Book captures a daredevil’s life

By From page B5 | March 27, 2013

Forgotten Aviator

"Forgotten Aviator: The Adventures of Royal Leonard"

Between the covers

Book: “Forgotten Aviator:  The Adventures of Royal Leonard”

Author: Barry S. Martin

Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing, July 2011, 256 pages, soft-cover and Kindle versions.

If the name Royal Leonard is unfamiliar to you, it’s not surprising. Leonard, a legendary pilot, who pioneered blind flying, introduced celestial navigation to TWA, became Chiang Kai-shek’s personal pilot in the 1930s and flirted with the fame that seemed to elude him.

Leonard began his flying career with the likes of Charles Lindberg, Jackie Cochrane and Col. Claire Chennault in the 1920s.

He was a transcontinental mail pilot regularly flying over the Rocky Mountains where weather conditions often necessitated blind flying. He participated in some of the first air races and flew a wide variety of aircraft.

During WORLD WAR II, Leonard flew “the Hump” from northeastern India over the Himalayas to China. Called the “Skyway to Hell,” the Hump was considered the most dangerous aerial transport in the world and Leonard flew it in monsoons and at night.

Sacramento author Barry S. Martin captures Leonard’s daredevil style and strong personality in his description of Leonard’s years of flying in China over poorly mapped and war-torn land, dodging Japanese aircraft and bullets during both the Sino-Japanese conflict and WWII.

Martin’s interest in Leonard began after he and his wife, Carolyn, returned from a trip to China in 1988.

“I wanted to know more about Americans who had been involved in China,” said Martin, ” so when I got back I went to Beers Books and I found Royal Leonard’s book, ‘I Flew for China.’ ”

Leonard’s book about his experiences in China ended in 1941 and Martin, captured by Leonard’s exploits, wanted to know what happened next.

“I checked the Library of Congress and other places, but couldn’t find anything,” said Martin. “I knew he came from Los Angeles and one day, when I was at the Burbank airport, I looked up his name in the phone book.”

A Royal Leonard was listed, but it was Leonard’s son. Leonard died in 1962, but Martin met with Leonard’s son, ex-wife and family members.

For the next 20 years, Martin worked on the book, compiling research and trying to consolidate Leonard’s adventurous life into a format readers would appreciate.

Although Martin is not a pilot himself, the details of routes, instrumentation, flight obstacles and aircraft are meticulous enough to meet any aviation buff’s standards and Martin provides excellent reference material.

“He was an amazing character who did many incredible things and I could have written a 500 page biography,” said Martin. “Once people read his whole story, they want more of it.”

Martin has just finished the first draft of a new biography about Bob Davies, the first basketball player to dribble behind his back in college games. Davies went on to take the Rochester Royals to the NBA championship in 1951.

“He was also the role model for the Chip Hilton series of boy’s sports novels and a sub commander in WWII,” said Martin.

“The Forgotten Aviator” can be purchased online from the author’s Website,, at Barnes& and in softcover and Kindle version.

Locally, the book can be found at Face in a Book in Town Center in El Dorado Hills. Martin, a former Social Security administrative law judge, will be doing presentations and book signings. His next presentation will be at 7:30 p.m., May 23 at the North Natomas Library in Sacramento.

Wendy Schultz

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