was composed by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American serving
with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was born in Shanghai, China in 1922, the
son of missionary parents.
Magee came to the
U.S. in 1939 and earned a scholarship to Yale, but enlisted in the RCAF in
September 1940, and graduated as a pilot. He was sent to England for combat duty
in July 1941.
Pilot Officer Magee wrote High Flight in August 1941 when he made
a flight to 33,000 feet in a Spitfire. On December 11, 1941 his Spitfire
collided with another plane during combat training.
Magee, only 19 years of age, crashed to his death. His remains are buried
in a churchyard cemetery in Scopwick, England.
is required to be recited from memory by first year cadets at the United States
Air Force Academy and serves as the official poem of the Royal Canadian Air
In the early 1960s the United States Air Force produced a short film
version of High Flight, which was sent to every television station in the
United States. Most stations relegated the film to the wee hours of the night,
just before sign off. The film featured the F-104 Starfighter, which was the
first combat aircraft capable of traveling at twice the speed of sound.
Over the years the
iconic poem has endured as a favorite among aviators. President Reagan quoted High
Flight in his speech to the nation following the Challenger disaster in
1985. Portions of the poem appear on many headstones in Arlington National
Click on the F-104 Starfighter to view the original United States Air Force film, High Flight.