Eagle Profile

Author, filmmaker, artist, seafarer, adventurer, rancher, conservationist … all aptly describe Ernest K. Gann, but first and foremost, he is an aviator! He has flown everything from World War I aircraft to the U-2 and F-15, and brought his deep love of flight to the written page and silver screen. Born on the Nebraska plains in 1910, a barnstormer in an open cockpit Jenny introduced Gann to the thrills of flight. “I never fully recovered,” he says, but early successes with film making put him on a very different road.

After attending Culver Military Academy and later Yale University School of Fine Arts, he eventually found work on New York’s Broadway and at Radio City Music Hall. Later, a chance encounter landed him a job with “The March of Time,” a documentary film company associated with TIME magazine. In 1936, while working on the feature “Inside Nazi Germany,” Gann narrowly escaped Hitler’s advancing troops as they marched into the Rhineland. Returning to New York, he moved to a new home where the lure of a local airport rekindled his interest in aviation. Earning a pilot’s license, he spent free time aloft until the Depression ended his career in motion pictures. He took his family to California, worked odd jobs at Burbank Airport, and began to write short stories, but soon returned to New York, and, in 1938, began to fly the DC-2 and DC-3 for American Airlines.

When World War II broke out, Captain Gann was contracted to Air Transport Command delivering aircraft to bases in Europe, South America, and over the “Hump” to China. Notes and short stories scribbled down during long layovers on his pioneering flights across the North Atlantic became the source of his first serious fiction, Island in the Sky. Inspired by an Arctic rescue mission, it became an immediate best-seller as was, Blaze of Noon, a story of early air mail operations.

After the war, Gann left American Airlines, when it discontinued international flying. His adventures with a new company, flying the Pacific to Honolulu, spawned ideas that were developed into one of his best works, Fate is the Hunter. The High and the Mighty followed and was not only a number one best-seller, but also, as a movie, was nominated for several Academy Awards.

Although many of his 21 best-selling novels show Gann’s devotion to flying, several works, including Song of the Sirens, Twilight for the Gods , and Fiddler’s Green, reflect his love of the sea. His versatility resulted in the spectacular television mini-series Masada, based on The Antagonists.

Years Honored:


1991 Lithograph

Lithograph Setting(s):

No other author in this century, the "Age of Flight," has captured the many faces of flying as well as Ernest K. Gann. From his first boyhood experience in an open cockpit World War I biplane to the hermetically sealed cockpit of a U-2, nothing equals the freedom and satisfaction that a pilot experiences in an aircraft such as Gann's Bucker Jungmann. Twisting, turning, dancing among the clouds with the wind is his hair, this renaissance man of the earth's water and air oceans lives life to the fullest and has let us share it for all time.