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A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper - Reviews

With today's technology of satellite imagery, global positioning, and unmanned aerial systems, Jim Hooper reminds us that in Vietnam reconnaissance was performed by real live aviators flying low-level over enemy positions…Hooper's style of writing quickly captures the reader's interest. Much better organized and edited than most unit accounts, Hooper's book is highly descriptive. This is an account of close-up war fighting. It is a book about young aviators performing their missions in frail airplanes who withstood terrifying experiences on a daily basis. Pilots tell, in their own words, how they managed to cope with the situation and took off every morning, well aware that the enemy was waiting for them.

-On Point, Army Historical foundation

A handful of aviation memoirs from the Vietnam War truly stand out. Jack Broughton’s Thud Ridge details the extraordinary courage of US Air force pilots facing North Vietnam’s deadly air defenses. Robert Mason’s Chickenhawk carries the reader on a gut-wrenching journey from flight school to helicopter assaults under heavy enemy fire. The Ravens by Christopher Robbins reveals the CIA’s secret war in Laos. Taking its place among these classics is Jim Hooper’s A Hundred Feet Over Hell, the story of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. The ‘Catkillers’ flew100mph Cessnas from Phu Bai and Dong Ha to cover the Ashau Valley and DMZ, where, within range of every enemy weapon on the battlefield, they called in artillery and air strikes to support army and marine units fighting the NVA. In these days of unmanned Predators and Reapers, it is astonishing to learn that the Catkiller FACs even took their single-engine Bird Dogs into North Vietnam in search of targets. For those interested in military aviation and tales of raw heroism, A Hundred Feet Over Hell is a must read.


Hooper examines various combat encounters from many points of view to build detailed composite pictures of events. And he delves deeply into the emotions and bonds that held the unit together, recounting amusing afterhours high jinks, the grim humor of wartime, and the washing away of a day's stress in that universal solvent, alcohol. The best thing about the book is that-conversational re-creations notwithstanding-every page rings true, and with very rare exception, names are named. Writing fearlessly and with an artfulness that few others have managed, Hooper has captured the ironies, the buccaneer's ethos, and the rhythms of men at war. Thirty years ago, Robert Mason published Chickenhawk, a classic personal account of Vietnam helicopter operations that is still as potent as a satchel charge. I'd rank A Hundred Feet Over Hell right up there with it.

-Air & Space/Smithsonian

If you're an experienced combat pilot, you'll feel a kinship with the young men in the book. If you're not, you'll come away with a renewed appreciation for their trials, successes, and even failures. This is a book I highly recommend!

-Walt Shiel, Cessna Warbirds.com

A "day at the office" in this outfit usually began with low-level spotting of NVA movement and calling in and adjusting artillery…they were also authorized to call in air strikes, which required marking the target at great personal risk. Mix in bad weather, a unit in close contact, and it really gets interesting.

-Jim Perry, Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association

This book is most revealing of the hazards faced by the pilots and spotters who flew the Bird Dogs in Vietnam. It reveals their bravery, their vital concern over their fellow soldiers, many of whom they saved from a certain death or capture! The first hand accounts by those who flew and were there is outstanding! Highly recommended.

-Joe Noah, Preddy Memorial Foundation

… their exploits were the stuff [of] myth…and what they accomplished defied comprehension and belief.

-One of Life's Simple Pleasures-A Good Book

History, flying, real time experiences with focused dedicated individuals makes for an engrossing story of men doing a job seldom heard about by the general public. The author puts you in the front seat of the Bird Dog, out on the front lines, taking enemy fire and staying to ensure that air and/or artillery support gave relief to the troops on the edge of being overrun and killed. Hats off to tireless, fearless warriors doing their job. Buy the book, tighten your seat belt, and enjoy the flight!

-Dan O'Brien, lastflighthome.org

This book shows a part of the Vietnam War that I didn't even know existed. Fascinating to read and hard to put down, this is easily one of my favorite books to date.


The book recounts… combat missions flown …over the DMZ, one of history's deadliest combat zones, helping to save the lives of countless U.S. ground troops during their tour.

-Book Ideas.com

The book is rife with examples of indescribable courage and bravery of our armed forces in the Vietnam-Laos Wars. It also describes the young men's wild lifestyles on their days off. Understanding the men who flew the Bird Dog as forward air controllers is as touching as it is exciting.

-North Platte Bulletin

These young pilots strapped on their little Cessna's and flew, always at slow speeds and often at altitudes of 200 feet or less, looking for and finding enemy troops before they could attack the American ground forces. Hooper sure put me in the cockpit!

-The Free Library

From 1968-1969, a select group of aviators strapped into the cockpits of their two-seat, propeller-driven airplanes and went to war in Vietnam. As forward observers, they flew hundreds of feet above one of the deadliest battlefields in modern history, all in an airplane no larger than a small pickup truck. In the process, they saved the lives of thousands of American servicemen. Now, their story is told in A Hundred Feet Over Hell.

-Fox Fax

The book recounts harrowing combat missions…over the DMZ, one of history's deadliest combat zones, helping to save the lives of countless U.S. ground troops…

-Bill Thompson, Post and Courier

[G]uys in their early 20s were given an incredibly difficult and dangerous job…they accepted that the risks were justified to support and protect the lives of the Army and Marine infantry on the ground.

-Daily Sun

…the Catkillers, flew below the mountain tops, low over the jungle, at night, in monsoon downpours, into the DMZ and even North Vietnam, getting far less notice than their jet brethren or the helicopter pilots who became synonymous with Vietnam. For anyone who wants a great story, who wants to learn about another aspect of the Vietnam War, or wants to read about a hair-raising aviation arena, A Hundred Feet Over Hell has it all.

-Flip Colmer LCDR USN (Ret)

I was with the 2nd Bn 3rd Marines during the time frame covered by this book. [The] descriptions of places and events are so vivid that I felt I was back on Foxtrot ridge. If you were there you need to read this book.

-Michael Owens - Amazon.com

Very few books capture my…attention enough to read them through without stopping. A Hundred Feet Over Hell is one of those. As a retired military professional and Army aviator of a more recent era, I am simply amazed and deeply impressed at the hair raising feats these Army FACs and their Marine observers accomplished over and across the DMZ on a daily basis with their small and frail O-1 Bird Dogs, a few marking rockets, M-16s, grenades, radios and a map. It's the stuff of legend and a proud legacy for all current and future warriors to be inspired by.

-Chuck Fletcher, Amazon.com

If you were in Vietnam as a "grunt" or an aviator this is a book you need to read. It's both a history and a tribute to a unique group of young men who did incredible things with their small, slow planes while supporting our troops on the ground.

-John Castro, Amazon.com

In this book…there is a universal truth: warriors don't fight for their country or flag, they fight for each other, often going far beyond what their country asks.

-Lance W. Lord, General, USAF (ret)

…a classic story of war and close combat. From hell-raising antics in the clubs and bars to hair-raising combat operations, where death was often only inches away, this is a must read. For those who have never "seen the elephant", this might be hard to understand; those who have will instantly identify with the actions of their fellow warriors. Flying an unarmored aircraft well within the effective range of every enemy weapon on the battlefield to protect the grunts in close combat takes a special breed of heroes. This book chronicles the exploits of such men.

-Gary L. Harrell, LTGEN, USA (ret)

This is a story about the warrior spirit that has existed in our fighting forces since the birth of our nation. Jim Hooper has nailed this small piece of the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of the Bird Dog pilots of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. It is a moving tribute to the men that flew these small aircraft with skill, courage, determination and a whole lot of brass.

-Mike Seely BG (ret) 74th RAC '65-'66; 245th SAC '68-'69

Jim Hooper's gripping account of the legendary Catkillers of the 220th Recon Airplane Company…shows us the spirit and ethos of American warriors. It's about the sheer guts, ingenuity, compassion, and humor of those who serve in defense of freedom

-Brigadier General Robert H. Holmes USAF

I flew A-4 Skyhawks out of Chu Lai, and then Bird Dogs with the VMO-6 Fingerprints at Quang Tri for the second half of my tour. [This is] a magnificent job of presenting the deadly environment faced by everyone who flew in I Corps.

"Nomad" - Jim Lawrence, LTCOL, USMC (Ret)

I find I have to read parts over and over again because my mind fades away as I reminisce. Having been in a grunt unit and in 3rd Force Recon in I Corps, I felt truly a part of the pictures… [The book]… provided me with a 'verbal flashback' that made me breath harder and brought a tear to my eye. Hooper does a remarkable job of providing the sights and sounds of a unit in trouble.

-Tom Wilson, 3rd Force Recon

If you enjoy war movies and stories, I highly recommend this book. And if you are a history buff, especially if you're interested in the Vietnam War, I'd say this is a must read. The first-person accounts make you feel like you're part of the action!


Had Hooper written A Hundred Feet Over Hell when he first heard his brother’s stories of life with the Catkillers, it might have ended with Bill Hooper’s bewilderment at having had someone spit on him because he had done his duty. Time has passed, however, and Hooper was able to give us post scripts to the combat lives of the men he interviewed. Many of those men have been able to put the emotional scars of war behind them to become successful attorneys and businessmen. Bill Hooper is now the President of a food equipment sales company. Reading of the lives of the Catkillers after the Vietnam conflict may be the source of my greatest pleasure in reading this book.

A Hundred Feet Over Hell is the dramatic story of a few men who fought in a war that I am sure that they did not understand at the time. The book presents the Vietnam conflict as it was experienced, both the good and the bad, by the Catkillers. The conflict in Vietnam, like every other conflict in which human life is lost, will always be an ugly conflict, but the heroism of some of its participants and their will to survive against all odds is inspiring. Until I picked up A Hundred Feet Over Hell, I had never heard of the Catkillers. Now I will never forget them.


Some accounts of war play on our emotions in a very intentional way, striving to send the obvious message that “war is hell.” Others glorify war. A Hundred Feet Over Hell does neither. It simply tells the soldiers’ stories, very personal stories of courage, fear, grief, and pride in a job well done, in what David Mitchell aptly called a “concise but literate style.” This is an important work of contemporary history and a powerful tribute to men who devoted themselves to protecting their brethren.


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