How the “Flying Carpet” got its name

Reader Sergio Schaar wrote to ask, “What inspired you to call [your airplane] the Flying Carpet?”

Years have passed since I last explained it, so I thought it appropriate to share my very first Flying Carpet column that tells the story behind the name.

“Magic! The whining of the gyros gave way to mystical drums and rhythmic chanting, crazily mixing images of flight with those of ancient and sacred ceremonies. Chills traveled up and down our spines-we could scarcely have been more astonished if we had arrived by flying carpet.

“Adventurer Richard Halliburton would have appreciated our situation. After hitching ’round the world by freighter and camel in the 1920s, he became obsessed with visiting remote Timbuktu, a legendary mid-Sahara caravan stop. The way to get there, he decided, was by The Flying Carpet, a black-and-crimson Stearman that he bought and shipped to England in 1931.

“With pilot Moye Stephens guiding the Stearman, Halliburton traveled the ancient world to exotic places such as Baghdad, the Dead Sea, headhunter country in Borneo, and, yes, Timbuktu. During the course of his journey he enthralled princes and paupers alike as he took them on their first airplane rides.

“It’s tempting to look back at those times and think we missed the real adventure of flying. Well, we didn’t. Flying was out of reach for all but the wealthiest people in Halliburton’s day, so most people could enjoy flying only vicariously through his writing.

“Today we live exploits that Halliburton’s readers could only dream of — piloting our own flying machines on our own adventures.

“On this particular day, our flying carpet had taken us to a mystical and exotic place in the New World — Window Rock, Arizona, capital of the Navajo Nation, where Jean and I had invited friends to spend the day exploring the annual Navajo Nation Fair…”

Continue reading my first Flying Carpet column, “Ninety Minutes to Another World,” here. (Article takes a moment to load.) This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine, January, 2000 issue.

Read my book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane for more on how Halliburton’s flying adventures inspired the naming of my column and steed.

Top photo: LeRoy Peterson’s black and crimson Stearman biplane, similar in appearance to Richard Halliburton’s Flying Carpet. Lower photo: Miss Navajo Nation at the Navajo Nation Fair, Arizona, as detailed in the column.

Richard Halliburton was a renowned travel writer in the 1920s-30s. Among his most popular works are Richard Halliburton’s Book(s) of Marvels, and The Royal Road to Romance. His lesser-known 1932 book, The Flying Carpet, tells the story of his adventures flying North Africa, Europe, and Asia in a 1929 Stearman biplane.

For more about Richard Halliburton and his “original” Flying Carpet, see “Richard Halliburton and Moye Stephens: Traveling Around the World in the ‘Flying Carpet’” and “Moye Stephens: Aviation Pioneer and Adventurer” at Aviation History magazine.

©2012 Gregory N. Brown


so you want to write a book?

Nearly every week I hear from folks who aspire to author books. My answer to most of them is, “Well, get at it!”

I say “most of them,” because a few say things like, “I just lost my job, so I am going to use my life’s savings to write a book over the next six months and become a successful author.” Well that’s just crazy, because earning a living through any sort of self-directed writing is not a predictable career. But as long as you don’t set unrealistic monetary expectations, there are few activities in life more rewarding than writing. And you might make some money at it despite yourself! That being said, here are a few tips for getting started:

1. Writing a book will consume months if not years of your life, so before starting make sure you have something worthy to write about. To evaluate your book ideas I recommend Wilson Harrell’s “I’ll Be Damned Test.” Write the back jacket copy, which is what sells your book online or in the bookstore; show it to as many people as possible who are not your close friends or relatives, and if 90% don’t say, “Well, I’ll be damned!” the idea is a dog and you should dump it. Great writing is not what initially sells books to publishers or customers – compelling topics do. Great writing, however, helps make your book a lasting success.

2. Once you have a topic, don’t wait for an epiphany to start writing. Few if any writers gush riveting prose directly onto paper. Your first goal is to record the story as thoroughly as possible without regard to style, quality, or even necessarily grammar or spelling. What’s more, don’t worry about starting at the beginning, but rather write the parts that are clearest in your mind first; then go back and write the next easiest and clearest, and so on, until you have recorded the entire story. Once your story is all on paper you can have the pleasure of going back and polishing it into a work of art. But you’ll never be more than a wannabe without first spilling your thoughts onto paper, however rough or crude they may be. Think of your book as a jigsaw puzzle: pour the pieces on the table, associate components of similar color and texture, assemble the edges, and fill in the holes.

3. There are only three reasons to write a book: a) you have a passion for writing; b) you want to share a strongly-held position, body of knowledge or life experience with others; c) you have a proven market associated with an existing profession, avocation, or consulting business.

No one ever regrets writing a book, providing the objective is realistic and your expectations are not limited exclusively to making money. In fact, even if you do make money it may not be in the way you expect. In my own case, it is not my best selling book that has ultimately earned me the most money; but rather one that led to numerous speaking engagements and magazine writing assignments. And a third book has given me the most pleasure.

Perhaps the coolest author I ever met was at a self-publishing meeting. An elderly man, he’d written a several-hundred-page memoir documenting his lifelong adventures as a pleasure sailor. At the meeting he showed us one of his beautifully written and bound initial run of 20 books. After gleefully admiring it, one of our number asked, “How many will you order, now that you’ve seen them?” Without hesitation the man replied, “Oh, I won’t be ordering any more. I just wanted to set down my life’s adventures for my family and a few close friends.” Now there’s a guy writing for all the right reasons — and who among us wouldn’t like to buy a copy?!

©2013 Gregory N. Brown

Featured past column: “Old Pals and N-Numbers”

My cowboy buddy Baldy Ivy phoned the other day to ask if I’d ever seen the 1932 book Flying Carpet, by Richard Halliburton.Those who have read my own book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane may remember that in fact Halliburton’s Stearman inspired the naming of our own steed. I thought you (and Baldy) might enjoy reading my past column, “Old Pals and N-Numbers,” that touches not only on Halliburton’s Stearman, but on the bonds pilots develop with the planes they fly — and the unique “N-number” monikers painted on their sides.

Photo: Cessna 12502 at Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, 1976.

For more about Richard Halliburton and his “original” Flying Carpet, see “Richard Halliburton and Moye Stephens: Traveling Around the World in the ‘Flying Carpet’” and “Moye Stephens: Aviation Pioneer and Adventurer” at Aviation History magazine.

©2013 Gregory N. Brown


“The Endurance,” terrific non-fiction adventure book

a6f0810ae7a0b8a2b705e110.LI’ve just revisited perhaps the most incredible and inspirational true story I’ve ever read. The book is called The Endurance; Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander, and details Ernest Shackleton’s unbelievable ordeal trapped in Antarctic ice with 27 other men from 1914-1916.

After 17 months locked in the ice incommunicado with the rest of the world, and with their ship ultimately crushed by the ice and sunk, Shackelton’s men  journeyed over ice and water in open boats to a barren Antarctic island, following which he and five others sailed a modified lifeboat 800 miles across the notoriously treacherous South Atlantic in dead of winter to a remote whaling station for help.

The text is masterfully composited from diaries of the men onboard, and not only is the story gripping (all 28 men survived!) but the book is profusely illustrated with superb but haunting photographs shot by the expedition photographer — the glass plates were rescued from the sinking ship and soldered into tin containers to be carried along on the long journey to rescue! This is why I’m a non-fiction fan — no one could possibly write a novel more breathtaking or suspenseful than this — and amazingly, it’s all true! ©2009 Gregory N. Brown

Scrivener: valuable writers’ tool

I long ago switched to a terrific and affordable writing program called Scrivener, that hugely eases the challenges of collecting and organizing book scenes, notes, and ideas, and moving them around my manuscripts.

Think of it as a cork board where you can organize and search all your text clips and ideas at will – and then compile them into a Word (or other word-processing) document when you are done.

Ever since downloading the free trial 10 years ago, I have been blown away by how effective, intuitive, and productive it is. I immediately purchased it, imported all of my book projects and have been having a blast making them happen many times faster than what I could do before.

Check out Scrivener if you are a new or seasoned fellow writer. Highly recommended! (Available for Mac, PC, and iPad.)

©2009, 2018 Gregory N. Brown

favorite aviation books

fc-cover-photo-smHere are a few of my favorite aviation books. Let me know when you are ready for more!

Fate is the Hunter, by Ernest Gann. Perhaps the greatest-ever pilot adventure book — as relevant to today’s piloting joys and challenges as when it was written, decades ago.

Wind, Sand and Stars, and anything else by Antoine de Ste. Exupéry (except maybe Flight to Arras). No one beats Saint-Ex for capturing the magic of flight.

West with the Night, by Beryl Markham, first person to fly solo westbound across the Atlantic. Suspenseful, inspiring, and wonderfully written. (Note her tie-ins to the movie, Out of Africa.)

Listen! the Wind, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Any pilot who has ever waited out weather will appreciate this eloquent book.

North Star over My Shoulder, by Bob Buck. Bob set the junior transcontinental speed record in a Pitcairn Mailwing in 1930, taught himself to fly instruments from a 25¢ booklet, and crowned his career as a jet captain. Experience the entire history of modern aviation through the eyes of this exceptional pilot and writer. (I had the privilege of meeting Bob several years ago. He died just last year at age 90.)

I Could Never Be So Lucky Again, by Jimmy Doolittle. What Doolittle accomplished in one lifetime is astonishing – the first outside loop, the first person to make an instrument landing, leader of the first WWII Tokyo bombing raid (flying B-25 land bombers off an aircraft carrier)… the list goes on and on.

The 91 Before Lindbergh, by Peter Allen. That’s right. Some 91 people flew the Atlantic before Lindbergh did. That should get your attention!

Antoine De Saint-Exupery: His Life and Times, by Curtis Cate. If you want to know more about Saint-Ex and the pioneering days of aviation, read this terrific book. Did you know that in the earliest days of European airmail, the planes were so unreliable that routes were flown by two airplanes, one full and one empty, so if one went down the other could complete the mission? And that over Saharan Africa airmen who survived crashes were often captured, tortured, and if they were lucky enough to live, ransomed back to their company by hostile Arab tribes? Although heavy on philosophy in sections, much of this book will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Hindenburg: an Illustrated History, by Rich Archbold. Don’t let the coffee-table-book format fool you, nor the title limit your expectations. This profusely illustrated work introduces the entire history of rigid airships, including fascinating coverage of the WWI Zeppelin bombing raids over England, the breathtaking Shenandoah break-up and crash over Ohio in 1925, the epic round-the-world flight of the Graff Zeppelin and of course, the Hindenburg. Did you know that Zeppelins made dozens of accident-free scheduled “airline” crossings of the Atlantic in the 1930s?

Some of these titles may be out of print, but you should be able to find them through the provided links. ©2012 Gregory N. Brown