The best books on female pilots

Who am I?

Clare Mulley is the award-winning author of three books re-examining the history of the First and Second World War through the lives of remarkable women. The Woman Who Saved the Children, about child rights pioneer Eglantyne Jebb, won the Daily Mail Biographers' Club Prize and is now under option. Polish-born Second World War special agent Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, is the subject of the Spy Who Loved, a book that led to Clare being decorated with Poland’s national honour, the Bene Merito. Clare's third book, The Women Who Flew for Hitler, long-listed for the Historical Writers Association prize, tells the extraordinary story of Nazi Germany’s only two female test pilots, whose choices and actions put them on opposite sides of history. Clare reviews for the Telegraph, Spectator, and History Today. A popular public speaker, she has given a TEDx talk at Stormont, and recent TV includes news appearances for the BBC, Sky, and Channel 5 as well as various Second World War history series.

I wrote...

The Women Who Flew for Hitler: A True Story of Soaring Ambition and Searing Rivalry

By Clare Mulley,

Book cover of The Women Who Flew for Hitler: A True Story of Soaring Ambition and Searing Rivalry

What is my book about?

The Women Who Flew For Hitler tells the extraordinary story of the only two women to serve Nazi Germany as test pilots, both of whom received the Iron Cross, yet who ended their lives on opposite sides of history. Brilliant pilot Hanna Reitsch was the world’s first woman to fly a helicopter, and later tested rocket planes and even a manned version of a prototype cruise missile - the V1 flying bomb or doodlebug. A fanatical Nazi, in the last days of the war she begged Hitler to let her fly him to safety from his Berlin bunker. Her nemesis, Melitta von Stauffenberg, an exceptional aeronautical engineer and test pilot for the Stuka dive bombers that were synonymous with the Blitzkrieg, was secretly part Jewish. In July 1944 Melitta was at the heart of the most famous attempt on Hitler's life, the Valkyrie bomb plot.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Spitfire Girl: One of the World's Greatest Female Ata Ferry Pilots Tells Her Story

Why did I love this book?

There are several fascinating memoirs by ATA pilots including those by Diana Barnato Walker and the fittingly named Nancy Bird, but I was lucky enough to know Mary Ellis so her words speak most directly to me. A life recounted in sensible tones, reading this book it is easy to imagine you are settled into an armchair across from Mary, while at the same time realising that she would be much more comfortable in the cockpit of a Spitfire. By the end of the war she had delivered 400 Spitfires and flown 72 different types of aircraft. ‘Who needs love’, Ellis wrote, ‘when there is the ultimate thrill of speed, the sky, and the orgasmic experience of piloting the best fighter aircraft in the world?’ Enough said.

By Mary Ellis, Melody Foreman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Spitfire Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We visualise dashing and daring young men as the epitome of the pilots of the Second World War, yet amongst that elite corps was one person who flew no less than 400 Spitfires and seventy-six different types of aircraft and that person was Mary Wilkins.

Her story is one of the most remarkable and endearing of the war, as this young woman, serving as a ferry pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary, transported aircraft for the RAF, including fast fighter planes and huge four-engine bombers. On one occasion Mary delivered a Wellington bomber to an airfield, and as she climbed…

Book cover of Spitfire Women Of World War II

Why did I love this book?

A highly readable history of the courageous female ‘ferry pilots' of the ATA who came from all over the world to help the Allied cause, vividly told through numerous interviews woven together. When first published, this book really helped to put female pilots back in to the Allied wartime story where they so firmly belong.

By Giles Whittell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Spitfire Women Of World War II as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story of the unsung heroines who flew the newest, fastest, aeroplanes in World War II - mostly in southern England where the RAF was desperately short of pilots.

Why would the well-bred daughter of a New England factory-owner brave the U-boat blockades of the North Atlantic in the bitter winter of 1941? What made a South African diamond heiress give up her life of house parties and London balls to spend the war in a freezing barracks on the Solent? And why did young Margaret Frost start lying to her father during the Battle of Britain?

They - and…

Book cover of Defending the Motherland: The Soviet Women Who Fought Hitler''s Aces

Why did I love this book?

This is a gripping history of the Soviet female fighter, bomber and night bomber squadron pilots told through their interwoven biographies. These were the women who fought and died in the skies above Stalingrad and Kursk, and whose skills, as well as courage, astounded and terrified the Luftwaffe. Although invited to train and serve alongside their male comrades, the women were of course given uniforms and equipment designed for men, plenty of hostility, and a place, for those who survived, only at the back of the victory parades.

By Lyuba Vinogradova,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Defending the Motherland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Plucked from every background and led by an NKVD Major, the new recruits who boarded a train in Moscow on October 16, 1941, to go to war had much in common with millions of others across the world. What made the members of the 586th Fighter Regiment, the 587th Heavy-Bomber Regiment, and the 588th Regiment of light night-bombers unique was their gender: the Soviet Union was creating the first all-female active combat units in modern history.

Drawing on original interviews with surviving airwomen, Lyuba Vinogradova weaves together the untold stories of the female Soviet fighter pilots of the Second World…

Book cover of Last Flight - Amelia Earhart's Flying Adventures

Why did I love this book?

There are several good biographies of Earhart by Mary S. Lovell and others, but worth also looking at is this compilation of the letters, diary entries and charts that Earhart sent back to her husband, bringing a striking immediacy to her final flight.

By Amelia Earhart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Last Flight - Amelia Earhart's Flying Adventures as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Amelia Earhart was twice the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air: initially in 1928 as a passenger just a year after Lindbergh's pioneering flight and then in 1932 flying solo. Like her contemporaries Amy Johnson and Beryl Markham she was featured in all the fashionable magazines of the day as a symbol of the new independent woman. The list of records Amelia established reads like a catalogue of aviation history and includes the first flights from Hawaii to California and from California to Mexico. In 1937 she attempted with a copilot, Frederick J. Noonan, to fly around the…

Book cover of Women Who Fly: Goddesses, Witches, Mystics, and Other Airborne Females

Why did I love this book?

This is a left-of-field choice, but when thinking about female fliers it is worth remembering the cultural baggage they inevitably carry with them. Historically, female flight whether by broom, wing, mental transcendence or in the cockpit of a Spitfire, has threatened the patriarchy while liberating women. Even today, ‘flighty’ women are still considered in negative terms. This book explores the power and prejudice around aerial females.

By Serenity Young,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women Who Fly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the asparas of Hindu myth to the swan maidens of European fairy tales, tales of flying women-some with wings, others with clouds, rainbows, floating scarves, or flying horses-reveal both fascination with and ambivalence about female power and sexuality. In Women Who Fly, Serinity Young examines the motif of flying women as it appears in a wide variety of cultures and historical periods, expressed in legends, myths, rituals, sacred narratives, and
artistic productions. She covers a wide range of themes, including supernatural women, like the Valkyries, who transport men to immortality; winged goddesses like Iris and the Greek goddess Nike;…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in pilots, women, and the Soviet Union?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about pilots, women, and the Soviet Union.

Pilots Explore 39 books about pilots
Women Explore 501 books about women
The Soviet Union Explore 282 books about the Soviet Union

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Low Tide, The Russian's Pride, and Merciless Charity if you like this list.