Fate is the Hunter: A Pilot’s Memoir

A masterpiece of writing, taking you not only inside the cockpits of the early days of airlines and transports, but also inside the mind and heart of the author. I think every pilot has read or at least heard of Ernest Gann’s masterpiece, Fate is the Hunter. Gann was born…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
31 Jan 2024

A masterpiece of writing, taking you not only inside the cockpits of the early days of airlines and transports, but also inside the mind and heart of the author.

I think every pilot has read or at least heard of Ernest Gann’s masterpiece, Fate is the Hunter. Gann was born in 1910 and flew during the early days of the airlines in the 1930’s and 1940’s. 

His book, Fate is the Hunter, takes you through his initial days flying DC-2’s and DC-3’s for American Airlines, and then on through flying transports, flights over the North Atlantic, in South America, and over “The Hump” during WWII. He recounts almost crashing into the Taj Mahal on takeoff, hunting for a downed plane in the Canadian wilderness, and flights across the Pacific to Hawaii.

Throughout it all, his writing is so descriptive and colorful you will likely find yourself re-reading paragraphs, just to savor once more the picture he is painting. His ability to pull you into the story can’t be put into words, it must be experienced.

Open the book up to any random page and you will be rewarded with a treat. Let me give you some examples, just opening up to random pages.

In writing about flying in South America, he says:

“Our only concern was the en-route weather and the winds we might encounter. No reports on this were available because, as the Dutchman explained, “The reports would have to come from the monkeys. And why not?”

He adds in another place, “I left my soggy dumpling of a bed and stepped out onto the balcony of the hotel in Corumba where I could look toward the west and the wilderness which now separated us from the Andes. And again I saw those ponderous upheavals, ass easily as if they had actually been apparent. The bleak, ghastly, end-of-the-world light brought them over the jungle as in a mirage.”

Or, describing flying “on the step” he says:

” Thus, “on the step” we will add better than ten knots to our air speed and also satisfy our sensual appreciation of flight. A mushing airplane, regardless of its speed, becomes a miserable contraption to any dedicated pilot. He absorbs this unhappiness through the seat of his pants.”

He names off friend after friend, who he describes as better pilots than himself, who lost their lives while flying. He describes events that he cannot explain how he lived through them except due to series of coincidences, thus leading to the name of the book, Fate is the Hunter.

There is no audio book available, you’re going to have to pick up and read this one, but you won’t regret it. Even if you are not a pilot, you will come away with a new appreciation for those who pioneered the early days of commercial aviation, and maybe a little insight into the human psyche of those who ply the skies.

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