Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Review: Viper Pilot by Dan Hampton

Longtime blog readers may have noticed I haven't reviewed a book on here in a long time - over 2 1/2 years, to be precise. I just don't have the time to read nearly as much as I'd like to. So I very much enjoyed being able to plow through Viper Pilot: A Memoir of Air Combat by Dan Hampton last month. To cut straight to the point... it's an awesome, compelling read.

Lt. Col. Hampton flew F-16s in the US Air Force for 20 years. He saw combat in both Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a member of the infamous Wild Weasels, it was his job to fly in first, attract the enemy's attention, avoid getting shot down, and destroy their air defense systems. The book covers his entire career in gripping detail - from initial training through deployments to, finally, retirement.

Perhaps the strongest praise I can bestow is also the most general - and that is that I absolutely love Lt. Col. Hampton's style of writing. It was detailed, wonderfully so, to the point that I maintained a constant mental picture as I read. I pictured myself in the cockpit of his F-16 and could envision the SAMs streaking up into the sky from the drab desert terrain. Yet it was also so well-explained and nuanced that you were never confused by what you were reading. He perfectly threads the fine line between legible-to-the-layman and total-fighter-pilot-speak.

The stories themselves are great, full of detail and accurate, true-to-form dialogue. Which is to say all the language is decidedly not PG. But it shouldn't be. It reads just like the words you'd expect to hear coming out of a fighter pilot's mouth. I loved it. A brief sample...

"The problem with a hole in the clouds was that everything on the ground that could shoot was generally aimed up through the hole. Waiting. Waiting for some fighter pilot with more balls than brains to try and sneak down through it. A sucker.
"Everyone in Baghdad was awake now and looking up at the two American fighter jets who were insane enough to come down low over their capital city and basically flip the bird to every SAM and anti-aircraft gun on the ground. I think it really pissed them off. 
"Down...down...down. The fighter was shuddering from the speed and the weight of the cluster bombs under my wings. Five hundred and twenty knots now... 600 miles per hour. What a way to spend a birthday. Today I was thirty-nine, and I'd really rather be on a beach with a pitcher of margaritas."

Beyond the words themselves, every story is very well-formed and completely engrossing. From simple training exercises to losing an engine (the only engine, mind you) on takeoff to the throes of near-death combat, every one drew me in to the point that I couldn't put the book down until the end of the chapter. And then I still wanted to keep reading.

If you enjoy military aviation or just like a good ol' flying story... then I think this is a great book for you. The writing is detailed, biting, hilarious at times, and altogether excellent. It's a perfect match for the amazing stories that come from twenty years' experience in the cockpit of an F-16. If you're looking for an entertaining, captivating read I highly recommend Viper Pilot.

Rating: 5/5 Cubs

Full disclosure - I was contacted by the publisher last summer and was offered a free review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.

If you decide to purchase this book based upon my review, I would appreciate if you do so by clicking on one of the Amazon links in this post. It really helps support the blog. Thanks! -Steve


  1. Thanks for posting. I'm always looking for an aviation related book to read.

    1. Yup, it really was an enjoyable read. I only seem to read on commercial flights... so the recent trip to Sweden gave me plenty of time to knock a couple books off the shelf!

  2. FYI ... ordered the book for a July 4th read based on your 5-cubs rating AND the Amazon preview. (was upset when page 7 was missing ... just when it was getting good. ;-)

    1. Wouldn't be a proper preview if it didn't leave you wanting to read more, now would it? :-p

      Glad you enjoyed the review. Hope you like the book too!