Nance, John J. 1946–

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Nance, John J. 1946–

(John Nance)


Born July 5, 1946, in Dallas, TX; son of Joseph Turner (an attorney) and Margrette Z. (an English professor and published poet) Nance; married Benita Priest (a school development specialist), July 26, 1968; children: Dawn Michelle, Bridgitte Cathleen, Christopher Sean. Education: Southern Methodist University, B.A., 1968, J.D., 1969; U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training, distinguished graduate, 1971; also attended the University of Hawaii.


Home and office—University Place, WA. Agent—Wieser & Wieser, 25 E. 21st St., New York, NY 10010.


Writer, journalist, columnist, pilot, and lawyer. Park Cities North Dallas News, writer, columnist, and aviation writer, 1957-64; KAIM-AM/FM, Honolulu, HI, announcer and newsperson, 1964-65; WFAA-AM/FM/TV, Dallas, TX, radio and television newsperson, 1966-70; NEWSCOM News Service, Dallas, news director, 1969-70; admitted to the Bar of the State of Texas, 1970; attorney in private practice, 1970—; Braniff International Airlines, Dallas, pilot, 1975-82; Alaska Airlines, Seattle, WA, pilot, 1985—, professional leave, 1987-93; Simulator Training Incorporated (flight school), Seattle, pilot training consultant and instructor, 1986-92; EMEX Corporation, Tacoma, WA, airline safety analyst and consultant, 1986—; ABC Radio and Television Network, aviation analyst, 1994; Good Morning America, ABC, aviation editor, 1995; Nance & Carmichael, PC (law firm), Austin, TX, partner, 1997. Executive Transport Incorporated, president, 1979-85; Preventative Products Incorporated, vice-president of development, 1983-88. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, consultant, 1987; Foundation for Issues Resolution in Science and Technology, founding board member, 1987-89; National Patient Safety Foundation at American Medical Association, member of board; consultant and analyst on aviation and earthquake safety for major television and radio news networks, including American Broadcasting Companies (ABC), National Broadcasting Company (NBC), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), Cable News Network (CNN), Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR), United Press International (UPI), Associated Press (AP), and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 1984-95; guest appearances on nationally broadcast television shows, including Good Morning America, Today, This Morning, Macneil-Lehrer Report, Oprah, CBS Evening News, and Nova, 1984—; professional speaker on health care and medical fields, corporate, managerial, aviation, seismic, and other topics, 1988—; ABC News (exclusive), aviation analyst, 1995—; Good Morning America, aviation editor, 1996—. Military service: U.S. Air Force, 1970-75; pilot and aircraft commander, 1971-75; entered associate reserve, 1975; present rank, lieutenant colonel. Served in Vietnam War as pilot, 1971-74; project officer, Cockpit Resource Management and Aircrew Flight Safety Program Development and Education, 97th Military Aircraft Squadron, 1988-93; activated and deployed to Operation Desert Storm (Persian Gulf War), 1990-91; Individual Mobilization Augmentee, Randolph AFB, Texas, affiliated with Crew Resource Management (CRM) education, 1993-95.


American Bar Association, Authors Guild of America, Texas Bar Association, Reserve Officers Association, Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild, Phi Alpha Delta, Delta Chi.


Washington Governor's Outstanding Author Award, 1987, for Blind Trust; Pacific Northwest Writers Conference Lifetime Achievement Award, 1996.



Splash of Colors: The Self-Destruction of Braniff International, Morrow (New York, NY), 1984.

Blind Trust, Morrow (New York, NY), 1986.

On Shaky Ground, Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.

What Goes Up, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.

Golden Boy: The Harold Simmons Story, Eakin Press (Austin, TX), 2003.


Final Approach, Crown (New York, NY), 1990.

Scorpion Strike, Crown (New York, NY), 1992.

Phoenix Rising, Crown (New York, NY), 1994.

Pandora's Clock, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.

Medusa's Child, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.

The Last Hostage, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.

Blackout, Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.

Headwind, Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.

Turbulence, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.

Fire Flight, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.

Skyhook, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.

Saving Cascadia, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.

Orbit, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2006.


Contributor to Transportation Safety in an Age of Deregulation, edited by Leon N. Moses and Ian Savage, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Contributor to periodicals, including Los Angeles Times, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, and Professional Pilot. Braniff Inflight Magazine, columnist, 1987-89.


Pandora's Clock was released as a television miniseries by NBC, 1996; Medusa's Child was released as a television miniseries by ABC, 1997. Several of the author's books have been adapted for audio, including Orbit.


John J. Nance's background as a journalist, lawyer, and experienced military and commercial pilot has made him a highly respected analyst of the aviation industry and has led him to write numerous nonfiction and fiction books about airline safety and other societal issues. Born in Dallas, Texas, in 1946, Nance was interested in flying and writing at a young age, becoming the aviation writer for his neighborhood newspaper when he was thirteen. While earning an undergraduate and law degree as an ROTC scholar at Southern Methodist University, Nance worked full-time as a radio broadcast journalist. After receiving a degree in air law and passing the Texas Bar Exam, Nance attended the U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona, where he was cited as a distinguished graduate. He later served as a pilot and aircraft commander for the U.S. Air Force, flying thirty-five missions in Vietnam. In 1975 Nance left active duty and joined the reserves, serving as an aircraft commander. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel—a rank he still holds—in 1989. Nance worked as a commercial pilot for Braniff International Airlines for seven years, until the corporation went bankrupt in 1982. Byron Acohido in the Seattle Times once noted how Nance's career has given him a unique advantage as an aviation analyst: "Reporters gravitate to Nance because he's a rare specimen: an articulate, knowledgeable and well-connected member of the aviation community who owes allegiance to no one save his conscience." Acohido quoted a member of the aviation community, who stated: "Most pilots have a hard time communicating about flying," and added: "John has background in law, and he's a wordsmith. He can express our feelings without offending people."

Nance wrote his first book after losing his position as a pilot for Braniff when they went into bankruptcy. Splash of Colors: The Self-Destruction of Braniff International focuses on the executive decisions to dramatically expand the company after the federal government deregulated the airline industry in 1978, an action that minimized governmental intervention in the airlines, allowing companies to grow rapidly and engage in competitive cost-cutting practices that some people argued would affect safety. Unforeseen increases in fuel prices and interest rates on the money Braniff had borrowed for its expansion ultimately led to financial disaster for the company. Mark Potts, in a review of Splash of Colors in the Washington Post, praised Nance's coverage of the plight of both the workers and the executives of Braniff and called the book "one of the best chronicles of corporate tragedy."

In his next book, Blind Trust, Nance explores the importance of the individual aviation employee, whom he cites as a key factor in risk management in modernday air travel. Analyzing a number of tragic airplane crashes, Nance identifies issues in the airline industry that need to be addressed in order to minimize aviation safety problems caused by human error. Many of the dangers he discusses stem from deregulation; companies hired inexperienced pilots to fly unfamiliar routes and forced pilots to work longer hours. In order to cut costs and offer low passenger fares in further attempts to compete with other airlines, companies also minimized the maintenance of planes and replaced experienced employees with lower-paid newcomers. The industry's new concern with growth, Nance claims, led airline corporations to ignore the effect these changes had on workers and their performance in relation to air safety. Nance concludes in Blind Trust that eighty-five percent of all airline disasters are due to "stressed-out pilots, overworked air traffic controllers, less-than-vigilant government investigators and cost-conscious maintenance crews." He suggests that government officials and airline executives should put more effort into understanding and remedying these problems. "Deregulation," the author says in the book, "has retarded dramatically and dangerously the spread of a very basic understanding: People will make mistakes; these mistakes can be anticipated through human-factors and human-performance research and investigation; and what the industry can learn from such research can be applied in direct practical ways to prevent those predictable mistakes from causing crashes and killing passengers."

Critics praised Nance for his clear and insightful presentation in Blind Trust. Paul Sonnenburg in the Los Angeles Times Book Review noted Nance's "discerning aircraft accident analyses—models of deftly sketched detail, compassionate perception of human behavior, and shrewd synthesis of complex relationships and perspectives." Douglas B. Feaver, in his review for the Washington Post, called Nance's book "one of the best and most troubling aviation safety books of recent years."

In addition to his nonfiction works, Nance has become well known as a writer of suspense novels. Such bestsellers as Medusa's Child and Blackout have helped establish Nance as "arguably the king of the modernday aviation thriller," as a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote.

In Pandora's Clock, the author presents a claustrophobic worst-case scenario: a commercial airplane passenger afflicted with a doomsday virus. Medusa's Child, a 1996 release, takes the reader through twelve hours aboard a cargo plane sabotaged with a nuclear device capable of obliterating half the Atlantic seaboard. As the bomb's timer ticks down, the crew struggles to disarm the weapon even as the plane approaches a hurricane. People contributor Cynthia Sanz wrote that the author "skillfully ratchets up the suspense."

Nance published The Last Hostage in 1998, an on-flight hostage drama that provides "a thrilling ride," according to J.D. Reed in People. Library Journal reviewer Maria Perez-Stable remarked that the novel's "fast-moving plot has more twists than a corkscrew." With Blackout, FBI agent Kat Bronsky and news reporter Robert MacCabe team up to investigate why numerous jumbo jets are falling from the sky. In each case a mysterious, blinding flash has preceded the crash, and a corporate jet is in the vicinity of each disaster. The finger is pointed at terrorists bent on disabling the U.S. air industry by orchestrating air tragedies. To Booklist critic Gilbert Taylor, Blackout delivers "a glorified chase scene stretched from Hong Kong to Idaho." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author "continues to craft brilliantly hair-raising in-flight emergency scenes" culminating in "a rousing, well-developed finale that comes together smoothly on final approach."

In his novel Turbulence, Nance writes about a potential airline hijacking with a twist. During a flight from London to Capetown, the passengers of an airliner become increasingly upset with the pilot, the incompetent Phil Knight, and chief flight attendant, Judy Jackson. The near revolt is brought about by a clash between the inept and spiteful Jackson and Dr. Brian Logan, who blames the airline company for the death of his wife and child. To complicate matters further, the CIA believes that the plane may also contain a weapon that is targeted for use on a European capital, sparking a debate on whether or not it should be shot down. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Nance does "the job of spurring the plot to ever higher excitement."

Headwind features a story about an ex-U.S. President who is arrested in Europe for crimes supposedly committed by the CIA during his tenure. It is up to a smalltime lawyer and two pilots who commandeer an airplane to save him. Noting the novels "white-knuckle flying sequences," Ronnie H. Terpening also wrote in the Library Journal that the novel "crackle[s] with tension." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "Flair-raising near-disaster in the air, high courtroom drama and a strong international cast of characters make this surefire bestseller a nonstop read."

Nance changes his formula slightly in his novel Fire Flight, which is more about smoke jumping and a mystery rather than the in-flight suspense the author usually writes. The story follows pilot Clark Maxwell, who comes out of retirement only to be involved in a crash that kills his copilot and a hotshot smoke jumper. Clark suspects that the crash, caused when the wings fell off the plane, was due to negligence or sabotage, a suspicion further supported when another pilot friend is killed in a similar scenario. As a result, Clark sets out to discover the truth. "With its lively cast and rich plot, this is Nance's best book in years," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. Several critics also noted the author's ability to build suspense. In her review in Booklist, Mary Frances Wilkens commented that the author "successfully melds a timely topic, forest fires, with his specialty, pulse-pounding airborne excitement." In his review in the Library Journal, Robert Conroy wrote that the author "has crafted an exciting and compelling story."

In Skyhook, Ben Cole, an aviation expert, and April Rosen, boss of a cruise line, find themselves involved in a plot that could cause the destruction of Skyhook, a secret government computer program that helps rescue planes that are experiencing flight problems. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Skyhook a "thoroughly entertaining thriller about secrets, lies (bureaucratic sort), and little guys beating the odds." A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote: "Nance offers his usual abundance of authentic aviation detail as well as a few final twists."

Nance features a natural disaster in Saving Cascadia. The story revolves around a resort built on Cascadia Island off the coast of Washington. The construction goes on despite warnings that the island is in store for a natural catastrophe of tremendous proportion, due to the fact that Cascadia Island is located on a large seismic fault. When an earthquake occurs during the resort's grand opening, it is followed by a tsunami with seventy-foot waves headed for the island and threatening to wipe out both the island's tourists and residents. "Nance does it again, thrill upon thrill," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author "builds suspense to a fever pitch in this all-too-credible nail-biter."

Orbit takes place in the year 2009 and features Kip Dawson, who has won the right to fly on the American Space Adventure ship to orbit the earth. However, once in space, the ship is hit by a rock that kills the pilot, meaning that Kip must fly the ship back to earth by himself. Meanwhile, Kip's efforts are being sabotaged by a NASA director out to destroy any thoughts of future civilian space programs. "Orbit ranks among Nance's best," wrote Robert Conroy in the Library Journal.

Nance once told CA: "As an author, I'm a communicator with a journalist's responsibility for balance and accuracy, a storyteller's passion to entertain and excite, and an advocate's determination to educate and motivate. I'm very privileged to have gained an audience that seems to enjoy both my nonfiction and fiction, and I'm determined to remain scrupulously faithful to their expectations by structuring the truth (without embellishment) into dynamic, human terms, and by telling exciting tales against the background of strict reality."



Nance, John J., Blind Trust, Morrow (New York, NY), 1986.


Booklist, June 1, 1994, Dennis Winters, review of Phoenix Rising, p. 1771; January 1, 2000, Gilbert Taylor, review of Blackout, p. 834; February 15, 2003, George Cohen, review of Skyhook, p. 1018; September 15, 2003, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Fire Flight, p. 181; February 1, 2005, George Cohen, review of Saving Cascadia, p. 946; February 15, 2006, George Cohen, review of Orbit, p. 51.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2002, review of Turbulence, p. 214; February 15, 2003, review of Skyhook, p. 262; September 15, 2003, review of Fire Flight, p. 1150; January 1, 2005, review of Saving Cascadia, p. 14.

Library Journal, March 15, 1998, Maria Perez-Stable, review of The Last Hostage, p. 95; March 1, 2001, Ronnie H. Terpening, review of Headwind, p. 132; November 1, 2003, Robert Conroy, review of Fire Flight, p. 125; February 15, 2006, Robert Conroy, review of Orbit, p. 109.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 26, 1986, Paul Sonnenburg, review of Blind Trust, p. 1.

People, March 31, 1986, Cynthia Sanz, review of Medusa's Child, p. 93; March 2, 1998, J.D. Reed, review of The Last Hostage, p. 38.

Publishers Weekly, May 10, 1991, review of What Goes Up, 270; March 23, 1992, review of Scorpion Strike, p. 60; January 6, 1997, review of Medusa's Child, p. 64; January 12, 1998, review of The Last Hostage, p. 46; January 3, 2000, review of Blackout, p. 60; February 12, 2001, review of Headwind, p. 182; April 15, 2002, review of Turbulence, p. 42; March 24, 2003, review of Skyhook, p. 60; September 8, 2003, review of Fire Flight, p. 52; February 14, 2005, review of Saving Cascadia, p. 55.

Seattle Times, January 16, 1989, Byron Acohido, profile of author, p. F1.

Washington Post, September 24, 1984, Mark Potts, review of Splash of Colors: The Self-Destruction of Braniff International, p. D6; January 21, 1986, Douglas B. Feaver, review of Blind Trust.

ONLINE, (March 3, 2000), "John J. Nance," interview with author.

Simon & Schuster Web site, (April 15, 2007), brief profile of the author.