the US in September 2001, and the chapter on his responsibilities the days after 9/11 was riveting. He captures the fear and uncertainty that was abroad in the land in those first few days after the attacks. In addition to detailing his own experience, Hampton also includes some of his own commentary about military and political affairs. He has strong things to say about general officers (that many of them are power-hungry egotists), with Wesley Clark coming in for particularly harsh criticism. He also worries that reliance on drones will weaken the long-term flight capabilities of the military.

The actual writing on display in Viper Pilot is very strong. Hampton is able to mix in enough moments of levity (many at the expense of the French) to ease the tension that is present throughout most of the book. His ability to bring the reader into the cockpit and to give a sense of what it feels like to fly 1,000 miles per hour makes the book very readable. There is a little bit of military jargon thrown into the book, but the glossary in the back is there for readers who may not be familiar with the terminology.

Note: I received this book directly from the publisher in preparation for an interview we conducted with the author on the Book Guys Show. We spoke with the author on episode 056 of the podcast, and he was as interesting to talk to as it was to read his book.

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