Stephen Coonts has been hailed as the best contemporary author writing about flying. In The Cannibal Queen, he turns his storytelling genius to nonfiction with an exultant account of three glorious months in the summer of ‘91 spent in the cockpit of a 1942 Stearman vintage biplane. Joining the ranks of John Steinbeck and Charles Kuralt, Coonts takes us on an extraordinary adventure, touching down in all forty-eight of the continental United States.
On a clear, sunny Saturday in June, Coonts and his fourteen-year-old son David take off from Boulder, Colorado, in a 1942 Stearman open cockpit biplane, “a noisy forty-nine-year-old wood and canvas crate with a naked floozy painted on the side.”
The Queen started life as a World War II primary trainer then spent over thirty years as an agricultural spray plane before being lovingly restored. For Coonts, who’s logged thousands of hours in the Navy’s most sophisticated aircraft, the Queen is flying as he’s never known it before—flying close the earth, the wind teasing his helmet, equipped with little more than a map and a compass.
First stop is a Stearman fly-in in St. Francis, Kansas. there amid the barbecues and barber-shop quartets, the tree lined streets with their modest homes, Coonts feels nostalgia for small-town America, for a way of life he felt was dying. Yet, by the end of the journey, having met the friendly, richly individual people in towns large and small across the land, he knows our nation has weathered her first two hundred years remarkably well, and he is filled with hope for the future of this vast and varied land.
First published in 1992, The Cannibal Queen was Coonts’ first venture into nonfiction and is hailed today as a classic flying story. Coonts captures the joy and wonder of flight on every page. Over half the fan mail he has received through the years has been about this book. You owe it to yourself to go flying with Stephen Coonts.