The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1972, Volume 18, Number 3
James E Moss, Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Ryan, The Aviator, Being The Adventures And Ventures Of Pioneer Airman And Businessman T. Claude Ryan. By William Wagner in collaboration with Lee Dye. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1971. Illustrations. Index. 253 pages. $18.50.

Reviewed by Colonel Owen F. Clarke, U.S.A.F. (Retired). Col. Clarke is Executive Director of the San Diego Aero-Space Museum and is an “almost” native San Diegan, having arrived in San Diego April, 1920, at the tender age of six. One of his few biases is that he is also an aviator.

“Fly With Me — Take a Real Trip Thru the Clouds — Ryan the Aviator is in Your City.” Ryan, the Aviator is that kind of book — rich in aviation history, both narrative and pictorial, and written by a man who personally shared over thirty-three of the fifty years covered in the story with T. Claude Ryan.

This is the story of a boy from Parsons, Kansas, who was inspired to be an aviator only a few years after the Wright brothers first flight (1903), by an historic first transcontinental flight by Calbraith P. Rodgers in 1911. From Kansas to California and the start of a career in aviation extending from a Cadet and Lieutenant in the Air Service at March Field, California (1920); to the foot of Broadway in San Diego with a “Jenny” (1922); to Paris (1927) in a plane, “Spirit of St. Louis,” constructed by the company that Claude Ryan built; and then to the Moon with Ryan landing lunar radar. The author, with a fine human interest appreciation, has covered meticulously, associates, friends, acquaintances, and events in the fifty year segment of “Ryan, the Aviator.” The reader will thoroughly enjoy the many nostalgic anecdotes about “who’s who” in aviation and incidents described in the “now-it-can-be-told” categories.

Most of the photographs used so effectively throughout the story are here-to-fore unpublished. The pictorial story are people, places, and aircraft from linen and wood to Apollo, and beautifully augment the narrative.

Among aviators there is an adage that “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots.” The story shows the titular man of the book to be an exception to that rule. T. Claude Ryan went into the aviation business in San Diego in 1922 with $150 savings, and a Model T which he sold for $300. From that start, the business volume grew to one million times that amount in 1968; all created by an aviator’s aviator, an American’s American, a businessman’s businessman, and a family’s familyman.

Ryan, the Aviator is a book for everyone — aviation buff, historian or layman; a story historically accurate and told with sparkling interest.