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Local author draws on experiences as test pilot for latest book

Posted: Wednesday, Mar 19th, 2008

Photo by Ellen Holland — Atascadero resident George J. Marrett holds his latest book, "Contrails over the Mojave." The book documents Marrett's experiences as a test pilot and is available locally at Buckets of Books.

Atascadero resident George J. Marrett has spent 50 years of his life flying airplanes and when he returns to Earth he documents his experiences in the sky.

Marrett’s latest book, “Contrails over the Mojave,” illustrates his employment as a test pilot during a time known as “the golden age of jet flight testing.”

“They gave me everything. The simplicity of these three words explains the dedication of more than 30 of my test pilot friends who never returned from their last flight,” the book’s introduction begins. “‘Contrails over the Mojave’ is a story about these men, their love of flying, the world speed altitude records they set and the sacrifices they made for our country. To permanently record that illustrious history and honor their memory is the purpose of this book.”

Although “Contrails over the Mojave” is Marrett’s fourth published work, he started writing the stories that make up the book before he began to work on all of his other novels. Twelve years ago Marrett told his oldest son, Randy, about his desire to write a book about the time he spent as a test pilot.

“He said ‘Dad, that’s like running a marathon if you’re just a walker,’” Marrett said of son’s reaction to the news.

Randy suggested that his father, who only had experience as a technical writer, should send short stories to magazines as a way to get himself published instead of starting with a full-length book. Marrett took his son’s advice and had 18 stories published in aviation magazines before following his son’s advice for a second time and writing a book about his experiences in Vietnam, a topic that Randy thought would generate more interest.

Marrett wrote the manuscript for that book, “Cheating Death,” in seven months and was offered a contract one year after he started working on it.

Through a connection Marrett developed with an acquisitions editor he then got his second book, “Howard Hughes Aviator,” published two months before the film “The Aviator” arrived in theaters. Marrett worked as a technical consultant on the film and put his personal stories about 20 years spent working with Hughes Aircraft Company in his third book, “Testing Death.”

Marrett, who retired from Hughes Aircraft Company in 1989, continues to fly for business and pleasure.

“You can’t beat the view, the view of the world is incredible,” he said of 50 years spent in flight. “I always wanted to go higher and faster and higher and faster and do something more difficult and complex.”

Marrett entered the Air Force as a second lieutenant from the Reserve Officers Training Corps program in 1958. He graduated from pilot training in 1959 and went on to attend advanced flying school before beginning four years of work as interceptor pilot in the 84th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton Air Force Base.

In 1964 Marrett was selected to attend a year-long Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base and upon his graduation, began three years of flight testing. A sense of duty and honor to his country kept him in the air during this time despite the tragic loss of many of his fellow test pilots, he said.

“I never had any trouble getting up in the morning and going off to fly,” he said, noting one of the reasons he enjoys being a pilot is sharing the company of fellow aviators. “I’ve meet guys that have gone to the moon and become generals. I know guys who have great history, who have made American history.”

Fans of Marrett’s latest work have said that book provides a “unique and fascinating insider’s account.”

“Marrett’s exceptional ability as both a test pilot and writer make “Contrails over the Mojave’ a fascinating must read for anyone interested in the ‘golden years’ of experimental aircraft flight testing at Edwards AFB,” William Anders, Apollo 8 lunar module pilot, said in a release. “He puts the reader right in the cockpit with him and other testing icons during these challenging times.”

Autographed copies of “Contrails over the Mojave” are available in Atascadero at Buckets of Books. The book can also be ordered from Barnes and Noble and Borders or found online at www.amazon.com.

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