Henry Holden has spent most of his writing career with his head far above the clouds, a fitting setting for an aviation enthusiast with 35 books under his belt.
The Randolph resident's latest, "Images of Aviation: Newark Airport," visually documents the history of Newark Liberty International Airport from its one-runway, 66-acre days in 1928 to its current status as a major high-traffic destination. The 127-page book debuted July 13.
Newark Liberty was the metropolitan area's first airport. In 1935, the airport's administration building became the first commercial airline terminal in North America.
"The airport administration building is a national landmark," said Holden, 70. "It was recently restored to its 1935 condition. They had to cut it in three parts, move it 3,500 feet and renovate it."
The book showcases aviation legends such as Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Rickenbacker and Howard Hughes, all of whom touched down at Newark. Previously unpublished photos are courtesy of the archives of New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame and from Holden's collection.
Holden, news editor East for Airport Journals publications, has published more than 900 articles in national aviation magazines and is the founder of the Web-based Women in Aviation Resource Center and the DC-3/Dakota Historical Society at dc3history.org.
His love of airplanes started young.
"As a kid in Queens, I'd ride my bike to LaGuardia and watch the DC-3's," Holden said.
But, "I had no idea I wanted to write," he said. "I have a political science degree and did some graduate work and worked for New York Telephone — now Verizon — as a supervising engineer for control office equipment."
From 1979-1981 Holden was relocated to Orlando, Fla., working for AT&T. It was in Florida that he heard his official calling from above.
"I was driving on the road when I heard this racket over head," he said. "I look up, and there's a corrugated airplane with three engines — one on each wing and one on the nose. I followed the pilot and talked to (the pilot)."
The plane? A Ford Tri-Motor aircraft, the successor to the DC-3.
This set the wheels in motion for an eventual three-book series on civilian aviation: "The Boeing 247: The First Modern Commercial Airplane" and "The Douglas DC-3," both 1991, and "The Fabulous Ford Tri-Motors" in 1992.
His offical writing career began in 1975, but he wasn't published until 1980. Holden first specialized in non-fiction children's books, some which focused on aviation. Then, a friend told him of a publisher in need of specialty writers.
In 1981, he returned to New Jersey, working for New York Telephone and continued writing. While conducting research in 1988 at the Douglas Plant Museum in San Diego, Holden discovered there were no books on female pilots.
In 1993, he founded Blackhawk Publishing, which operates out of his home, and self-published five books, including "Ladybirds: The Untold Story of Female Pilots in America" and "Her Mentor Was An Albatross: The Autobiography of Pioneer Pilot Harriet Quimby."
The series garnered the attention of the U.S. Congressional Record and earned him the the New Jersey Institute of Technology Author's Award in 1994.
"It's a tough thing for a man to write about," said aviation writer Walter Boyd. "It's like navigating a minefield. If you get one thing out of context or have any inclination of the male ego . . . but this was very well done — and well-researched."
Boyd, who splits his time between Silver Spring, Md., and Ashburn, Va., first met Holden at respective book signings at the Experimental Aircraft Association, an international aviation enthusiasts group based in Osh Kosh, Wis. They have been collaborating on several projects over the years.
Boyd is all too familiar with Holden's DC-3 fascination and fondly remembers his book on the Ford Tri-Motor aircraft.
With a growing namesake collection of aviation-themed books, Holden, once again tipped by an author friend, changed course to pursue an educational military series which was in demand by the publishing house Motorbooks.
Holden expanded his horizons and library with five more books, one on being an Air Force pilot and four on law enforcement, including the FBI.
The book on Newark Liberty started with a tip in 2008 from a friend who also loves aviation, Josh Stoff, curator at the Cradle of Aviation in Garden City, Long Island. The two met 10 years ago at an aviation history conference.
Having just completed books on J.F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports, Stoff suggested that Holden provide a New Jersey angle, with Newark. Holden completed the book last October.
He's doing the research now for a new project, a book on Teterboro Airport, home to the Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey. He credits much of his success to his wife, Nancy, for her marketing efforts and his sons Steve and Scott.
The Holdens travel frequently to Chesapeake, Va., home to his two grandchildren, Cameron and Maura. This trip, however, he usually takes by car.