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On Heroic Wings: Stories of the Distinguished Flying Cross

by Barry A. Lanman and Laura M. Wendling, Distinguished Flying Cross Society, San Diego, Calif., 2012, $39.95 plus shipping and handling (

“I look at the line of pilots who have received the DFC and it’s humbling to [be] part of that group,” writes Lt. Col. Kim “Killer Chick”Campbell, an A-10A Thunderbolt II pilot who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bringing her badly shot-up “Hog” back to base during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Her words appear on the dust jacket of this beautiful book.

Whether dive-bombing rebels in Nicaragua in 1927 or hoisting hurricane victims from floodwaters in New Orleans in 2005, American airmen have received the Distinguished Flying Cross for feats in many kinds of flying machines. Now the DFC Society has produced a spectacular coffee-table volume about pilots and aircrew members who’ve earned the award in airplanes, helicopters, dirigibles and space capsules during war and peace.

Congress created the DFC in 1926— thanks to the single-handed efforts of explorer, aviator and politician Senator Hiram Bingham III of Connecticut—with a goal of honoring exceptional deeds of airmanship. Not surprisingly, among the early recipients of the award were the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and other aerial pioneers.

Congress soon modified the criteria to focus on actions involving heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. The DFC became primarily a military decoration. It has been awarded for air action in all the nation’s major wars and for civilian achievements in the cockpit during natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. No one knows exactly how many DFCs have been awarded. There is no central database of awards; each military service branch keeps its own records. This volume is an attempt to put the achievements of DFC holders on record.

Former TBF Avenger torpedo-bomber pilot George H.W. Bush and Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell, both of whom are DFC recipients, contributed introductory passages to this collection. Authors Lanman and Wendling, oral history experts who acknowledge not being aviation buffs, provide 32 lengthy accounts and 180 vignettes of DFC exploits, illustrated by 311 photos, many in color. The illustrations are all thoughtfully chosen, whether it’s a Navy PB4Y-1 Liberator over the Pacific in 1944 or an Air Force F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter bombing Baghdad in 1991. A nitpicker might point out that aerial weaponry is called ordnance, not ordinance, or that the armistice ending the Great War was signed in 1918, not 1919—but such pesky typos are few and far between.


Originally published in the July 2012 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.