BOOK REVIEW By J. DOUGLAS HINTON, For General Aviation News
It’s not often you can pick up an autobiography or biography and get right into the action. You usually have to suffer through two or three tedious chapters telling where the person was born, raised, went to school, what sports they played, who their friends were, on and on ad infinitum. Not with “The Wrong Stuff, Flying on the Edge of Disaster,” by Cdr. John Moore, USN Ret.
The book opens with a young Naval Aviator sitting in his Panther jet on the aircraft carrier “Essex” during the Korean conflict. A crippled Banshee fighter botches the trap, heads straight for and smashes into the Panther, exploding on impact and sending then-Lt. Moore, severely burned, over the side into the Pacific. But following his rescue and a long convalescence, he signed up for a second tour in Korea and went back into action.
The book title may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, as few would imagine that fighter pilots and test pilots — which Moore later became — would be anything but blessed with the Right Stuff. But even with these superbly trained professionals, screw-ups are inevitable from pilot error, equipment or design failures.
Moore became a Naval Aviator near the end of World War II, too late to see any combat. Anecdotal stories about his flight training are side-splitters.
He then flew Bearcats (a widow-maker, in his opinion) off carriers, including a Mediterranean cruise, until Korea came along. That’s when he converted to jets and headed for action in the Pacific. Descriptions of his first combat mission and later sorties are graphically detailed, some grim, some hilarious.
Interestingly, Moon-walker Neil Armstrong was in his squadron, in his flight and had several crashes of his own.
Following Korea, Moore was sent to the Navy test pilot school at Patuxent River, Maryland, where he was assigned to the Flexdeck Program, which included landing wheels up on a rubber deck. He also test flew and was nearly killed twice in the RA-5C Vigilante, but counts as an achievement his Mach 2 test run with famous pilot Jackie Cochrane on board.
Leaving the Navy in 1957, he joined North American Aviation as a test pilot, then later was involved with the Apollo program as manager of test operations. He was present at the tragedy of the Apollo fire killing three astronauts. As Moore points out in the book, “I was attending too many funerals.”
He left North American in 1970, went into private business and was elected mayor of Cocoa Beach, Florida, in 1975. He also had an unsuccessful run for Congress.
This book is a definite page-turner. Well and tightly written, with plenty of great pictures, Moore’s accounts of combat and test flying are gripping, yet throughout he brings his own dry humor into narratives that had me laughing aloud.
Any aviator, particularly ex-military, will consider this tome a keeper.
Published by Specialty Press, the book sells for $19.95. It is available online and in brick and mortar stores.
For more information: SpecialtyPress.com