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Tucson's Friday Pilots soar in new book chronicling remarkable history

The Friday Pilots sign new book
Posted at 2:32 PM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 20:44:28-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Southern Arizona has a strong connection to the Air Force with many pilots retiring in the area.

That is where The Friday Pilots come in.

The group of retired pilots capture the Spirit of Southern Arizona.

They meet for lunch every Friday at Hacienda Del Sol.

Recently, instead of trading old flying stories, the group spent the day signing 600 copies of their new book filled with those old flying stories.

The Friday Pilots signing copies of their new book

"First of all, none of them are true," joked former astronaut and fighter pilot Jim McDivitt.

The Friday Pilots now number around 30.

Bob Barnett is the only founding member left from the handful of pilots who started having lunch together in the 1980s.

Barnett was an F-105 pilot shot down in Vietnam in 1967.

"Spent 1,989 days as a POW, five and a half years," recalled Barnett.

Bob Barnett of The Friday Pilots

At 92, Barnett admits that had a profound impact on his life. It is also how he ended up in Tucson after his release, and how he ended up a member of The Friday Pilots.

"Everybody has a story," Barnett said. "You have a story, everybody has a story. It's interesting what people do and what they've accomplished. Especially this group. They've all accomplished a lot."

The Friday Pilots books chronicle those accomplishments.

The first book was simply called The Friday Pilots. Each chapter was a story from a different pilot.

Now, they have released a sequel.

"On the Wings of Geezers - life lessons from old pilots," said Don Shepperd, who compliled the stories of his fellow Friday Pilots. "We told about our lives in the first book. Now we're telling about what we learned from living those lives in early aviation."

On the Wings of Geezers cover

These are all highly decorated Air Force, Navy, and Marine pilots who flew everything from B-29 bombers to the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane.

"All these guys lived through some really, really interesting events," explained Shepperd. "We capture them in the books."

That includes perhaps The Friday Pilots most recognized member, Jim McDivitt.

He flew in space twice, commanding both the Gemini 4 mission and later the Apollo 9 mission.

Jim McDivitt commanded the Gemini 4 mission

But the 91-year-old is quick to point out that is not all he did.

"I didn't just start out being an astronaut," said McDivitt. " I'd been an Air Force pilot, I'd flown a lot in combat in the Korean War. I was a test pilot. So, it wasn't a big step for me."

Jim McDivitt autographs a copy of The Friday Pilots new book

It hasn't been a big step for Don Sheppard either.

The driving force behind the books, Sheppered is a retired fighter pilot, former Director of the Air National Guard and a CNN analyst.

Don Sheppard U.S. Air Force pilot

Now, he has found a way to transform his Friday Pilots group into an organization that gives back.

"All of our royalties and any profits on this book go to the Fisher House," Shepperd said. "The Fisher House basically is the Ronald McDonald House of the military."

Roughly five dollars of every book sold goes to the Fisher House. Both of The Friday Pilots books are available online.