On Wings of Eagles

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On Wings of Eagles
First edition
Author Ken Follett
Country UK
Language English
Genre Thriller / True story
Publisher William Morrow (US)
HarperCollins (UK)
Publication date
ISBN 0-688-02371-1
OCLC 9466033
955/.054 19
LC Class E183.8.I55 F64 1983
Preceded by The Man from St. Petersburg (1982)
Followed by Lie Down with Lions (1986)
You may be looking for On Wings of Eagles (TV mini-series)

On Wings of Eagles is a 1983 thriller novel written by British author Ken Follett. Set against the background of the Iranian revolution, it tells the story of the rescue of Paul Chiapparone and Bill Gaylord from prison in Tehran by a team of Electronic Data Systems executives led by retired Col. Arthur D. Simons.

The story, according to Follett, is not fictionalized or a 'non-fiction novel'.[1]


Ross Perot contacted Ken Follett, who was paid by his publisher, to write On Wings of Eagles.

Follett based his account on many conversations with the people directly involved, and had the drafts checked by them as well. Aside from changing a few names, he believes the story to be what really happened.

Plot summary[edit]

In December 1978 two EDS executives working in Tehran are arrested on suspicion of bribery. Bail was set at 12.75 million dollars. When Ross Perot, head of the Dallas-based company hears about it, he decides to get his people out no matter what. While the firm's lawyers are trying to find a way to pay the bail, he also recruits a team of volunteers from his executives, led by a retired United States Army officer, to break them out by force, if necessary.

Their well-rehearsed plan to break the two out of jail fails because of a prison transfer, and the team has to figure out another way to rescue their colleagues, culminating in a harrowing overland escape to Turkey. Meanwhile, riots and violence dominate the streets of Tehran more and more each day, culminating in the Iranian Revolution led by Khomeini against the Shah, endangering the other EDS employees as well.

The incident attracted considerable attention from the press when it occurred in early 1979. Bill Gaylord and Paul Chiapparone, two U.S. citizens working in Iran for Electronic Data Systems (EDS), a Dallas-based computer services corporation, were jailed on December 28, 1978. They were victims of an anticorruption drive mounted during the Shah's last days in Iran, a drive far more caught up in the politics of the moment than in abstract questions of legality and truth. Consequently, the prosecutor who had them arrested did not file charges against the two; he did, however, post bail at $12,750,000.

Stunned by these arbitrary arrests, H. Ross Perot, founder and chairman of EDS, mobilized both his and the company's resources to get the two employees out of jail. He became personally engrossed in the effort to release Gaylord and Chiapparone. Perot began by trying normal avenues, such as lobbying the U.S. government for help and seeking the counsel of lawyers.

But he also organized a strike team. A retired army colonel, Arthur D. "Bull" Simons (the man who led the ill-fated raid against the Son Tay prison camp outside Hanoi in November 1970), was hired to train seven volunteers to try to rescue the two jailed men. Working from their memories of Tehran, the men trained at Perot's weekend house at the shore of Lake Grapevine near Dallas. Beginning on January 3, 1979, they repeatedly practiced assaults on a model of the Ministry of Justice prison in Tehran, where the EDS men were being held.

When all other means appeared to be failing, Perot asked Simons to proceed to Tehran with his team. They flew to Iran in mid-January, closely followed by Perot himself, who insisted on overseeing the operation personally and who hoped that his presence would improve the spirits of his jailed employees.

Once in Tehran, Perot and Simons found that nothing worked as they had planned. The ministry of Justice turned out to be far better protected than anyone had remembered; and anyway, Gaylord and Chiappanrone had been transferred on January 18 to the Qasr Prison, one of Tehran's largest and best fortified jails. Though Colonel Simons knew his team could not attack Qasr on its own, he had studied history enough to realize that the revolution was soon going to peak (the Shah had fled Iran on January 16, Khomeni was to return to the country from France on February 1) and that street mobs were likely to storm the prison and release the inmates. At the same time, EDS kept up its efforts to resolve the problem through legal means. U.S. banks refused to get involved in paying the bail, fearing involvement in matters of bribery and ransom; when one bank finally did cooperate with EDS, matters bogged down on the Iranian side. When all else failed, EDS lawyers went so far as to try to convince Iranian officers to accept the U.S. embassy in Tehran as bail!-rather an ironic suggestion in light of the embassy's subsequent seizure by the Iranian government. All these efforts collapsed on the 10th of February.

Just one day later, Tehran street crowds erupted. Among them was Rashid, an ambitious young Iranian trainee systems-engineer at EDS. Loyal to his American employers and eager to help them win the release of their jailed colleagues, Follett describes him as the instigator of the mob's attack on Qasr prison.

These people, Rashid decided, want excitement and adventure. For the first time in their lives they have guns in their hands: They need a target, and anything that symbolizes the regime of the Shah will do.

Right now they were standing around wondering where to go next.

"Listen!" Rashid shouted.

They all listened­­ - they had nothing better to do.

"I'm going to the Qasr Prison!"…He started walking.

They followed him.

Rashid's efforts were successful: Gaylord and Chiapparone fled the jail along with the other prisoners. A few hours later they met at Simons' room at the Hyatt Regency.

As it turned out, however, the escape from prison was much easier than getting out of the country. Without passports and sought by the police, how were Gaylord and Chiapparone to leave Iran? Simons' answer was to divide the remaining EDS employees in Tehran into two groups: the less suspicious were to leave via airplane from Tehran, while the more vulnerable, including the two fugitives, were to go to Turkey in two Range Rovers. Rashid accompanied the latter group on their 450-mile trip across northwest Iran, far and away the most dangerous part of the entire undertaking. In two long days of driving they repeatedly came close to summary execution; on almost every occasion, it was Rashid's quick wits that saved them. When he and the six Americans finally reached the Turkish border, they were met on the other side by an EDS man waiting with a bus and a charter plane. One day later, February 17, they reached Istanbul, where an anxious Perot had been pacing up and down his hotel room. That the fugitive pair lacked passports and had entered Turkey illegally made even the Turkish portion of the journey somewhat dangerous.

On the same day the overland team reached Istanbul, the other EDS employees left Tehran by plane-barely escaping the same prosecutor who earlier had jailed their colleagues. The two teams met in Frankfurt, Germany, and flew together (via an emergency landing in England) to the United States. All of them, including Rashid , arrived on February 18 to a joyous homecoming.

To begin with, he exaggerates suspenseful and emotional aspects of the story. Chapters end with such cliffhanging phrases as "the cell door clanged shut behind them" or "the nightmare was not yet over." Sentiments are played up on every possible occasion, with the evident intent of tugging at heartstrings. The plight of the men's wives comes up repeatedly, not because this bears on Follett's narrative but to enhance artificially the human interest of his tale. Here, for example, is the account of Bull Simons and Perot's conversation during the homecoming party in Dallas:

Simons bent down and spoke in Perot's ear. "Remember you offered to pay me?"

Perot would never forget it. When Simons gave the icy look you froze. "I sure do."

"See this?" said Simons, inclining his head.

Paul [Chiapparone] was walking toward them, carrying [his daughter] Ann Marie in his arms, through the crowd of cheering friends. "I see it," said Perot.

Simons said: "I just got paid." He drew on his cigar.


The book was a #1 International Bestseller.

Mini series[edit]

In 1986 a five-hour mini series of the same name was released, starring Burt Lancaster as Arthur D. "Bull" Simons and Richard Crenna as Ross Perot. It was watched by an estimated 25 million Americans.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Follett Bibliography - In His Own Words
  2. ^ page 121 of Posner, Gerald Citizen Perot Random House New York 1996
  • Chapter 8 "Escape from Iran" from Posner, Gerald Citizen Perot Random House New York 1996

External links[edit]