Naval aviator and novelist
The first of novelist Stephen Coonts’ 17 New York Times bestsellers is Flight of the Intruder, published in 1986 and made into a movie in 1991 (he has written 21 books to date). It is based on his experiences as an A-6 Intruder pilot during the Vietnam War. He served on two combat cruises on the USS Enterprise, accumulated 1,600 hours in the A-6, and earned a Distinguished Flying Cross. His most recent book is Pirate Alley, which is being published in May 2013.
GETTING STARTED… I had my first instruction in 1968 at the United States Navy facility in Pensacola, Florida. I was a brand-new ensign. I was on my own, having a really big adventure.
EARLY CHALLENGES… Naval flight training was intense; a mental, physical, and emotional grind. It’s a dirty, dangerous business that requires your absolute best all the time and even then that might not be enough. In the 15 months it took me to get my wings, 13 flight students were killed. And, of course, combat was waiting for us: Vietnam.
HARDEST LESSONS… Instrument flying was my personal nemesis. Landing and taking off from an aircraft carrier makes naval aviation unique. I have yet to meet a naval aviator who can’t tell you all about his first arrested carrier landing in exquisite, boring detail.
AVIATION ACTIVITY…I love flying. Every aspect. Being around airplanes; the smell of jet exhaust; watching airplanes take off, fly, land, taxi, sit on the ramp. The challenge and sheer joy of flight. I love all of it.
FAVORITE AIRPLANE…I love everything that will get off the ground. Number one has to be the A-6 Intruder. I don’t know where I would be without that airplane.
ADVICE FOR STUDENTS…If you don’t love flying, don’t waste your time with it. Try to make as many landings as you do takeoffs.
WHO: Stephen Coonts
HOURS: 5,500 hours
EXTRA: “My aviation dreams have always been bigger than my pocketbook. I’ve had a 1942 Stearman, Cessna 421B, a T310R, a T-210, V-tail Bonanza, a Cessna 182, a 170, a Piper Cub, Pacer, Husky on floats, and a Breezy [shown]. Believe me, they were all fun.”