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Born to Fly: The Heroic Story of Downed U.S. Navy Pilot Lt.Shane Osborn

Born to Fly: The Heroic Story of Downed U.S. Navy Pilot Lt.Shane Osborn

4.2 5
by Shane Osborn, Malcolm McConnell, Michael French (Adapted by)

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From the age of three, Shane Osborn dreamed of being a pilot. He began learning the skills he would need to fly as a member of the Civil Air Patrol, a branch of the U.S. Air Force, when he was just twelve years old. But it wasn’t until he graduated from the naval ROTC program at the University of Nebraska and joined the navy that his dream became a reality.


From the age of three, Shane Osborn dreamed of being a pilot. He began learning the skills he would need to fly as a member of the Civil Air Patrol, a branch of the U.S. Air Force, when he was just twelve years old. But it wasn’t until he graduated from the naval ROTC program at the University of Nebraska and joined the navy that his dream became a reality. For five years, Osborn practiced rigorous training exercises, working tirelessly day in and day out until he advanced from navy pilot to mission commander.

All Lt. Osborn’s flying skills were put to the test when a Chinese F-8 II fighter jet collided with his EP-3E ARIES II plane during a U.S. surveillance mission through international airspace. The impact severely damaged Osborn’s aircraft, sending it plummeting toward the ocean. With almost certain disaster looming, Osborn managed to gain control of the crippled plane and land it safely on the Chinese island of Hainan—saving the lives of his twenty-three crewmates.

In Born to Fly, Shane Osborn describes these terrifying events in vivid detail, along with the years of dedicated training that made the emergency landing possible. This is the inspirational story of a boy with a dream, and of the extraordinary discipline and courage that made him a hero.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A fascinating story of endurance, courage, and patriotism. . . . A good choice for anyone considering a career in the military and for fans of true-adventure survival stories.”—School Library Journal

“With high standards, a positive attitude, and a strong work ethic, Osborn is an inspiring role model who aimed high and overcame adversity through self–discipline and respect. . . . [His] humble, matter-of-fact narrative will appeal to young men and women interested in aviation, the military, and current events. . . . The technical and military explanations and the detailed description of the midair crisis . . . will help social studies, physics, and math teachers discuss relationships among knowledge, judgment, and character.”—VOYA
Children's Literature
Shane Osborn realizes at a young age that he wants to fly. A positive attitude and dogged determination help him overcome a number of serious obstacles including a near-fatal car accident and the divorce of his parents. "That early determination would be put to plenty of tests in the years to come, but my dream never changed." This biographical nonfiction story about U.S. Navy Pilot Lt. Shane Osborn highlights the many strong character traits that eventually lead him to an act of heroism in the eyes of the world. Black-and-white photos provide an important link with Osborn's early life and subsequent career. While recommended for young people interested in pursuing an aviation career in the Navy, there is a caveat to reading this adaptation. Initial chapters tend to be weighed down with choppy details and troublesome transitions. This slows reading progress until the actual encounter and subsequent collision with a Chinese F-8 II fighter while on a U.S. surveillance mission through international airspace. "A harsh, abrasive chattering filled the cockpit. . . . The unimaginable had happened. The pilot had just smashed his plane into ours." The story picks up speed at this point to focus attention on Osborn's extraordinary discipline and courage. His exceptional skills and rugged training help him land his crippled plane saving the lives of all crewmates. With classroom discussion, this book can be a springboard for understanding the value of endurance, self-discipline, patriotism and a strong work ethic. 2003, Dell Yearling/Random House, Ages 10 to 14.
— Francine Thomas
Shane Osborn's dream to be a pilot began back in Loomis, South Dakota where he spent endless hours with a neighbor, Lyle Brewer, who owned a Piper Cub airplane and used the fields surrounding his property as a landing strip. An auto accident when Osborn was a teenager threatened his ability to receive a coveted appointment to Annapolis and thus to become a US Navy pilot. Readers obtain a glimpse of Osborn's family life and how separation, divorce, and economic necessity influenced his goal pursuit. This has been adapted for YA audiences from an adult book. The sentence structure is definitely appropriate for YA readers and this biography would be a great tool to encourage nonfiction reading for reluctant readers as well. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Random House, Dell Yearling, 183p. illus., Ages 12 to 15.
—Tom Adamich

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.64(h) x 0.49(d)
Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt


1 April 2001, 0430 Hours

I stood on the handstand, staring up at the big gray-and-white airplane. The wings and four turboprop engines of the EP-3E ARIES II reconnaissance aircraft were outlined sharply in the portable floodlights the maintenance people had used in the night to prepare for today's mission. But above the lights, the cold predawn darkness was full of stars. After several days of thunderstorms, during which we'd had to scrub one mission, it looked like we were going to have a perfect day to fly.

By the traditions of the Naval Aviation, the final walk-around inspection of the plane was the responsibility of the Aircraft Commander. I took this task very seriously, even though third pilot Lieutenant Junior Grade Jeffrey Vignery and flight engineer Senior Chief Nick Mellos had already conducted their rigorous walk-around inspections while I had been getting my pre-mission briefing from the intelligence people supporting Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron VQ-1.

As I ran my hand across the fiberglass skin of the forward weather radome in the nose, Senior Chief Mellos emerged from the shadows. He'd been smoking an old sailor's "hot butt" safely away from the fueled aircraft.
"Hey Senior," I kidded him, "getting in the last precious hit of nicotine?"

"Roger that, sir," he said, returning my grin. "Never know where the next one's coming from."

With his shaved head and graying mustache, Senior Mellos looked like a middle-aged pirate. But his green Navy flight suit covered muscular shoulders and a barrel chest. He'd been in the Navy for twenty-eight years, most of that time flying on one variant or another of the P-3 Orion maritime patrol plane. That was two more years than I'd been alive. Back at VQ-1's home base at Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, Washington, Senior Mellos and I rode our Harleys on off-duty hours. On overseas departments, we partied with the rest of the crew. But on missions, our relationship was strictly professional. It was also based on mutual respect. I relied heavily on Senior Mellos's long experience as a flight engineer to keep me up to speed on the condition of airborne emergency. So when he pronounced this aircraft a solid airplane, with only minor maintenance problems, I felt certain we could make our takeoff time.

We flew our planes hard in VQ-1. Even though we were based along Puget Sound, our operational work was overseas. At any given time, the squadron had planes and crews detached—on "Dets"—in the Western Pacific, in Bahrain flying missions along the Arabian Gulf or over Kuwait for Operation Southern Watch, which enforced the no-fly zone in Iraq, or conducting counternarcotic surveillance in South America. I had flown from all those sites since joining VQ-1 in April 1999. But this Det to the Far East, which had begun in early March, was my first as a mission commander, a job that required the flying skills of an Electronic Warfare Aircraft Commander (EWAC) with the in-depth knowledge of the squadron's complex surveillance mission.

Using my flashlight, I inspected the nose wheel for tire wear and the shock-absorbing gear strut for leaking hydraulic fluid. I walked under the left wing and repeated the process with the main landing gear on that side, then peered up inside the dark wheel to check the pressures in the two engine fire extinguisher bottles. Next, I stepped forward and reached up to grab the red-striped tips of the heavy gray alloy propeller blades of the number one and number two engines, checking for obvious nicks or wobble. The four big Allison engines could each produce 4,600 shaft horsepower. It was essential the props were smooth and perfectly balanced or their runaway vibration could damage the aircraft.

The Big Look radar dome, a bloated gray doughnut beneath the plane's forward belly that we called the "M&M," and a narrower canoe-shaped antenna cover farther aft, were both solidly attached. Smaller antenna mounts beneath the wings near the tail were also intact and undamaged. All told, the EP-3E bulged and bristled with sensor pods, disrupting the original airframe's streamlined exterior and producing a lumpy appearance that some aviators found ugly. But I've never seen a bad-looking airplane.

This array of external equipment revealed the plane and the squadron's mission: The acronym ARIES II stood for Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic Systems II. EP-3E's were one of America's most capable platforms for collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT). With our sensitive receivers and antennas we could look over the horizon from international airspace in support of the ships and aircraft of the Fleet to pinpoint a wide range of radar and radio emissions. This was required to develop an accurate picture of what's been called the "electronic order of battle," which might include the electromagnetic activity of surface-to-air or surface-to-surface missile systems. We also were capable of providing direct real time tactical electronic reconnaissance during combat operations to our fighters and strike aircraft so that they could better avoid threats and locate targets.

To conduct this mission successfully, the EP-3E had a crew of twenty-four, the largest of any U.S. military aircraft. Because our missions routinely last over ten hours, we carried three pilots and two flight engineers. On this Det, I was both EWAC and Mission Commander. The second pilot, or 2-P, was Lieutenant Patrick Honeck, with Jeff Vignery, the 3-P, flying his first Det to the Western Pacific. Senior Chief Nick Mellos, with over 8,000 flying hours, was one of the most veteran flight engineers in the Navy, but the other FE, Petty Officer Second Class Wendy Westbrook, was a cool hand a fast study. I knew from experience I could trust her in the seat between the two pilots. Our navigator was Lieutenant Junior Grade Regina Kauffman, who had not yet officially qualified for her position.

The "guys in the back" were the electronic warfare operators (EWOPS), cryptologic technicians, reconnaissance equipment specialists, and the special operators supervised by special evaluator Lieutenant Marcia Sonon. Lieutenant Junior Grade Johnny Comerford, the senior evaluator (SEVAL), had overall responsibility for these reconnaissance personnel. In total, eighteen people worked at in-line computerized consoles set along the sides of the cabin, the long, narrow "tube" that was broken up by the head (toilet), the small galley and its cramped booth that looked like something out of a 1950's diner, and a stacked pair of curtained bunks for the off-duty pilot and FE who could grab some sleep on long missions.

Adequate rest was actually a critical safety factor for our flight crews. Once the reconnaissance crew had checked out their sensors after takeoff, they could lean back in their seats and nod off on the long, slow cruise to our reconnaissance track. But even on autopilot, two pilots and one FE had to stay awake and alert for hours on end because we flew Visual Flight Rules-Due Regard, which meant that unlike civilian airliners, we had to rely on ourselves, not on ground controllers, for our safe separation from other aircraft.

I climbed the folding ladder to the main cabin entrance on the portside aft, and Senior Mellos secured the hatch. Now I was engulfed in the familiar scent of the airplane: warm electronics, a slight whiff of jet exhaust from the Auxiliary Power Unit in the nose, and hot coffee in the insulated mugs some of the crew carried on board. A few of the people looked sleepy. Today had been a "three-for-five", and 0300 for an 0500 takeoff, which meant most of us had gotten up at two, rushed through the shower, and managed to grab a quick breakfast in our rooms before heading off for separate briefings depending on our specialities.

Now we had all reassembled in the cabin so that I could give the final "planeside" brief. Even though we'd all been through this together as a crew a dozen times on this Det alone, I again reviewed the procedures for ground and air emergencies, which might include the need to bail out or ditch the plane at sea. On entering the cabin, the crew members had taken a grease pencil and printed their names on their position line of the plastic ditching placard on the head door. Each line marked the number and storage rack of that position's parachute. Also stowed aboard the aircraft were our SV-2's, a one-piece combination survival vest-Life Preserver Unit (LPU), and custom-fitted flight helmets. We all carried our own Nomex fir-resistant aviator gloves.

I completed briefing the ditching procedures by pointing to the two big life rafts stowed in the orange rubber soft packs near each over-wing emergency exit hatch. Now Johnny Comerford, the SEVAL, briefed the crew on bailout procedures. He was the jump master who would supervise the distribution of parachutes, make sure everyone was lined up correctly, holding the overhead grab rail, and then see them out the hatch of the main cabin door at one-second intervals.

We could all practically recite these instructions by rote, but this was a U.S. Navy aircraft on a demanding mission, and we followed the book in everything we did. In our case , that book was the Naval Air-Training and Operational Procedures Standardization (NATOPS). Everything the flight crew did aboard the EP-3E was covered in that black three-hole binder thick with checklists, schematics of instrument layouts, and wiring diagrams.

After Johnny had reviewed bailout procedure, I briefed the crew on the weather.

"It looks like good weather en route to the track orbit and back to Kadena. Excellent visibility and no reported turbulence at our assigned altitudes. Briefed mission time is just over nine hours today."

We were headed down the coast of Asia to the South China Sea. Once on track, we would fly our reconnaissance track in international air space south of China's Hainan Island and north of the Philippines. Our squadron had been flying such missions in this area in one kind o aircraft or another for decades. Signals intelligence planes from a number of countries, including China, fly similar reconnaissance missions. With the increased military dependency on sophisticated radars and data links, airborne SIGINT forms a vital part of a military commander's resources. So we were not overly apprehensive about the mission, even though someone had joked that it was April Fool's Day.

Meet the Author

Lieutenant Shane Osborn was born in South Dakota in 1974 and was raised in Nebraska, where he attended the University of Nebraska on a Naval ROTC scholarship. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism and extraordinary achievement in flight. He lives in Anacortes, Washington.

Malcolm McConnell has written extensively on military aviation.

Michael French is the author of several books for young adults.

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Born to Fly: The Heroic Story of Downed U. S. Navy Pilot Lt. Shane Osborn 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tens of thousands of feet in the air, your plane is spiraling towards the earth.  Out of control, you know you will only have one chance to save it and the 23 other people aboard.  You jump into the pilots seat and begin issuing orders.  These true events all take place in the book Born to Fly by Shane Osborne, a truly edifying book.  It begins with Osborne in the passenger seat of a Piper J-3 Cub, an experience which sparked a lifetime of flying.  He joined every aviation related group he could as a child, eventually culminating with him enrolling in the Air Force.  After months of intense training he finally qualifies to be a pilot for an advanced surveillance aircraft.  Then, on a routine mission over China, a mid-air collision sends his craft hurtling into an uncontrolled dive.  All these events are communicated through a serious yet humorous tone in a story dripping with excitement.  The conversational style Osborne uses manages to engage and entertain the reader throughout the gripping tale of dedication and perseverance.  I really enjoyed this book.  I recommend it to anyone with an interest in aviation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the book was great and i loved it just i thought it went into deatails to much
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an outstanding book for anyone who enjoyes reading anything. Shane Osborne is a navy pilot who has always excelled at everything he has done. His ambition in life has always been to be a pilot for the US navy, but Shane must face grulling challenges through out his hole life, but nothing compares to his stay in China. This book is wonderful for anyone who likes to sit down and read a book. If you like true stories this book is a must.
Guest More than 1 year ago
nice book