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Pilots, what's on your playlist?Pilots, what's on your playlist?

15 aviation-themed hits worth a listen15 aviation-themed hits worth a listen

In the spirit of the sixtieth Grammy Awards in New York on Jan. 28, AOPA reached out to aviators including Flying Musicians Association president, Van’s Aircraft RV-6A owner, and guitarist John Zapp for an aviation-themed play list. Fly Me to the Moon, written by Bart Howard in 1954 and originally titled In Other Words, is one of Zapp’s favorites.

The Jonathan Moody Band entertains during the AOPA Fly-In at Camarillo, California. Photo by David Tulis.

“It wasn’t immensely popular until Connie Francis recorded an Italian version in 1963 titled Portami con Te, which became an international best-seller," he noted. The jazz standard is closely associated with Frank Sinatra and was played in space during NASA’s Apollo 11 mission when Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the moon on July 20, 1969.

How many of these aviation-inspired songs do you have?

Learn to Fly, a pop tune by Josh Woodward, topped the playlist for Wisconsin flight instructor Pete Aarsvold. The song encourages individuals to set their sights high in order to achieve greatness. The catchy rhythm includes lyrics for aspiring aviators. “Your wings are going to sprout and you are going to learn to fly.”

This Flight Tonight, made popular by prairie rockers Nazareth and originally performed by Joni Mitchell, is a favorite for Cessna Cardinal RG pilot Kevin Choy. The driving rock beat includes themes about love, the celestial universe, and earth-bound realities. Choy said the song speaks to the “anticipation and internalized excitement so many think about just prior to landing.”

The Letter by The Box Tops highlights the advantages of aviation for speeding someone home to see a significant other. St. Simons, Georgia, pilot and musician Chuck Reina suggested the 1967 classic that charted No. 1 on Billboard with the memorable refrain, “Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane, Ain’t got time to take a fast train.”

The Immelmann Turn by Al Stewart refers to a Curtiss Jenny flight with a vertical climb and half loop before leveling to upright at the top—a tricky proposition in an early biplane. In the song he asks, “Why, why would you never learn, That you won't come back from the Immelmann Turn?”

Flying Sorcery, also by Stewart, lands the British folk balladeer a second slot on the aviation playlist. In the song, Stewart pays homage to World War II pilots and groundbreaking female aviator Amy Johnson. It’s “definitely worth listening to,” wrote Stephen Shankle, of Peachtree City, Georgia, who researched the connection between flying and faith, hope, and charity.

The iconicWild Blue Yonder scores a patriotic tone for retired U.S. Air Force pilot Bob Raskey. The airline transport pilot, general aviation pilot, and aircraft owner also harbors a hankering for Learning to Fly by British rockers Pink Floyd, written by guitarist and fellow pilot David Gilmour.

Ready to Fly by Didrick, featuring Adam Young, was suggested by Dan Hall. It’s one of several songs that he enjoys while aviating. The lyrics suggest that it’s OK to “Fall from the stars into my arms if you’re ready to fly.”

Sky Pilot by Eric Burdon and the Animals is one of pilot Mark O’Boyle’s favorites. The captivating ballad from the spring of 1968 belies a deeper meaning that some say casts a critical eye toward the Vietnam War. It asks the question, “How high can you fly? You'll never, never, never reach the sky.”

Peter Pan by country vocalist Kelsea Ballerini references the animated Disney classic and adds a modern twist. The Tennessean's pop video topped two 2016 country music charts and features aerobatics, parachutes, an Extra 300, a motorcycle, a sports car, love, and dramatic scenery. What more can an aviator ask for?

The Ride of The Valkyries by composer Richard Wagner was originally part of an opera composed in 1854. The forlorn background music accompanies a U.S. Army Air Cavalry helicopter attack sequence in the gritty Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now. The opera pays homage to fallen battle heroes.

Drop the Pilot by British artist Joan Armatrading is a fast-paced song driven by keyboards, a popping bass line, and gritty vocals that uses aviation as a metaphor for love. She suggests choosing a different mate if “there’s no smoke, no flame.”

Early Morning Rain by folk guitarist Gordon Lightfoot describes a jet flight the balladeer wishes he could afford. A perfectly timed slide guitar echoes the laments of Lightfoot’s vocals. “Out on runway number nine a big 707's set to go, But, I'm stuck here in the grass where the cold wind blows.” Folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary’s dreamy 1966 version popularized the tune.

Paper Plane by Status Quo is a hard-driving rocker from the mid-1970s that moves quickly from takeoff to landing with a twangy Fender Telecaster and a Gibson SG dueling it out for superiority. The English boogie band formed in 1962 and has a rabid fan base in the U.K., where they are recognized for humanitarian outreach.

Learning to Fly by Tom Petty was a favorite with aviators for the second year in a row. An acoustic version with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks backing him up on vocals inspires fans to sing along during a live concert. Petty’s memorable lyrics, “I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings,” hold special meaning now that the guitar player has “flown west.”

Add these tunes to your playlist and enjoy the feeling of flight through music while you’re at home, on the road, or in the air.

Additional aviation standouts

Check out the most popular aviation-themed songs from the 2017 playlist.

Wind Beneath My Wings, performed by Bette Midler

Leaving on a Jet Plane by John Denver

Jet Airliner by the Steve Miller Band

Time for Me to Fly by REO Speedwagon

Rocket Man by Elton John

Space Oddity by David Bowie

Learn to Fly by the FooFighters

Learning to Fly by Pink Floyd

Red Staggerwing by Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler

Snoopy vs. the Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen

Turbulence by Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke, featuring Lil Jon

Born to Fly by Sara Evans

Surfin Bird - The Bird is the Word by The Trashmen

Wheels Ain't Coming Down by Slade

Airplanes by rapper B.o.B. with vocals by Haley Williams

Drunk on a Plane by Dierks Bentley

Aeroplane by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Up, Up, and Away by the Fifth Dimension

Come Fly with Me by Frank Sinatra

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Movies and Television, Events

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