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Spruce Creek Fly-in Folks in the News

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Local veteran pilot Robert Gandt soars as author of aviation thrillers

The Daytona Beach News-Journal Correspondent

Flat on our backs at 2,500 feet in a souped-up NATO Marchetti trainer, rolling and looping over the scrubs south of Samsula — I wish I could say that was how I interviewed Bob Gandt.

News-Journal/Joe Morrison
Robert Gandt, in his Marchetti aircraft, also has been a crop duster, flight instructor, air show performer and weapons test pilot.

Actually, this event did take place . . . but only after an outdoor lunch interview at the Spruce Creek Fly-In restaurant in western Port Orange. Gandt speaks with the precision and knowledge of a veteran flyer, but also with an obvious joy for both writing and flying.

Retired from both civilian airline and naval flying, Gandt is nationally recognized as one of the top naval aviation fiction writers. He is also leader of the local precision flying team, the Marchetti Mavericks. Bob writes and flies from his home in Spruce Creek Fly-In, where he lives with his wife, Anne.

Q: How did you acquire your obvious twin passions for writing and aviation?

I have always loved both. When I was 7, I was introduced to the library in my hometown of Coffeyville, Kan., and thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I was a voracious reader and found out I could write well. My father owned a local flying business and by the time I was 16 years old, I had both soloed and sold my first article. It all grew from there.

Q: How?

After a pass at college, I joined the Naval Aviation Cadet program. Upon graduation, I briefly became the youngest aviator in the Navy. For eight years, I flew off aircraft carriers and was a weapons test pilot. I loved the Navy, but it was clear there would never be time for writing. I joined PanAm and eventually Delta Airlines, which was the perfect job for a pilot who also wanted to be a writer. I was based all over the world — Berlin, San Francisco, Hong Kong — where I gathered a storehouse of material for future books.


American hero tangles with Chinese


Brick Maxwell, a naval aviator for all seasons, is back again in Robert Gandt’s sixth novel, “Black Star Rising,” which is, as usual, timely, authentic and reeks of “Blue and Gold.”

This time, Brick has relocated from the Middle East to the South China Sea. He is now flying a hypersecret (black ops), carrier-based stealth aircraft resembling a “Frisbee on steroids.”

China and Vietnam are both determined to control the oil-rich Spratly Islands in the midst of a pirate-ridden sea, while the U.S. is provoked into intervening — covertly, of course.

A Chinese copy of the American Frisbee greatly complicates matters as do realistic submarine operations. Gandt deftly plays off both the diplomatic and military sides of all three nations with a credibility that is uniquely Gandt-like.

“Black Star Rising” reveals insights into the incredibly fast-paced and intricate operation of an aircraft carrier and its strike force, while Gandt handles nicely a number of very realistic naval “Airedales” of both genders.

It’s a relief to know finally that Brick will fly again in yet another novel.

— Joe Morrison, Correspondent

Q: What was your first book?

I used to jog in the hills above Hong Kong where I kept finding artifacts from the World War II invasion — old weapons, fortifications, skeletons. I interviewed dozens of British and Japanese veterans of the battle and was given access to the Imperial Japanese Army archives. From all this research, I wrote a series of articles for the Far East newspaper, South China Morning Post, which attracted enough attention to get a contract for my first book, "Season of Storms: The Siege of Hong Kong 1941."

Q: You wrote five nonfiction historical aviation books before turning to naval aviation fiction novels. What turned you to this genre?

I think that in every writer's secret heart lies a wish to write a novel. In my case, it happened after I worked for a year as technical consultant and writer on the CBS series, "Pensacola: Wings of Gold." Episodic television is great training for a novelist. It's all dialogue and plot, a main story entwined with a couple of sub-stories, three acts, cliffhangers before every break. One day it struck me that I could do this on my own, in novels. I was right.

Q: Your books and novels have received high praise from peers and readers alike for their timeliness and authenticity. How do you keep so up to date?

I read three newspapers a day, a dozen or so military and aviation journals and I maintain a network of civilian and military sources, retired and active duty. The Internet is the greatest research tool of all time. I researched my last two novels on location, spending several weeks on the ground in Israel and Vietnam.

Q: What turned your attention to the Pacific area in your latest book after five novels about Brick Maxwell flying missions in the Middle East?

I thought enough had been written about the Middle East, both fiction and nonfiction. I wanted a change of scenery — and a different kind of opponent. I also wanted to get into "black ops" and play with some exotic weapons and tactics.

Q: Who is Brick Maxwell based upon and will he continue?

Brick Maxwell is the name of a pioneer Pan Am pilot and one of my old heroes. I always thought it sounded cool and when he died, I appropriated his name. The fictional Maxwell is an amalgam of all my heroes — a flawed but gutsy warrior who doesn't mind breaking a few rules. I haven't decided whether to freeze him in time or to keep aging and promoting him. Either way, Brick will soldier on.

Q: What else are you working on?

Several projects are in the mill, mostly with military and aviation themes, but I want to do something more mainstream than the Maxwell series. One premise involves a newly elected U.S. president who, while flying aboard Air Force One, is the target of a coup d'etat. It is a techno-thriller and political drama — just in time for the 2008 election. My Web site,, will keep you up to date.

Q: How does a "wannabe" writer break into print nowadays?

First, by learning the craft. By reading incessantly, experimenting, finding the voice that is uniquely your own. Then by delivering a product so dazzlingly good that it demands attention. The new writer must be persistent, unafraid to knock on doors and use every connection. Getting that first contract is a transformational event because with it comes the credibility to approach agents, to propose new projects, to walk through editors' doors. That's when the fun begins.

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