The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh and the Epic Age of Flight

Winston Groom

Overview: The Aviators is an outstanding, relatively detailed, and easily read biography of possibly the three most well-known and greatest American military and civilian aviators outside of the Wright Brothers, Edward “Eddie” Rickenbacker, James “Jimmy” Doolittle, and Charles Lindbergh. Ironically, all of them lived, learned to fly, served in the US, and served the American civilian aviation industry at approximately the same time. All are considered, in some way, founding fathers of American military and civilian aviation who accomplished some of the greatest achievements of both spheres spanning from World War I to the 1960s. All three were successful and skillful aviators who accomplished numerous individual as well as group successes, demonstrating “genius, daring, and uncommon courage.” The greatest contributions of all three came through improvements and advances in aviation doctrine, safety, aircraft design and performance, and military or corporate leadership as well as actual combat in World War I (Rickenbacker) and World War II (all three). All three toured pre–World War II Europe, often serving as informal intelligence agents who examined British, French, and German military aviation capabilities. All three received Medals of Honor for their aviation achievements. Perhaps, the greatest “achievement” of Rickenbacker, Doolittle, and Lindbergh was the inspiration they all gave to Americans and others throughout the world that man could seemingly achieve the impossible.

Groom interweaves the lives of these American aviators, starting with Rickenbacker and then Doolittle and Lindbergh. He then intersperses Rickenbacker’s accomplishments with those of Doolittle and Lindbergh over time. From time to time, we even see how their professional lives brought them together at significant points in their lives, such as the trial of Billy Mitchell, the Baker Board, and other events leading to World War II. Chapter 1 is a general introduction to the book that recounts the extreme dangers of aviation in the first several decades of the 1900s. Chapters Two, Five, Eight and Twelve tell the story of Eddie Rickenbacker. Chapters Three, Seven, and Eleven tell the story of Jimmy Doolittle. Chapters Four, Six, Nine, Ten, and Thirteen tell the story of Charles Lindbergh. Chapter Fourteen completes the story of all three aviators and provides some general summary comments.

Although the lives of Rickenbacker, Doolittle, and Lindbergh differ in the details, they have many general parallels. Thus, we first should see how each one developed the characteristics which came to define them as they became involved in the budding and dangerous world of early aviation through the post-World War period.