Flights for Freedom


Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
334 Pages
Reviewed on 10/14/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Flights for Freedom is a work of fiction in the military and historical subgenres and was penned by author Steven Burgauer. Set during the air fights and occupations of the First World War, this work is best suited to the adult reading audience and contains non-graphic references to the perils and violence of war. Our central protagonist is “Petrol” Petronas of the 17th Aero Squadron, an American who braves the uncovered cockpits of some of the most unpredictable planes. When Petrol is shot down in a battle over France, he finds himself in the hands of a beautiful woman from the Dutch Resistance, and he begins to learn of the underground efforts on the other side of the Channel to end the horrors of war.

Author Steven Burgauer delivers a visceral and atmospheric account of life under fire as he tells the tale of a brave pilot and the people who rally to get him home alive. One of the features I especially enjoyed about the work was its focus on ordinary people living under the pressures of war and how their small actions are just as heroic as those of the fighters high in the sky and in the trenches. Petrol was an enigmatic central figure, well balanced between his skills and his fears. The dialogue, too, was very effective at delivering some of the major plot elements in a more natural way without the need for a wall of prose. Overall, I would highly recommend Flights for Freedom to fans of immersive, accurate historical fiction with relatable characters and exciting plot twists.

Grant Leishman

Flights for Freedom by Steven Burgauer is one of those unusual historical novels in that it seamlessly blends true and real characters from life with fictional characters. Set toward the end of the First World War, its primary focus is on the war in the air by the British. American pilots come to grips with this newfangled skill of flight and how it can be utilized against the dreaded Boche. Petrol Petronas is an American pilot serving as part of a squadron attached to the Royal Air Force. He is a man with a past that he is desperate to distance himself from – his family is a major Italian crime family in the United States. Petrol wants nothing to do with them. He is committed to fighting for his country and winning this war in the air. When Petrol crashes behind enemy lines, he is rescued from his wreckage by a sympathetic farmer aligned to an underground railway that smuggles downed British pilots back to England. His journey back to “Blighty” will bring him into contact with a variety of individuals, including a beautiful young woman spy, a grizzled British Intelligence agent who is carrying out a dangerous mission behind enemy lines, a Catholic priest who raises and supplies carrier pigeons to the British Army, and an elderly woman whose embroidery skills may be what is needed to change the course of the war, especially in the air. All of these different characters will change Petrol’s war and his focus irrevocably and forever.

Flights for Freedom is a fascinating story that encompasses a wide variety of arcs and storylines that somehow author Steven Burgauer manages to weave into a story jam-packed full of synchronicities and chance encounters. I particularly appreciated the historical notes about the real characters in Petrol’s squadron and their ultimate dispositions, albeit many of them with sad endings. The story itself takes so many twists and turns with the wide variety of actors, plots, and storylines that there is zero chance of any reader becoming bored with the plot. I found most interesting the incredibly widespread, systematic, and quite successful espionage operations carried out by the Germans during the war, especially against nations that were “neutral,” such as the United States, for much of the conflict. What makes this book ultimately successful is the beautifully crafted story of Petrol Petronas and his relationship with the British Intelligence operative combined with the factual information of the battles, the equipment, and the dangers of early aerial warfare. In many ways, the lack of technology available to the combatants makes the ingenuity of the participants even more incredible. The author did a superb job in his characterizations of all the participants in this ensemble cast. The interplay between Petronas and the British Intelligence officer was a definite highlight of the narrative. With all its twists and turns, this is an excellent read and one I can highly recommend.

Tom Gauthier

Flights for Freedom is the story of an American pilot during the embryonic years of military aviation during World War I. 'Petrol' Petronas is assigned to the 17th Aero Squadron and is challenged to learn to fly the British bi-wing fighter plane dubbed the Sopwith Camel. Surviving and succeeding in a number of deadly encounters with the Germans, Petronas is finally shot down over France, skillfully landing a badly mauled aircraft made of wire, wood, and canvas. Shuttled from safehouse to safehouse, he is kept hidden by a strong and defiant woman of the Dutch Resistance, crossing vague borders into Belgium on a circuitous route back to England. Along the way we are introduced to many of the horrors visited on the civilian population by the Germans, termed the Huns by the Allied forces. We meet children orphaned by the war and the brave souls who care for them. One of those is a Catholic priest who is also a spy, raising and flying carrier pigeons on the rooftop of his abbey, and sending them out carrying secret messages to and from the frontlines for Signal Corps. Petronas himself becomes an unwilling spy after he stumbles into the middle of espionage and is befriended by a British MI5 agent. When the agent is injured, Petronas is pressed into taking his place on a mission to carry the top-secret plans for an advanced gunsight out of Holland, hidden inside an embroidered cotton flour sack.
Not an easy or safe task as he must make his way across the border that separates Holland from Belgium that is guarded by a lethal electric fence. If the downed American flyer is to get safely across the heavily patrolled and electrified border into Holland and back to England, he must learn who to bribe.

In Flights For Freedom, Steven Burgauer delivers a journey of emotion and stimulation for readers. His characters are compelling and interact to tell the human side of World War I. The entire tale is wrapped in the realities of warfare in 1918; the brutal, bloody encounters and wholesale slaughter at every turn. History unwrapped. From the challenges of the new aerial flight in combat to the mud and blood of the trenches to the civilian suffering as they avoid death at every turn, we follow individuals through scenes fraught with danger. We are taken into the world of espionage on both sides of the ocean, spies weaving their threads of deceit and seeking an advantage over their opponents. Steven Burgauer has woven into every page the real history of technology, organizations, and events that adds an entire delicious layer to this beautifully baked cake of history. High praise for Burgauer's writing and storytelling skills.