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America from the Air: An Aviator's Story

America from the Air: An Aviator's Story

by Wolfgang Langewiesche

"I am no helmeted, begoggled hero of the skies; picture me bookish, bespectacled, unable to hold even a teacup without rattling it. As a pilot, I am merely an amateur, and I know it.... I shouldn't be talking. But I can't help talking. For you take the air: the thin, substanceless air that can be made to bear a man; you take America; and you take an airplane,


"I am no helmeted, begoggled hero of the skies; picture me bookish, bespectacled, unable to hold even a teacup without rattling it. As a pilot, I am merely an amateur, and I know it.... I shouldn't be talking. But I can't help talking. For you take the air: the thin, substanceless air that can be made to bear a man; you take America; and you take an airplane, which of all the works of man is the nearest to a living being—you take those things and mix them up, and they will act as a drug which will knock all proper reticence right out of you. And so, here I go talking..."—from America from the Air

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh made his historic solo flight across the Atlantic; Amelia Earhart became the first woman to do so in 1932. And so was born the golden age of flying. Aviators became the era's new heroes and the airplane its icon. In early 1930s Chicago, a German-born graduate student became fascinated by the airplane and its usefulness as a great geographic and sociological tool. Wolfgang Langewiesche sold his car and used his meager salary to pay for flying lessons at 25 cents a minute.

With the same passion America had taken to the road a decade earlier, Langewiesche took to the air. He eagerly inhaled the landscape and breathed observations about the country, writing a series of books that describe the heady excitement and freedom of flight and the stunning views of his adopted country from an entirely new vantage point—the sky. This new edited volume revives the writings from two of his now out-of-print books. America from the Air draws from Langewiesche's classic account of his early experiences as a pilot, I'll Take the High Road (first published in 1939 and praised by the New York Times as "a stirring and revealing story, told with sensitiveness and lucidity and with the warmth of a modest personal charm"), and selections from his 1951 memoir, A Flier's World, to create a distinctive book that provides a pioneering look at the American landscape as seen from the cockpit of a light plane. Langewiesche's photographs from his cross-country flights circa 1939 evoke the era.

Wolfgang Langewiesche is revered among pilots for his 1944 flying primer, Stick and Rudder, currently in its seventieth printing. Considered the bible of aviation, it tells us the "how" of flying; America from the Air tells us the "why." Here his descriptions of the country offer unique perspectives on New England, the Midwest, and the Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Key West, at a time before the country was paved over by multilane expressways, suburban tract housing, and strip malls. His bird's-eye view of America takes in small farms, deserted seashores, busy railway lines, and cities in which skyscrapers were still engineering marvels. With the keen eye of a surveyor and an uncommon talent for conveying the physical sensation of flying, he describes landscape in all its beauty and detail as it rolls out beneath him, unveiling its mysteries. Langewiesche is revealed here as an infectiously enthusiastic aviator and an unrivaled observer of the American landscape. In a new foreword, Langewiesche's son, writer William Langewiesche, describes his father's love of the view from above. Hokanson and Kratz's introduction and biography update the reader, incorporating stories gleaned from recent interviews with the author.

Editorial Reviews

Sport Aviation
The heart of the work is in Langewiesche's sensitive, descriptive prose, which will keep readers—both veterans and newcomers—entranced

Reference and Research Book News
[Langewiesche] introduced Americans to their own environment as seen from the air, combining his love for the coasts, farms, and plains of his adopted country with his love for flying slightly over them.

At heart all pilots are romantics. Even if not born as such, they surely become so shortly after the wheels of their first trainer leave the runway. First there is the exhilarating sensation of smooth lift, and then even the dreariest suburban tract suddenly opens out in exquisite miniature detail as enchantingly beautiful as the most pristine natural landscape. If there is a difference between today's world and the more innocent 1930s, it is only that most modern pilots hesitate actually to write a book about their love affair with the sky. Earlier airmen like Guy Murchie and Saint-Exupery had no hesitation about flinging open the airman's world to all. Fortunately, Wolfgang Langewiesche was an airman and author cast from the same mold, and this book tells of his own romances with America and its skies. An amateur barnstormer, a WW II fighter pilot, and a test pilot, Langewiesche was also one of those who realized that the very soul of his country could only be appreciated from the perspective of a slow and low-flying Piper Cub. This book, like his classic Stick and Rudder, tells of his reminiscences of that singular world that lies not far above the treetops. The book reads like a series of really good hangar tales, told by the old eagles who have flown everywhere and done everything—and who have had everything happen to them. Langewiesche is not as poetic as some of the older writers, but his stories have freshness and a pleasing openness that will appeal to all who love airplanes and flying. A selection of the aerial photos he took over the years shows just what he means. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, andadults. 1951, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 209p. illus., Ages 15 to adult.
—Raymond Puffer

Product Details

Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
American Land Classics
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.56(d)

What People are Saying About This

Bob Buck

Here Wolfgang Langeweische, master of aviation writing, reminds us of flying's wonders: learning, seeing, feeling and the joys that are still there, despite today's complications. A book for all pilots to read.

Peirce Lewis

A joyous, wonderful book. Beginning with his own visceral passion for flying, Wolfgang Langewiesche leads the lay reader effortlessly into the arcane world of the pilot—first as he learns to fly, then as he learns to look. The writing is unobtrusively elegant, and the book is a page-turner of the first order. Langewiesche looks at flying in all sorts of ways: as a skill, painfully to be learned on the antique crates of the post-Wright Brothers years, as an art to be mastered, as an experience in psychology and emotion—and as a new way of looking at the earth.

Meet the Author

Wolfgang Langewiesche (1907-2002) was born in Düsseldorf in 1907 and emigrated to the United States in 1929 after studying at the London School of Economics. He earned a master's degree in economics from Columbia University and proceeded to the University of Chicago as a doctoral candidate and research assistant in political science. He worked as a test pilot as well as a writer and editor, contributing to numerous publications including Life and the Saturday Evening Post. Drake Hokanson is an author, photographer, pilot, and assistant professor of mass communications at Winona State University. Carol Kratz is an author, editor, pilot, educator, and physician assistant. William Langewiesche is a national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and the author of four books, including American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center.

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