AUTHOR'S NOTE: This true life adventure may read like fiction but it isn't. As a former Navy pilot, my training experience paralleled that of Rolan Powell's, although the similiarty ends there. He seemed to encounter danger at every turn and somehow live to tell about it — cheating death time and time again during three wars, and as a test pilot and CIA mercenary. We became good friends during the creation of this book and I can easily rate him as one of the most interesting characters I have ever met.


by Byron D. “Jug” Varner

Paperback edition. Softcover, 196 pages, Published 1996, Overnight Press Texas.

Reviewed for Keeping APAce By Dan Hagedorn, Adjunct Curator, Latin American Aviation Archives Division – MRC 322 National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC

During the course of my own historical research, I have been intrigued by the number of senior pilots I have encountered who have said something to this effect: “Oh, I didn't do anything special; no one would be interested in that.” After reading Living on the Edge: An American War hero's Daring Feats as a Navy Fighter Pilot, Civilian Test Pilot, and CIA Mercenary, by Byron D. Varner, I was left with the impression that Rolan Powell — the pilot that Varner has chronicled — may well have uttered those same words at some point.

Fortunately for posterity, Byron Varner apparently got Powell talking.

I have known pilots who have managed, in the course of their careers, to engage intensively in service aviation, in test flying, foreign missions, working with “non-traditional agencies” and commercial and corporate aviation. However, I have never encountered one who has done it all, so to speak.

This slender volume (but 196 pages), is a compact compilation of an amazing flying career that, in more than one instance, rubbed shoulders with history-in-the-making. For myself, the epic single-handed mission to train Brazil's first carrier-based pilots on T-28s was, alone, “worth the price of admission,” as it is doubtful if this little-known episode would have otherwise ever have seen the light of day, given the circumstances.

My only criticism is that the chronicler's editor missed a few typos and misspellings that should have been caught, but these in no way detract from the accuracy of the account or the manner in which the facts, as they unfold, are recorded. The central character, we are left believing, although candid and forthright in his testimony, also seems to have perhaps restrained his comments about his dealings with “The Company.”

He would not be the first to have done so, due to the particular constraints that such “employment” almost invariably entails. It remains, nonetheless, an affront to a free society that any citizen who has given so much should fear any form of retribution from an agency of our own creation, beyond control.

This book gives us a rare insight into the “making of a universal pilot,” in a form that seems almost uniquely American. Hopefully, at some future date, a major publishing house will seize upon this title, tidy it up a bit, and give it the exposure that it deserves.

To purchase a copy of Living On The Edge send $15.95 $US check or money order and your return address to:
Byron Varner
11 Sunset Dr #306
Sarasota FL 34236
No mailings outside the United States.