The Red Eagle: Being the Adventurous Tale of Two Young Flyers - Alexander Key,  Jay Earle Thomas If the author rings a bell for you, it might be that you remember Alexander Key from 1961's Escape to Witch Mountain - or at least remember the Disney film version.[If anyone wants to try adding this img to the GoodRead's book file, the original is here in multiple sizes: http://www.flickr.com/photos/batgrl/8431740188/sizes/l/in/set-72157632650735287/ ]This is actually my father's book, and you can tell from the "boys adventure" focus (similar to a lot of books from the 1930s) that this was directed towards an audience of boys interested in airplanes. I've never actually finished reading the book's text - my interest always flagged and I'd end up just looking at the pictures and forget the story itself. This is probably because the story is really a thin framework around the "how to fly an airplane" manual parts of the book. When I was younger I was more interested in studying the drawings of the planes and instruments than reading about them. Anyway, the book was handy and it felt time for a reread. And yes, there will be spoilers.Key himself created all the illustrations, and I can't resist adding some photos of them, because the style of the artwork is the thing I love most about this book. I'm going to hazard a guess that the book's paintings are watercolors, but I'm not sure.I also should note that I'm really fond of the font Key uses and layout of paintings with text. Anyway, on to the story part!Richard and Ned are two boys whose Uncle Jim owns a plane called the Red Eagle, and when he visits he just lands the plane on their farmland. After they've cleared an area for a runway for him of course. Both boys really want to learn to fly, but their father thinks they're too young and it's too dangerous. Uncle Jim takes their father up for a long, long ride in the Red Eagle and what do you know, once they land dad has the flying bug too. Uncle Jim was previously a flyer in WW1 and now conveniently owns an aircraft factory and manages a flying club. So he's just the guy to teach us all about planes and how to fly them!Some sample "let's learn about how planes work" dialog that's pretty typical (page 12):"Watch this needle," said the flyer, pointing to a dial on the instrument board. "It is the tachometer, and it shows how fast the propeller is turning around. The reading is now two hundred revolutions per minute; when I push forward on the throttle the needle shows how much faster the propeller is turning. You hardly notice the noise of the motor in this closed cabin, but in a ship with an open cockpit you could hardly hear yourself think."Here's a bit of 1930s "only in books" parenting, p.54: "I'm not taking any chances," she [the family housekeeper] replied. "Mrs. Hinson just phoned that two jail birds escaped from the county jail last night. They're both murderers, and there's a posse of twenty men out looking for them. Isn't that just frightful?""Huh, what's that?" Uncle Jim looked up with interest. "Murderers? Escaped from the county jail? I say, Dick, there's an idea for you! Let's cancel that airport trip and go man hunting in the Red Eagle instead!" "I'm with you. A man hunt always did appeal to me. How about it boys?""Suits me fine, Dad," replied Richard. "But why can't we have a little competition? You and Uncle Jim take the Red Eagle and Ned and I will take the Swallow. We can get Howard to give us a start. The winner can have the glider all day tomorrow."I can't find the bit that hints at the boys' ages - I think they're around 10-12.Photo of the glider searching for the escaped murderers on the right, on the left is the worried housekeeper looking up at the skies (where we can assume her employer and his sons are flying):The boys spot a fire - but this turns out not to be the murderers. Instead it's a couple of their dad's farmhands skipping work and going fishing by the river.The boys do catch the murderers though. As if that's a surprise. The men only think they've seen the murderers - they actually spot the farmhands but don't recognize them. The boys in the glider fly over the murderers without being noticed (gliders being all quiet and stealthy compared to planes with engines/propellers), and then get to tell the posse their location once they fly back home. Did I mention that the murderers are foreigners? Thank you, 1930s stereotypes! Also we never learn anything more about the murder or what happens to the guys after they're captured. Apparently that would be dull, and we have to move on to more flying instruction!I'm adding this quote purely as an excuse to include the tiny painting that's inset on the page, p. 65:"When the Red Eagle was again on her journey, Uncle Jim continued his talk. "I believe the most interesting advance in aviation is the 'flying windmill' or autogiro. You've seen pictures of it, and in fact some members of the club have been experimenting with one. The monoplane wings are very small, but directly over the cockpit is a huge rotor, like an oversized four-blade propeller. The aerodynamics are a little hard to understand..."So the boys want to fly more than just gliders, and dare to hope they might have a career in the field. Uncle Jim tests the boys for depth perception, equilibrium, etc. - to discover if they have the ability and aptitude for flying. Problem is that many of the tests are based on something you can't improve - like eyesight. And their uncle puts a bit of stress on them. p. 71:"A lot depends on the outcome of this," said Uncle Jim. "You can try it three times, and if you fail the third time, - " Uncle Jim shook his head sadly as before.After they take the equilibrium test (walking a straight line blindfolded) p. 72: "That's better," said uncle Jim. "But don't feel set up too much over it - if you hadn't walked that line to the end, I'd have felt like paddling you both!"But no pressure, right?Now that we're near the end of the book there must be a finale - and it's at Uncle Jim's flying club where there's a Big Race between all the various types of aircraft (line drawing of the aircraft here). During The Big Race (excitement! suspense!) the boys are flying in the Red Eagle with Uncle Jim, and on the last stretch of the flight a thunderstorm breaks.But wait! That's not all! p. 83:"Uncle Jim groaned, and as Ned and Richard turned to look at him, he slumped forward in his seat and fell inert upon the floor. The Red Eagle, released of its guiding hand, slipped sidelong into the rush of the wind, and went reeling in a sickening tail-spin toward the earth, nearly a mile below.So what happens? The two boys, although they've only been flying a glider for a matter of months, manage to right the plane and keep it on course until their uncle regains consciousness. Seems Uncle Jim has a war injury that is acting up, thanks to the lightning and thunder. (War flashback thing, hinted mostly, not many details.) He can't move, but is able to talk the boys home and through landing the plane. And not only that but the plane wins the race. As a reward their uncle, along with dad, buy the kids a plane of their own, a smaller but identical version of the Red Eagle: The Red Eagle 2.One fun thing about this edition of the book (that I didn't remember at all) is that there are about 20 pages of suggested lessons to accompany each chapter. Lots of really topical references to airplane related news stories from the 1930s (which I forgot to quote and now don't have the book, dangit), sample spelling and vocabulary words, suggested art projects, that sort of thing.Randomly, because I keep coming back to the art, here's an example of the instrumentation paintings.While I might have been really bored with the story - I'm sharing only the interesting bits, trust me - I did love all the instrument paintings.If you want to see a bit more of the artwork - and larger versions of these photos (which I wish I'd used a tripod for) - the Flickr set is here.I'd have given four stars for the artwork, but that's not really fair. The story is dull as dirt mostly, especially when describing the more technical aspects of flying, and the three stars is really due to my nostalgia. Still on my Childhood Favorites shelf.I should add that when I was little and reading this book my father had a moment of nostalgia himself and over the course of a few weeks built a small wooden plane that looked much like The Red Eagle. And painted it red of course. It's still sitting on a shelf in my parents' house.