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BOOK REVIEWS

Flying North, South, East and West: Arctic to the Sahara, by Terry Reece. iUniverse, Inc. 2007.
Available at Amazon.com
Official website: FlyingNorth.com
Review by Barbara Peterson

Terry Reece has been a pilot practically his entire life, from his first lesson as a teenager in 1958 given by his cousin after some seat-of-the-pants education, which resulted in a crash landing to flying cargo in Alaska, Africa and the Middle East from the 1960s through the 1990s, to running his own bush pilot business in Alaska.

In Flying North, South, East and West, Reece tells the story of his life in the air in a series of anecdotes and reminiscences. These are not dry, technical tales the reader feels as if he's not reading, but rather relaxing in a bar or a hunting lodge, with a cheerful blaze in a fireplace, listening over a beer as Reece recounts the various events with humor and enthusiasm.

Reece had a connection with both the wilderness and the air since the very beginning.

...Tony, the true professional that he was with five hours of flying time, decided that he would make the takeoff from the cow pasture. We sat for a moment at the end of the field, engine purring.

Smells that would be with me the rest of my life entered my body through every open pore as the sweat began to pour out. I had not thought about being scared. Now a slight gnawing in my gut felt like it had turned into a big hairball. Tony waited until the white and black cattle halfway down the field disbursed to the side, then moved the throttle against the panel. The little Luscombe's engine belched smoke, coughed, then caught and slowly moved forward. Tony yelled as we picked up speed over lumps of cow flop scattered across the field. The tail on the Luscombe slowly rose, then the aircraft leaped into the air, and we were flying.

We banked over the Sauk River that twisted below us and shrank in size as we winged skyward. Freedom! How to describe with words the expansion of your world from twenty square miles of "the only dang place to live," to awareness, but not yet understanding, of limitless horizons; not only of earthly vistas, but of finding out about yourself. Here was the first hint of possibilities outside one's known world.

Reece goes to college, and works as a logger, before getting married and moving to Alaska with his new bride to carve out a career in aviation. He arrives in Alaska in the early 1960s, just as the state is being opened up to oil exploration, and eventually gets a job flying cargo with Interior Airways (later Alaska International Air), which flourished during the building of the Alaska Pipeline.

It's all here - the hardships of living in the frozen north, when the winter temperature was regularly several degrees below zero, learning to fly various types of aircraft on the spur of the moment, dealing with passengers as well as freight, working with a company which will go from a small, family-run business to an impersonal corporation, from a company that flies throughout Alaska to one that flies around the world.

"Flaps?" Robert's voice asked the question on the checklist.

"Takeoff, set," I replied.

"Pilot briefing?" Robert asked.

"The runway appears to be clear of camels," I retorted.

"Takeoff checklist complete," Spaulding, the flight engineer, called out.

I advanced the four power levers. The cockpit wa stifling as we roared down the sand runway at Port Sudan. Even with the engine air bleeds off to get every drop of power out of the engines, the Herc lumbered down the strip, slowly gaining momentum. The 150,000 pounds of aircraft reached its max velocity as the last third of the runway, shimmering in hundred-degree heat, slowly came torward us.

Behind the straining aircraft, the massive dust storm wecreated engulfed the town, borne by the fifteen knots of wind we counted on for out takeoff salvation. A flicker as the airspeed moved upward, the rate of increase seemingly tied directly to the remaining distance to the end of the runway. I quit glancing at the airspeed and concentrated on the fast-approaching end of the strip. I flexed my arm, the feel of the elevator heavy and sluggish as I pulled the nose off the ground... Across the stark coastal hills we sped towards Khartoum.

Reece's anecdotes of his flights all over the world are also a kind of history of Alaska International Air, which in order to keep its head above water took on flying cargo to Africa and the Middle East, and when this business fell by the wayside withdrawing back into Alaska, changing its name to MarkAir and turning into a passenger airline.

In thirty one chapters, Reece shares one anecdote or several about his adventures, both on the air and on the ground, from his first pilot lesson, to his time spent as a logger before college, to his first job at Interior Airways, to his retirement decades later.

There's a few hilarious stories of the many times Reece had to eat "humble pie," in particular the bad luck he'd had with three surveyors whom he'd been instructed to fly out to a remote site. That flight hadn't gone well, and, Alaska being as small, people-wise, as it is large as a country, he kept running into these three guys, with amusing results.

There are a few sad stories, as men he'd known for many years died in accidents in the wilderness that is Alaska, and a few poignant ones, such as his last hunting expedition with his father, and the day his daughter soloed for the first time.

If you're a commercial pilot -- flying a regularly scheduled passenger service, perhaps, you're sure to have longed to have changed places, for just a while, with the cargo jockeys you met on your own travels, with their tales of the opening of Alaska's frontier. You'll be immersed in that world in Terry's book, and enjoy every minute of the read.

So will any pilot, and anybody who loves aviation and adventure.

As an aside, it must be said that the photo reproductions in the book (and there are several photos) is not the best. However, the photos are also reproduced on his website (flyingnorth.com) and look wonderful there. There's also several bonus photos there that don't appear in the book.

I recommend this book highly.

.

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