Reviews for
John Thomson


5.0 out of 5 starsGreat Aviation true to life stories,
April 21, 2011 Amazon.com

his book is a great read for all Aviation buffs, from the armchair pilot to the very experienced pilot. Once you start reading the odds are you'll read the entire book without stopping.

- Tom Hike

This is a Fascinating story from Johns early days working with and learning to fly through his Military career and Civilian life in Aviation.

His love for aviation is apparent from his experience with more different models of fixed wing and helicopters than any other person I know.

One of my favorite stories he tells is about flying a F-51 while assigned to Edwards AFB flight test group. Another interesting story is John doing a roll in the AH-1G Cobra Helicopter during an air show. I have seen the movie.

I met John while assigned to the same unit, UTT, in Saigon. I was a pilot in a UH-1B slick helicopter group that ferried troops into "hot areas" and the armed UTT helicopters provided close air support for us. I remember one particular sortie, I was on final, delivering ground troops to one of the areas and while I was flaring to land, rockets from the UTT helicopters were zooming beneath my helicopter to "soften" the hot area ahead. My personal opinion of some of the involvement he had with the Viet Cong were a bit more exciting than
his cool and easy way of describing the events.

Well done John, it has been an experience knowing you.

—Don Borg, Senior Experimental Test Pilot , Bell Helicopter, ret.

Subject: Book Review—Fifty Years of Flying by John D. Thomson

Rarely does one have the opportunity to review a book written by an individual whom I consider to be the “finest Pilot I have ever known.” However, John Thomson is clearly deserving of that accolade. As pilot of some 54 years, I have personally observed and flown with many great Army Aviators . However, in my judgment, none were as unbelievably smooth and incredibly proficient as John Thomson. It is therefore no surprise that I found John’s book on “Fifty years of Flying,” to be an understated and inspirational testimonial of an amazing career by an equally amazing man.

When I had the honor of commanding the first unit to introduce the AH-1G Huey cobra helicopter into combat in Vietnam, I was afforded the opportunity to personally select the members of New Equipment Training Team (AH-1G NETT). Without a moment’s hesitation, I chose John Thomson to be our Standardization Instructor Pilot, even though the other members of this select team were also considered to be “the best of the best” when it came to flying proficiecy.

Not only was John one of the most skillful and courageous combat pilots I have observed, as a consummate professional in every respect, he established standards of performance worthy of emulation by all with whom he came in contact. Further, his remarkable “control touch” and keen grasp aircraft systems, enabled him to achieve performance results from newly developed aircraft that exceeded those of company test pilots.

John Thomson epitomizes the term “Army Aviator,” and his personal account of his amazing flying career will serve as an inspiration to all aviation mined readers who seek to become “all that they can be.”

Richard S. Jarrett - Colonel, US Army (Retired)

"Fifty Years of Flying" was absolutely great and a pleasure to read. This book is a must for anyone who is even remotely interested in aviation and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes a good read. Thanks for writing it!

David C. Murray
Regional Vice President

Elite Protection Services Wonderful pictorial history of a life of high adventure led to the fullest by the author.

- Richard "Skip" Bendall


John Drake Thomson had his pilot’s license before he got his driver’s license. He ended up with over 15,000 hours of flying time, 10,000 of which was in helicopters. This book takes you along with him as he teaches his cat to skydive, picks up a couple of Purple Hearts and many other awards during two tours in Vietnam, teaches the Shaw of Iran’s soldiers to fly, gets invited to Russia to fly the largest helicopter in the world and many more exploits. This is a fascinating book by a fascinating man. If you have any interest in flying at all, you will want to read this book.

- John Seal a friend and helicopter pilot as well.


Fifty Years of Flying by VHPA Life Member John Thomson who served with UTT in 63/64 and Cobra NETT in 67/68 is the memoir of his adventurous lifetime of flying. He was hooked on flying after his first ride in a “barnstormer,” at a small Tennessee airport, where he did odd jobs. He obtained his private license at 15, forging his age, by trading his time working at the airport. Achieving his goal of flying for the military took a more circuitous route. Enlisting in the Army Air Corps in 1946 at age 16, he soon found himself in Panama as a jet mechanic. He was initially turned down for flight school because he needed two years of college. Then he didn’t qualify because he was married and later because he was too old! However, he reapplied anyway and received a waiver.

Graduating as the “old man” of class 62-1W, Thomson (aka the Grey Fox) was soon in RVN flying a UH-1B with machine guns and rockets for UTT. Later assignments included Ft. Carson where he also served TDY for the Gemini Orbital Mission, and a stint at Ft. Wolters as an instructor. He flew with the Cobra New Equipment Training Team (NETT) at the Bell Plant and Hunter AAF and was deployed to RVN to set up the Cobra transition school. After RVN, he received his “dream world” assignment at Edwards AFB testing and flying a wide variety of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft including his favorite: the P-51Mustang. 

Retiring as a CW4 in 1974 he worked for Bell Helicopters in Iran until the fall of the Shah, when he returned to Tennessee and operated a small flight school and charter company before taking a job in Brussels performing contract heavy maintenance test flights on US Army helicopters based in Europe. After Brussels, he traveled some then retired when he was unable to pass his flight physical without some special exams.
Thomson wrote this memoir for his friends and family. It is a reminder of the incredible lives many VHPA members have lived beyond their service and sacrifice in RVN. He pursued his goal of flight until it became a reality, then worked many years doing what he loved.

John Penny
Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association
____________________________________________________________________________________________________ back to top