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.

The books I picked & why

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

By Mary Ellis, Melody Foreman,

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

Why 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.


Spitfire Women Of World War II

By Giles Whittell,

Book cover of Spitfire Women Of World War II

Why 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.


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

By Lyuba Vinogradova,

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

Why 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.


Last Flight - Amelia Earhart's Flying Adventures

By Amelia Earhart,

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

Why 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.


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

By Serenity Young,

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

Why 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in pilots, women, and the Soviet Union?

5,888 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 31 books about pilots
Women Explore 346 books about women
The Soviet Union Explore 226 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.