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Listen to dozens of aviation playlist favorites

Pilots share the feeling of flight with music

Editor's note: The aviation playlist will be updated periodically.

Freshen up your music selection with an aviation playlist featuring dozens of favorites suggested by pilots, musicians, songwriters, aviation enthusiasts, and AOPA staff for music selections to help you enjoy your time on the ground or in the air.

The Bell Brothers perform against a Beech Model 18 backdrop during the 2019 AOPA Tullahoma, Tennessee, Fly-In. Photo by David Tulis.

1. Wind Beneath My Wings, a Grammy Award-winning song performed by Bette Midler with AOPA member, Cessna 182 owner, and professional drummer Paul Leim keeping the beat was a top-selling single from the 1988 film Beaches, and remains one of Leim’s favorites.

2. Leaving on a Jet Plane by pilot John Denver was a near-unanimous favorite with AOPA staff and should probably be in every pilot’s music rotation. Denver told a live audience that the only thing he didn’t like about flying “was having to leave somebody you care for a great deal.” John, you left us too soon.

3. Jet Airliner by the Steve Miller Band is a favorite of Adam Twidell, the founder of Road warriors can relate to the song’s raucous bass beat and simple chorus.

4. Learning to Fly by Tom Petty has long been a favorite among aviators. 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.”.

5. Time for Me to Fly, a rock ballad by 1970s powerhouse REO Speedwagon, features a catchy tune, a crying guitar solo, and the lyrics, “I make you laugh and you make me cry, I believe it’s time for me to fly.”

6. Rocket Man, penned by the songwriting team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, laments the isolation of space travel during the 1970s Apollo moon explorations. The song is an AOPA staff favorite.

7. Space Oddity by David Bowie recalls the dangers of outer-space travel. Major Tom lamented, “For here am I sitting in a tin can, far above the world,” but the tune earned Bowie his first Top 40 hit in the United States not long after Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969. Bowie told Performing Songwriter magazine that the song was actually inspired by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fun fact: Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield covered the tune from aboard the International Space Station.

8. Learn to Fly by the Foo Fighters features a video that’s  almost as much fun as the song itself, which declares, “I’m looking to the sky to save me, Looking for a sign of life,” and was a big hit with AOPA staff.

9. Learning to Fly by British rockers Pink Floyd is penned by guitarist and pilot David Gilmour. The song sweeps listeners up on an imaginary flight with lyrics straight out of a preflight check, “Friction lock, set. Mixture rich, Propellers fully forward,” and was a popular choice with several AOPA staff. The official video with a hang glider and a low-flying single-engine airplane is a different animal as it accompanies the longing, “Can’t keep my eyes from the circling skies, Tongue tied and twisted just an earth bound misfit, I.”

10. Red Staggerwing by Emmylou Harris and Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler is an upbeat country-bluegrass tune offered by AOPA Live This Week® Executive Producer Warren Morningstar. It rocks along at a fast clip before warning listeners, “I’d fly over to your house, baby, Buzz you in your bed.” Guitar, automobile, and motorcycle aficionados also will appreciate the lyrics.

11. Snoopy vs. the Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen is a classic offered by AOPA Senior Vice President of Media, Communications, and Outreach Tom Haines and refers to World War I ace fighter pilot Baron von Richthofen. The lyrics “Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or more, The bloody Red Baron was rolling up the score,” reminds listeners of von Richthofen and his deadly red Fokker triplane.

12. Turbulence by rappers Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke, featuring Lil Jon, takes listeners “On a journey all around the world”on “Flight 909” with a hard-driving bass beat, electronic dance music synthesizers, and DJs warning passengers: “I regret to inform you, we might encounter some turbulence, So when it happens, Put your hands up high, Like you on a roller coaster.”

13. Born to Fly by Sara Evans skips along on a country two-step with buttery bass lines and was a favorite of AOPA Director of eMedia Alyssa Cobb. The song asks, “And how do you keep your feet on the ground, When you know, that you were born, you were born to fly?”

14. Surfin Bird—The Bird is the Word by The Trashmen, the speed ditty made popular in the Robin Williams film Good Morning, Vietnam, is a favorite among AOPA staff members because the unforgettable, simple lyrics, “B-b-b-bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word. A-well-a bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word” get stuck in your head.

15. Wheels Ain’t Coming Down by Slade is a rocker that has wiry guitar solos propelling the hard-driving song down the runway. It was favored by AOPA staff because of airplane jargon including, “Was a 1950’s prop job, that had seen better days, When we came on in to the last approach saw the runway through the haze.”

16. Airplanes by rapper B.o.B. with vocals by Haley Williams has over 500 million YouTube views. The song asks, “Can we pretend that airplanes, In the night sky, Are like shooting stars? I could really use a wish right now.”

17. Drunk on a Plane by Dierks Bentley explains the alternatives to a wedding gone awry and was offered up by AOPA staff. “Buyin’ drinks for everybody But the pilot, it’s a party, Got this 737 rocking like a G6” helps the groom forget about the bride who stood him up.

18. Aeroplane by the Red Hot Chili Peppers drives a funky beat punctuated by solo guitar and bass riffs that proclaims, “I like pleasure spiked with pain, And music is my aeroplane, It’s my aeroplane.” It was another popular tune with’s Twidell.

19. Up, Up, and Away performed by the Fifth Dimension describes a hot air balloon flight where the pilots rise “Up, up, and away, in my beautiful, my beautiful, balloon.” The hot song rose to the Top 10 on Billboard’s easy listening charts before snagging four 1967 Grammy Awards including Record of the Year.

20. Fly Me to the Moon, a big band aviation selection from Frank Sinatra, invites listeners to “Fly me to the moon, Let me play among the stars, Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.” Flying Musicians Association cofounder John Zapp said Connie Francis recorded an Italian version in 1963 titled Portami co Te, which became an international best-seller. The jazz standard is closely associated with Sinatra and was played in space during NASA’s Apollo 11 mission when Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the moon on July 20, 1969.

21. In Come Fly with Me, “The Chairman of the Board” Sinatra promises, “Once I get you up there where the air is rarified, We’ll just glide starry-eyed.”

22. 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 will learn to fly.”

23. 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 earthbound realities. Choy said the song speaks to the “anticipation and internalized excitement so many think about just prior to landing.”

24. 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.”

25. The Immelmann Turn by Al Stewart refers to a Curtiss Jenny flight with a vertical climbing half-loop before rolling 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?”

26. 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.

27. The iconic Wild 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.

28. 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.”

29. 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. The song includes audio of gunfire, explosions, and airplane engine, which also struck a chord with AOPA member Kirke Machon. 

30. 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?

31. 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.

32. 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.”

33. Early Morning Rain performed by Elvis Presley plays on a video screen adjacent to the Graceland exhibition of the late rock and roller’s two jets in Memphis, Tennessee. Although the King had his heart set on a Boeing 707 until the deal fell through, a Convair 880 and a Lockheed JetStar called to him instead. Presley’s version of Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad came to our attention during a pilgrimage to Presley’s home.

34. 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.

35. Airplane by the acoustic duo Indigo Girls floats along on the strength of vocalists Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. A light-as-air harmony contrasts with lyrics that suggest they might be more comfortable on the ground looking up instead. The tune was recommended by AOPA Pilot Copy Editor Kristy O’Malley.

36. Jet from 1974’s Band on the Run album by Paul McCartney and Wings thunders from McCartney's Rickenbacker bass while wife Linda bops along on keyboards during the Top 10 hit. According to The Beatles Bible, the bizarre lyrics refer to either a puppy, a pony, or Linda’s father, depending on Sir Paul’s recollections. The bottom line: It’s hard to ignore anything from a band named Wings.

37. Draggin’ by Roger McGuinn and offered by AOPA member Richard Factor pays homage to an aerial cross-country drag race in a Boeing 747. A jazzy sax solo augments McGuinn’s stellar guitar work on his first album after splitting from The Byrds as he sings, “Draggin’ draggin’ ‘cross the U.S.A., draggin’, draggin’ from New York to L.A.” Astute listeners can pick out the sounds of skidding tires in the background.

38. Flying by The Beatles is one of the Fab Four’s few instrumental songs, released on Magical Mystery Tour during the summer of love in 1967. The liquid tune opens with McCartney’s thumping bass and bounces along with Ringo Starr’s simple drum rhythm. John Lennon and George Harrison float in with guitar fills, keyboards, and background humming in a compilation that listeners either love or loathe.

39. Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum is a 1970s ballad about death with religious overtones that AOPA member Dan Gibson says makes him feel “energized by the spirit in the sky, whatever that is, when I’m flying.” Greenbaum was a folk musician and he was Jewish, so the rock song with a fuzzy Fender Telecaster and a reference to Jesus was somewhat unusual. Greenbaum told the  New York Times that he penned the ballad after inspiration by gospel great and country musician Porter Wagoner.

40. Believe it or Not, the introduction to the TV show The Greatest American Hero, was composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter, the kings of 1970s and 1980s TV theme music. They also wrote memorable intros for The A-TeamMagnum P.I., and others. A high school teacher (played by William Katt) was presented with a red flight suit that gave him secret superhero flying powers that he applied to 1980s crime-stopping sprees. Melissa Whitehouse, AOPA eMedia production assistant and student pilot, said she was inspired by the song’s lyrics and catchy melody.

41. Sky Bo by Merle Haggard introduces a new word into pilots' aviation vocabulary. The country musician sang about a “sky-bo” and described a professional pilot as a “new kind of hobo for planes” who loses his “blues in the sky.” Slipstream Aviation chief mechanic Kyle Stewart, of Dallas, offered up the catchy tune.

42. Airwolf’s theme music by Sylvester Levay is a synthesizer-driven instrumental that rises in crescendo and dips into musical valleys, much like the TV show’s top-secret helicopter and crew who battled evil with a heavily armed Bell 222. The stealthy chopper steals the show with help from stunt pilots Peter McKernan and his son Peter McKernan Jr. The series starred veteran actor Ernest Borgnine, with Jean Bruce Scott, Alex Cord, and former heartthrob Jan-Michael Vincent. The Airwolf background music changed weekly depending on the plot, and a downloadable compilation is available online.

43. Somewhere in the Sky by the Portland-based Christian band Kutless “sums up what we as pilots feel on a sunny morning,” said AOPA member Wayne Walker, who recommended the hard-driving rock tune.

44. Watching Airplanes by Gary Allan starts with the country musician parked near an airport under a colorful sunset as he thinks about his significant other. He laments that he’s “just sittin' out here watching airplanes take off and fly, tryin’ to figure out which one you might be on.”

45. A Sky Full of Stars by British rockers Coldplay starts out soft and soars into the sky with a pleasing piano and a pounding bass that transforms the easy-listening piece into a danceable song. The band is most known for headlining the Super Bowl 50 halftime show with Bruno Mars and Beyoncé.

46. Flying by Cody Fry begins as light as a cloud with peaceful piano work and a falsetto by the Nashville-based pop rocker who says it’s his favorite song on the album. The tune builds into an orchestra-driven performance with violins, French horns, and strings as he asks and then answers, “Where did my wings go?”

47. Back in the U.S.S.R. by The Beatles begins with jet noises as they recall how they “Flew in from Miami Beach B.O.A.C” and “didn’t get to bed last night” because their Sic-Sacs were on their knees during an apparently “dreadful flight.” The surf-music inspired tune opens their White Album, and reported that Mike Love of the Beach Boys helped inspire the lyrics and the bouncy composition.

48. The Aviators by Helen Jane Long is an instrumental that honors pioneering aviators as it builds into a crescendo, and it’s sometimes played to honor graduates during Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University commencement ceremonies. AOPA eMedia Production Assistant Elizabeth Linares says the song’s salute to British Airways was “one of the best commercials, ever.” The visuals of early propeller aircraft transitioning to wide-body jets and the composition’s contrasting lightness stir powerful emotions for the instrument-rated private pilot that cause her to “still tear up watching it.”

49. That’s Alright Mama by the Australian hard rock band Jet is a tribute to the King of rock and roll Elvis Presley, who released it as his debut single in 1954. The performance by brothers Nic and Chris Cester with a driving distorted guitar,shouted lyrics, and speedy pace adds a hard edge to a pop classic. The lyrics aren’t about aviation, but with a band named Jet, we couldn’t resist including the song on the aviation playlist.

50. Treetop Flyer by Stephen Stills was a crowd pleaser for AOPA members Dale Bramer, Jesse Petton, and Todd Bohon. Folk rock aficionados recognize his guitar work as a musical driving force that highlighted his fluid harmonies with David Crosby, Graham Nash, and occasionally Neil Young. Bohon said, “For myself and many of my pilot friends, this is an absolute requirement for our playlists.” We concur.

51. Expecting to Fly by Buffalo Springfield was written by Neil Young. The lyrics take on different meanings depending on your personal experiences. No matter what the song really means, Young’s syrupy guitar and lyrics float along the psychedelic soft-rock classic like a “feather, expecting to fly.”

52. Last Train to Kitty Hawk by Balsam Range was recommended by Sun 'n Fun Fly-In technology and audio/visual specialist David McQueary. The song about progress and change honors the Wright brothers’ invention. It has standout steel guitar and bluegrass banjo picking with the upbeat message, “Yesterday’s taking off and tomorrow’s gonna fly … don’t get left behind.”

53. Squawk by David Grissom was offered up by Kyle Stewart, chief mechanic at Slipstream Aviation in Dallas. The instrumental background is a blues rocker with exceptional guitar work, and the album 10,000 feet was praised by GuitarPlayer. Grissom’s talents include playing with John Mellencamp and the Allman Brothers, and musical directing of the Dixie Chicks. We can easily see how this tune would inspire A&Ps.

54. We Can Fly by the Cowsills struck a chord for John Klimas, who played it “prior to flying with my significant other for the first time.” The family band tune from 1967 has a mean trumpet solo covered later by horn master Al Hirt. Klimas complimented the group’s great harmony, which was augmented by double-tracking in the studio decades before digital production simplified the process.

55. Spicks and Specks by the Bee Gees was recorded in 1966, and a whimsical black-and-white video was produced at an Australian airfield. The trio of Gibb brothers takes turns participating in a preflight checklist in a six-seat Cessna before disembarking and walking past a hangar of shiny new aircraft.

56. Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins from Tom Cruise’s Top Gun answers James Tomas’s question via Facebook: “No Danger Zone?” With more than 6 million views on YouTube, we can’t argue. The high-energy, high-octane movie is credited with attracting scores of Navy pilots to the skies.

57. Fly by Night recognizes the genius of Rush drummer and writer Neil Peart, who died of cancer in January. Bassist Geddy Lee sings Peart’s poignant lyrics, “Fly by night, away from here, Change my life again, Fly by night, goodbye my dear, My ship isn't coming and I just can't pretend.”

58. Fly Away by Lenny Kravitz is a go-to for pilot Todd Williams, who said he couldn’t believe the tune wasn’t on our playlist. The catchy blues beat is pushed by overdriven guitar, appealing lyrics, and music breaks that tease listeners.

59. Planes Fly by Angel Haze begins with a piano introduction leading into a rap with lyrics that describe flying “high enough to take us anywhere” in a journey that leads “closer to the stars.”

60. To Live Is to Fly by Townes Van Zandt was suggested by Piper Comanche 260C owner Kenneth Shaffer, who identified the Texas-born artist as one of his favorites. Shaffer said Van Zandt’s melodic spoken-word lyrics “influenced just about everybody,” including Bob Dylan, the Cowboy Junkies, and Merle Haggard.

61. Still I Fly by Spencer Lee from the Disney movie Planes: Fire and Rescue is a favorite for commercial pilot and Montana hot air balloon operator Colin Graham, who said the song is “freaking awesome.” The tune begins softly before building into a driving force that speaks of courage and facing new horizons. We agree, Colin!

62. Beautiful Day by multiplatinum Irish rockers U2 pushed by Adam Clayton’s driving bass, Edge’s melodic guitar riffs, and Bono’s eerie vocals is one of the band’s biggest hits. Bono sings, “See the world in green and blue … It’s a beautiful day … take me to that other place.” An accompanying video showcases a commercial airport terminal and runway as an added bonus.

63. Fly Away feat. Anjulie by TheFatRat is an electronic dance music beat that invites listeners to “come and fly away with me” to experience “a thousand views.” The video has more than 100 million views on YouTube.

64. Steve McQueen by Sheryl Crow is a favorite for AOPA Editor at Large Dave Hirschman, although he says it has little to do with aviation. NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Jr. street races a Chevrolet Camaro against a McQueen Bullitt replica Ford Mustang during a must-watch accompanying music video.

65. Against the Wind by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band taunted AOPA Director of eMediaAlyssa Cobb during a Piper Super Cub ferry flight with Hirschman from Oklahoma to Maryland. The song played from a SiriusXM aviation weather device as they battled stiff headwinds from the east. “That was cruel,” recalled Hirschman.

66. 747 (Strangers in the Night) by Saxon is a heavy metal song about a jetliner crew dealing with an emergency. “There's a 747 goin’ into the night, There's no power they don't know why, They've no fuel they gotta land soon, They can't land by the light of the moon.” Will they get down in time?

67. Outro by M83 was offered by John Miendorf. He heard the song in the trailer for the film Living in The Age of Airplanes by Brian Terwilliger and “was immediately blown away by it. The music is pure raw emotion and power, and it hits you at the most instinctive level. You don’t have to try to hunt for specific ‘flying’ words ... to experience the effect of the song.”

68. Moonlight by British brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence of Disclosure is an electronic jazz instrumental with Latin roots that takes listeners on a dreamy journey that Rolling Stone magazine called “hypnotic.”

69. Floating by the Moody Blues “brings back lots of great memories,” wrote Georgia Nelsen, who fondly remembers the ballad from a 1970s Civil Air Patrol flying squadron summer camp.

70. Turbulence by Bowling for Soup from the album Fishin’ for Woos is a spiritual rock ballad with lyrics that celebrate family, dreams, and perseverance.

71. Dreams by Van Halen, an up-tempo tune recommended by AOPA eMedia Production Assistant Melissa Whitehouse, reminds her of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels because the demonstration team was featured during a performance on a music video TV channel. The aviation-inspired lyrics also hold special meaning for the student pilot. “We’ll get higher and higher, Straight up we’ll climb, Higher and higher, Leave it all behind, We’ll get higher and higher, Who knows what we’ll find?”

72. We Remember, a tribute to aviators by Dwayne O’Brien of Little Texas, was performed for an International Council of Airshows convention with a video that salutes military and airshow aviators.

73. High Flight, an aviation poem by John Gillespie Magee Jr., is set to music and performed by pilot and balladeer John Denver. The performance pushes Magee’s ode to flying into a new dimension.

74. Take You Higher by Australia's Goodwill & Hook N Sling thumps through a heavy bass beat with alternating keyboards and unpredictable stops that push and pull the dreamy tune while asking, “Can I take you, take you higher? (hey, hey, hey, hey).”

75. Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, an enduring anthem and frequent encore request, closes out this year’s aviation playlist. Syrupy guitar riffs give way to a raucous Southern rock performance that remains popular more than 40 years after an epic 1976 live performance recorded in Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. Listen for vocalist Ronnie Van Zant’s “Play it pretty for Atlanta” clue—and get your smartphone flashlight ready.

If we missed anything that you think other pilots would enjoy, send us your ideas for more aviation-themed songs.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Content Producer
AOPA Media Content Producer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: Aviation Industry, Public Benefit Flying

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