I recently finished reading the book A Hundred Feet Over Hell written by war correspondent Jim Hooper. It’s a good read that I recommend for the well-told flying stories and the history of these pilots. The book is recollections told by a handful of pilots who flew single-engine O-1 Cessnas (formerly designated the L-19 Birddog) over the battlefields of Vietnam in the mid-60s directing airstrikes and artillery barrages.
The author’s brother was one of those pilots flying low over firefights marking targets with smoke rockets while being shot at and hit by enemy anti-aircraft and small arms. They orbited above the action to coordinate communications with ground forces, helicopter gunships, ground and sea artillery and attack aircraft. It’s the personal story of military pilots, heroic feats in the air and the poignant, hilarious and heartbreaking events of life in a war zone.
Pilots who have flown a fair amount learn that flying is hours of boredom interspersed with a few brief seconds of excitement, near panic, even sheer terror. The Catkillers of 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company spent hours of heart-in-the-throat flying low and slow in the mountains and valleys of the DMZ and surrounding area to identify targets.
I never flew in the military, but I’ve flown everything from J-3s to DC-3s, including a little stick time in a restored O-1, which is basically a Cessna 170 with a true joystick and a Cessna 180 engine on it. I was shot at and missed twice while flying low and slow aeromagnetic surveys. My Supercub wasn’t much less bullet resistant than an O-1. It was terrifying—and I earned much better wages than the Catkillers.
A Hundred Feet Over Hell is available on the author’s website at http://www.jimhooper.co.uk/ where you can read reviews of this and other books Jim has written about his experiences as a war correspondent and photojournalist.
Take a look, and buy the book. You won’t regret it.