Vanished Hero: The Life, War and Mysterious Disappearance of America’s WWII Strafing King

Reviews of Vanished Hero: The Life, War and Mysterious Disappearance of America’s WWII Strafing King. Vanished Hero: The Life, War and Mysterious Disappearance of America’s WWII Strafing King (9781612003955): Jay A. Stout: Books. Buy online at Aviation Bookstore.

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A hell-bent-for-leather fighter pilot, Elwyn G. Righetti remains one of the most unknown, yet compelling, colorful and controversial commanders of World War II. Vanished Hero tells the story of this remarkable man and the air war that he and his comrades fought, while examining his possible fate. Arriving late to the war, he led the England-based 55th Fighter Group against the Nazis during the closing months of the fight with a no-holds-barred aggressiveness that transformed the group from a middling organization into a headline-grabbing team that had to make excuses to no one. Indeed, Righetti’s boldness paid off as he quickly achieved ace status and additionally scored more strafing victories―27―than any other Eighth Air Force pilot. However, success came at a high cost in men and machines. Some of Righetti’s pilots resented him as a Johnny-come-lately intent on winning a sack of medals at their expense. But most lauded their spirited new commander and his sledgehammer audacity. Indeed, he made his men most famous for “loco busting,” as they put more than six hundred enemy locomotives out of commission―170 in just two days! Ultimately, Righetti’s calculated recklessness ran full speed into the odds. His aircraft was hit while strafing an enemy airfield only four days before the 55th flew its last mission. Almost farcically aggressive to the end, he coaxed his crippled fighter through one more firing pass before making a successful crash landing. Immediately, he radioed his men that he was fine and asked that they reassure his family. Righetti was never heard from again.

German War Birds (Vintage Aviation Series)

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This book, originally written in 1931 by “Vigilant” (the pen name for Claude Sykes), tells the dramatic tales of air combat as fought by the best German pilots of the First World War. Manfred von Richthofen, Max Immelmann, Oswald Boelcke and other famous daredevil flyers are joined by the lesser-known but equally resourceful colleagues such as Rudolph von Eschwege and Hand Shuz, taking part in furious battles in the sky and close escapes on the ground when brought down on the wrong side of the lines. German War Birds contains some of the earliest information to appear after the war about air combat in the Middle East and Russia, as well as the Western Front, and about the significance of observation balloons as targets that were viciously attacked. The author focuses on the heart of the action and recreates the experiences of the airborne war with immediacy, excitement and a vivid turn of phrase, drawing the reader into events as they happen.

Surprised at Being Alive: An Accidental Helicopter Pilot in Vietnam and Beyond

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Sometimes you do everything right, but it just isn’t your day. A part fails and your helicopter comes apart in flight, or, another aircraft runs into you and the pieces of both fall to the ground below, or the enemy gunner pulls the trigger at just the right moment and his rounds find your aircraft in exactly the right spot to take it out of the sky. Whichever way it happens, it wasn’t your day. Which is why, after 24 years and over 5,000 flight hours with four armed services, Major Robert Curtis was so surprised at being alive when he passed his retirement physical. Starting with enlisting in the Army to fly helicopters during Vietnam, and continuing on through service with the National Guard, Marine Corps and Royal Navy, he flew eight different helicopters―from the wooden-bladed flying he OH-13E, through the Chinook, SeaKnight and SeaKing, in war and peace around the world. During that time over 50 of his friends died in crashes, both in combat and in accidents, but somehow his skill, and not an inconsiderable amount of luck and superstition, saw him through. His flying career began with a misbegotten strategy for beating the draft by enlisting. With the Vietnam War raging full blast in 1968 the draft was inevitable, so he wanted to at least get some small measure of control of his future. Although he had no thought of flying when he walked into the recruiting office, he walked out signed up to be a helicopter pilot. What he did not know was that 43% of all the aircraft sent to Vietnam were destroyed in combat or accidents. Soon he was in the thick of the war, flying Chinooks with the 101st Airborne. After Vietnam he left the Army, but kept flying in the National Guard while going to college. He was accepted at two law schools, but flying is addictive, so he instead enlisted in the USMC to fly some more. Over the next 17 years he would fly around the world off US and British ships from Egypt to Norway and all points in between. His engaging story will be a delight to all aviation enthusiasts.

A Shau Valor: American Combat Operations in the Valley of Death, 1963–1971

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Winner of the Military Writers Society of America's 2017 Gold Medal for History

Finalist, 2016 Army Historical Society Distinguished Writing Award.
Continue reading “A Shau Valor: American Combat Operations in the Valley of Death, 1963–1971”

Gunship Ace: The Wars of Neall Ellis, Helicopter Pilot and Mercenary

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A former South African Air Force pilot who saw action throughout the region from the 1970s on, Neall Ellis is the best-known mercenary combat aviator alive. Apart from flying Alouette helicopter gunships in Angola, he has fought in the Balkan War (for Islamic forces), tried to resuscitate Mobutu’s ailing air force during his final days ruling the Congo, flew Mi-8s for Executive Outcomes, and thereafter an Mi-8 fondly dubbed 'Bokkie' for Colonel Tim Spicer in Sierra Leone. Finally, with a pair of aging Mi-24 Hinds, Ellis ran the Air Wing out of Aberdeen Barracks in the war against Sankoh's vicious RUF rebels. For the past two years, as a “civilian contractor,” Ellis has been flying helicopter support missions in Afghanistan, where, he reckons, he has had more close shaves than in his entire previous four-decades put together. Twice, single-handedly (and without a copilot), he turned the enemy back from the gates of Freetown, effectively preventing the rebels from overrunning Sierra Leone’s capital―once in the middle of the night without the benefit of night vision goggles. Nellis (as his friends call him) was also the first mercenary to work hand-in-glove with British ground and air assets in a modern guerrilla war. In Sierra Leone, Ellis' Mi-24 (“it leaked when it rained”) played a seminal role in rescuing the 11 British soldiers who had been taken hostage by the so-called West Side Boys. He also used his helicopter numerous times to fly SAS personnel on low-level reconnaissance missions into the interior of the diamond-rich country, for the simple reason that no other pilot knew the country―and the enemy―better than he did. Al Venter, the author of War Dog and other acclaimed titles, accompanied Nellis on some of these missions. “Occasionally we returned to base with holes in our fuselage,” Venter recounts, “though once it was self-inflicted: in his enthusiasm during an attack on one of the towns in the interior, a side-gunner onboard swung his heavy machine-gun a bit too wide and hit one of our drop tanks. Had it been full at the time, things might have been different.” The upshot was that over the course of a year of military operations, the two former Soviet helicopters operated for the Sierra Leone Air Wing by Nellis and his boys were patched more often than any other comparable pair of gun ships in Asia, Africa or Latin America. Nellis himself earned a price on his head: some reports spoke of a $1 million reward dead or alive while others doubled it. This book describes the full career of this storied aerial warrior, from the bush and jungles of Africa to the forests of the Balkans and the merciless mountains of today’s Afghanistan. Along the way the reader encounters a multiethnic array of enemies ranging from ideological to cold-blooded to pure evil, as well as well as examples of incredible heroism for hire.