Friday, June 30, 2023

Review The Airplanes and The King (3rd Edition)

One could ask, if by now, is there any aspect of Elvis Presley’s life, career or legacy left that hasn’t been covered in a (dedicated) book. 

Just this year we got (or will get) books on his 8mm movies, German EPs, Japanese and U.K. vinyl, his spiritual side, his watches, a certain year or month, a specific movie, his daughter, his ex-wife, his army years, playlists with his music and even a book on “all the  things you didn’t know or have forgotten … and some things you wish you’d remembered or liked to forget!” So a book on his airplanes actually first in nicely!

Since I wrote the foreword for the latter book, I asked experienced author Rogier van Luyken - from the Dutch It’s Elvis Time fan club - to share his perspectives on the content, to ensure this is an objective review.

So here is our review of 'Elvis, The Man Flying High In The Sky'.


This third edition of Carlos Varrenti’s ‘The Airplanes and The King’ is a slimmed down and updated budget edition, aimed at the U.S. marked for both Elvis and aviation fans. Many U.S. fans missed out on this book as the Deluxe 400-page edition could be considered “heavy freight”. Due to the weight the shipping costs for fans outside Europe were pretty steep.

The cover of this 17 by 24 cm 285-page paperback remained the same throughout all three editions, capturing both main subjects of the book in one picture. The lay-out is easy on the eye, the font a bit big, but illustrated throughout with relevant pictures of Elvis with or in his airplanes. The book is full-color, so not just easy, but also attractive to the eye. 

Added to that are documents with intriguing facts about the airplanes, flight patterns, schedules and captivating pictures of pretty much the complete crew of ‘Elvis Presley Airways’, that complete the story in detail.


Looking at the list of books on almost ‘everything Elvis Presley’, you may wonder if a book on Elvis’ socks is up next! But perhaps the main question should be, how essential are all these books? And no, ‘Something for Everyone’ is not the answer! However, this book about covering ‘everything about Elvis and “his” airplanes, caught my eye. Being in the (slow) process of writing a book myself (about the last couple of years of Elvis’ life) I was curious about what writer Carlos Varrenti (from Argentina) had discovered about ‘Elvis Presley Airways’. 

In an interview with the Elvis Information Network the author said: "It took me about 1 year to write the book. But it took me 25 years to compile all the information! To tell you the truth, at first, it was not in mind to do this book, on the contrary, as every fan does, I was waiting for someone else to write it and then buy it! But it never came out... 

There are more than 2,900 Elvis related books released but I never found any book talking about Elvis’ Airplanes and his relation to Aviation, his fears and conquers in the aeronautical world. Not even in Graceland! If you go to visit the planes, the little aviation shop does not have any book related to Elvis and his planes! So, I said to myself: “If no one does it, I think I can do it"

The first edition of this book was a privately released 200-page Spanish book, the second edition was a lavish and heavy 400-page release, done together with Erik Lorentzen in the now well known ‘Elvis Files’ style. I did not own one of these editions, so in my hands is the third, commercial, release. 

Going back to my question, what did Carlos uncover about the ‘Elvis Presley Airlines’, I must say I am very impressed with his work! The research looks very extensive and complete, covering everything from 1955 to 1977 and beyond. It includes new information that came to light as recent as April 2023. 

With Varrenti being an aeronautical engineer writing a reference book there could have been a risk that it would be a technical book, but it’s not. It is very well written intertwining the stories of both Elvis and his airplanes. 

It takes a few pages before the book really “takes off” at page 23. We first get several well-deserved recommendations for this book as well as a foreword by Carlos himself. And check out page 9, where we see a TCB business card for Elvis’ pilot Milo B. High. Underneath his name Elvis wrote “How high?”. On the back of the card Elvis writes: “O GOD, thy sky is so great and my plane is so small” as well as his private telephone numbers. A nice detail that reminds us of Elvis’ fear of flying.

And that is the first subject in this book. We learn that this fear of flying was caused by the ‘horror’ flight Elvis made on April 14, 1956. At that point in time, I think Elvis could not have imagined that little over 15 years later, he would cover the nation by air or even being the “president” of his own airplane company. 

What follows is literally everything there is to know about Elvis and airplanes: the ones he used for travel in the fifties, returning from the army, traveling to Hawaii, the planes used in his movies and the planes he used to tour from city to city. It is all covered extensively, including all the technical specs of the planes. Based on meticulous research it provides a very informative and comprehensive overview for both Elvis and aviation fans!

It is interesting to read about the various planes Elvis rented before acquiring a Convair 880 that became known as the ‘Lisa Marie’. Planes from Ilustre’s names like Howard Hughes and Hugh Hefner. 

At the end of the book there’s even an extensive list of all of Elvis’ flights and dates and even maps of the USA showing from what town to the next our hero was flying. Throughout the book there are many great pictures to be seen of Elvis boarding and de-boarding planes, being pictured inside several planes through the years or being in planes used in his films. It must have taken a lot of research to find all these planes and pictures of Elvis with them. But adding these images is both “proof” that Elvis used that plane and it places the plane in the correct / historical “Elvis context”. 

There is also vast number of documents to be seen and read. Rare is the picture of the ‘Hound Dog II’ on January 3, 1977, when Elvis and Ginger flew out to the funeral of Ginger Alden’s granddad in Arkansas. I can’t remember having seen this picture before.

Of great interest are the stories on the Lisa Marie after August 16, 1977. I never knew that this plane was used by the CIA to transport an South American dictator. I’m pretty sure ‘Agent Elvis’ would have been thrilled to know that the CIA used his airplane for a covert mission! Or maybe Agent Elvis went undercover and witnessed all of this 

There is another police story on another Jetstar that was "scraped at the dessert”. That plane was recently sold at an auction and is currently being chopped up in little pieces to be sold to fans. The question remains if Elvis actually ever set foot in that plane. The engines of the plane were taken off years ago and are on display at the Tennessee Aviation Museum in the town of Sevierville. 

There is also an extensive account on how the Lisa Marie eventually was brought back to Graceland in February of 1984 for fans to visit. 


The author must be complimented for his research and the way in which he presents the story of Elvis and (his) planes. Even a tech-savvy reader can easily understand and enjoy this book. It fills another niche in Elvis history, that no one had yet taken the trouble to thoroughly research and document. With the use of many illustrations it provides an entertaining read.

After books on Elvis cars, houses, movies, concerts, (girl)friends, horses and … this is the definitive record on the King and his planes. This is a book that should have been written years ago, perhaps even by Graceland as the two planes opposite Elvis’ mansion are a real tourist attraction, but I’m glad it has been done now by someone who know what he’s writing about. 

Since there is so much to take in, it does take some time to read it all, but that is no punishment at all! We really enjoyed reading this book and must compliment Carlos on writing a book about ‘Elvis, The Man Flying High In The Sky’. 

Our verdict: highly (“how high?”) recommended! 

The book is available through Amazon, and at the Elvis Aviation Shop at Graceland near the airplanes (where it should be!).