As the ground war struggled for success in Vietnam, it became intensely clear that the skies had to be owned by the allies for victory to have a chance. It was the F-4 and its pilots that made that possible. The author, a Phantom pilot himself, details intense stories of undaunted and valiant American pilots with their legendary fierce Phantom. These are personal stories of intrepid courage and self-sacrifice to get the mission done - whatever the cost. Fierce, unflinching battles to save friendlies and destroy a ruthless enemy are all recorded 40 years later. True tales of war at 500 knots!
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I loved the material. As a 26 year Air Force veteran who's known a lot of fighter pilots, I enjoyed the "there I was" stories. Kirk's firsthand familiarity with the subject shows, and he does a great job of putting you in the cockpits and minds of the aircrews. His storytelling style is warm and familiar to people like myself who have heard friends share stories over beer and finger foods. One of the anecdotes that I chuckled at most was the one that related the challenges of flying an out-of-rig F-4 across the Pacific, having to fight the jet the whole way by keeping constant pressure on the stick to hold it level because they didn't want to admit to the problem and be stuck somewhere on the way home...maintainers who've noted how often jets fly "Code 1" on redeployment sorties understand this kind of thing. At one point during an air refueling, the pilot made an unexpected stick movement during an air refueling and the boom operator complained. Not wanting to admit to the ongoing struggle with his flight controls, the pilot apologized and said "I was just scratching my nose." That's when I started chuckling...it's the kind of tongue-in-cheek, downplaying comment a fighter pilot would make, but he wouldn't say "nose" -- I know a "mixed company" edit of a "there I was" story when I hear one. Things like that drew me closer to the author.
Dick Hill's narration, however, was somewhat off-putting from my personal perspective. Hill is a very talented and accomplished narrator, but fighter pilots have a particular way of using the language in terms of tone, inflections, mannerisms, etc. and cockpit communication is a style all its own. When they push the mic button, it's calm, precise, and almost robotic, even in stressful situations. When you've spent two and a half decades hearing the real thing, Hill's dramatization seems exaggerated and it creates a sense of auditory vertigo. The words are fighter pilot words, but the voice being used isn't even close to fighter pilot...it's like what Hollywood thinks fighter pilots sound like. So to my biased and overly-sensitive ear, Hill tended to sound somewhere between J. Peterman and the Skipper from the Madagascar Penguins. Most people would think I'm being picky, but it's like a veteran watching a war movie and latching onto the crush of a cap, position of a piece of gear, way a firearm is handled, or how someone says "good morning." It took a bit to get used to, but I let go of my biases and enjoyed the book. If Hill read cockpit communication as it is typically delivered in the real world, it would've been more accurate but far less entertaining for most people.
Overall, the book isn't Faulkner, nor is it intended to be. It's a collection of stories to pay tribute to F-4 pilots, and as such it's solid entertainment for anyone interested in the military or aviation history. It's appeal is in its unvarnished frankness and familiarity.
Mr. Hill's narration is terrible! I don't understand why he felt all of his character's voices needed to resemble some John Wayne wannabe, particularly during radio calls. The book itself was decent...not in any way spectacular. Definitely ficticious. You say Kirk was a phlyer of the phabulous phantom? He might wanna consult with others when putting together a book.