BOOK REVIEW: ‘VC10: Icon of the Skies: BOAC, Boeing and a Jet Age Battle’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  VC10: Icon of the Skies: BOAC, Boeing and a Jet Age Battle

Author:  Lance Coles

Total Number of Pages: 224

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 8

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In commerce the adage; ’The Customer is always right; even when he is wrong’ is well known. But what happens if the ‘Customer;’ continually changes his mind? If he makes outrageous demands, yet when these are met, changes his mind once more? What happens if he then says that it’s ‘All the (metaphorical) shopkeeper’s fault anyway’ and then buys an inferior product from the opposition? Absurd?  Unfortunately no, and this is essentially the narrative presented within this book. Yet despite such actions, the result was a magnificent, much loved and very beautiful aeroplane; the Vickers (later BAC) VC10. This volume relates its story.

This well-written and readable book tells two parallel and frequently-intertwined stories. One concerns the design and development of an aircraft; the other, the machinations, confusions and incompetency’s which repeatedly altered, stalled and frustrated the development of that particular machine. The author well-summarises the situation when he states that ‘This is the story of not just an airliner, but also the airline industry, an airline and the nation and society it served’. He then adds ‘Other national airlines have served political , as well as passenger needs, but the circumstances surrounding BOAC [the British Overseas Airways Corporation], the end of an era, and government edict to a national, yet State-supported carrier are circumstances unique to BOAC and the VC10’.

The ‘aircraft’ story relates the story of the development of the concepts and airframes which ultimately led to the design and construction of the VC10; the aviation-subject of this volume. In the process it details at length the sad and sorry story of the VC7 / V1000, an airliner with the potential to have given Great Britain a significant portion of the international aviation market during the late 1950’s – mid 1960’s period.  That it didn’t do so is largely as a result of BOAC’s actions, although experience gained with the VC7 /VC1000 contributed significantly to the VC10’s design and development. The ‘airline’ story, in contrast, narrates the attempts by BOAC to eliminate both the VC7/V1000 and the VC10 in favour of another, foreign, and less-capable machine. That the VC10 was even built under such circumstances is in itself remarkable. That it survived despite BOAC’s machinations, indecisions and (at times) deliberate opposition, is even more so; it is a most unusual tale. BOAC was not however the VC10’s only operator.

There were others (both civil and military) and their activities are described in detail. Proposed developments of the basic design are also discussed and illustrated.  Unsurprisingly, the VC10 had several competitors. These and their parent companies are analysed in detail and at length in Chapter 8 (Boeing’s Big Beast: Deltas, B-52s and Stratotanker to Stratoliner).

 Within the volume, and after the Contents page, separate Acknowledgements and Introduction sections precede the 10 Chapters which present its narrative. The former thanks those who contributed to the volume; the latter both precis’s the volume’s contents, and contains  personal reminiscences from the author. The Chapters themselves detail the development of the aircraft and the various machinations that attended its use by BOAC. They also provide background to the development of that airline and its role within the British Empire. Endnotes are used to provide additional information within the volume. They are numeric in format, chapter-specific and sequential. The relevant citations appear in a designated Notes section after the volume’s last chapter. A two-page Bibliography and Sources section then follows. Curiously, an Appendix (Designated Appendix I), is placed after the Bibliography and Sources section instead of after the final chapter; the usual place for Appendices. It records the individual Registrations of each VC10, together with some details of its airline and military service. It does not give individual airframe histories. An Index placed behind the Appendix concludes the volume. The book contains plans, schedules, monochrome photographs and half-tone drawings. There is no mention of their existence on either the Contents page or in the Index. There are no maps.

While this reviewer found the volume informative, he believes it to be let down by a lack of attention to small details, the description of the 1934 De Havilland Comet racer as being ‘Single seat’ on p.56 being a case in point (it was actually two seat), In a similar vein, diagrams within Chapter 5 do not appear on the pages which refer to them (p.84 being one such example; the statement ‘The early sketches (see below)…’  revealing only more text, not the expected diagrams). Although minor, the discovery of such details raised doubts about the veracity of the larger narrative.

These ‘imperfections’ notwithstanding, this volume may appeal to a variety of readers. Devotees of the VC10 aircraft will definitely find it of interest as will aviation enthusiasts of a more ‘generalist’ nature, particularly those interested in airline history and operations. Geopolitical researchers and Historians interested in corporate histories and Government-private sector interaction may find the machinations of BOAC of interest, while modellers may find the photographs to be a useful resource.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘VC10: Icon of the Skies: BOAC, Boeing and a Jet Age Battle’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Fighters over the Fleet: Naval Air Defence from Biplanes to the Cold War’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Fighters over the Fleet: Naval Air Defence from Biplanes to the Cold War

Author: Norman Friedman

Total Number of Printed Pages: 460

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9

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Aircraft carriers are essentially sea-going military airfields, tasked with both protecting the naval vessels they are associated with, and, if possible, undertaking offensive actions against an enemy. The task of protection requires the use of fighters; small, highly manoeuvrable (and usually single-seat) aircraft, designed for the specific task of protecting the ships of the fleet to which they are attached, and flown with the intention of destroying any enemy aircraft they encounter . This is their story.

As the subtitle indicates, this well-written and researched volume chronicles the development of naval fighter aircraft ‘…From Biplanes to the Cold War’. It concentrates on the activities of what the author calls the ‘Three major carrier navies’, defining these as being of Great Britain, the United States of America and ‘Pre-1941 and Second World War Imperial Japan’.  When describing these entities, the author provides detailed analysis of their individual naval histories, the technologies, ships and aircraft that were employed and the tactics developed by each navy in response to specific situations. The result is a book which is likely to be become a standard reference work on its subject. Due to the amount of information it contains, this is not however a book which can be read in one sitting, but is rather encyclopaedic in coverage and well-suited to ’dipping into’ in pursuit of specific information.

Four separate sections precede the 13 Chapters which comprise the main part of this book. They are titled Abbreviations; A Note on Sources; Acknowledgements and Introduction. The Abbreviations section provides ‘Plain English’ interpretations of the numerous military–type abbreviations appearing within the work, while the Sources section indicates the origins of much of the information it contains. Those who have contributed to the work are thanked within the Acknowledgements section, while a general overview of the place of naval aviation as part of a larger defence system is presented in the Introduction. The volume’s first two Chapters chronicle both the development of the aircraft carrier and carrier-based aircraft, the latter being largely United States focused. The remaining chapters are devoted to the technical evolution of naval aviation. These focus on technical responses to perceived crises, whether political or technological.  Where necessary, sub-sections within each chapter provide additional information on specific topics. An Epilogue discusses the political, military and technological situation as the author perceives they exist in 2016. Within each chapter, sequentially-numbered and chapter-specific citations are provided. These are endnote in format, the relevant information appearing in a Notes section placed after the Epilogue.  A Bibliography follows the Epilogue. An Aircraft Data section following the Bibliography provides technical information relating to many of the aircraft-types appearing within the volume. Curiously and although arranged in column format, the Aircraft Data section uses a modified form of footnotes to provide additional sources. As a result, citations appear at the end of an ‘individual’ section rather than at the foot of the page. An Index completes the volume. The book contains numerous photographs, half-tone illustrations and plans (the two latter termed ‘Diagrams’ in the index) from a variety of sources. Although well-captioned, there is no reference to their existence on the Contents page.

This reviewer could find little to fault with this work. He would however question the placing of the Aircraft Data section behind the Bibliography as in his view, by containing additional information, the former should have been an Appendix rather than ‘merely ‘just another section at the back of the book’. The section deserves better.

In addition, and despite their notation within the Index, the Contents page contains no reference to any of the numerous photographs, half-tone illustrations and plans (aka ‘Diagrams’) appearing within the volume. As many readers will not peruse an Index to find such information, an indication of their existence (preferably an actual list) would have been helpful and avoided unnecessary searching in pursuit of a single item. How important these ‘faults’ may be, will depend on the individual reader.

In the opinion of this reviewer, this volume is likely to have wide appeal and could be of interest to both Naval and Aviation historians and to hobbyists with an interest in ‘matters naval’ in general, naval fighter aircraft, aircraft carriers and aerial combat. Those with a specific interest in United States Navy tactics and aircraft carrier operations are especially fortunate in this regard. In addition, by providing a ‘naval’ perspective on political events, those with an interest in international affairs (such as the ‘Korean War’) could also find it worth perusing.

As previously-noted, this volume bids fair to become an authoritative work on its subject; ‘Naval Fighters’ although it does have its flaws. Despite these, and on a Rating Scale 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 9.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Fighters over the Fleet: Naval Air Defence from Biplanes to the Cold War’.

Book Review: ‘Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis

Author: Jim Wilson OBE

Total Number of Pages: 200

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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‘When ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise’, is a well-known and oft-repeated phrase that indicates that there are times when a lack of knowledge can be advantageous. It is also an effective summation of the events described within this volume, with the subtext that ‘Those with the political power’ are not necessarily those who are in in control.

On the weekend of 27/28 October 1962, in what became known as ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis’, the United States of America, NATO and Great Britain faced off against their mutual enemy the Soviet Union. The ‘Cold War’ was at its height and this event was the closest that the protagonists ever came to direct, nuclear weapon-using. confrontation; an event which would probably have seen the extinction of mankind. Incredibly, the political leaders of one of the protagonist countries (Great Britain) knew almost nothing about what was occurring.  How this came-about is the focus of this volume. It details and describes the political events surrounding the event, revealing both the Russian and Western Allies actions which ultimately led to the confrontation.   While this in itself is of interest, the revelation that the British participation in the conflict was ultimately in the hands of a single member of the Royal Air Force is more so. Most astonishing of all is evidence that contemporary British politicians were largely unaware of the seriousness of events occurring around them, and acted accordingly.  ‘When ignorance is bliss’, indeed!  There are two stories within this volume; while usually running in parallel, they sometimes intersect. One story is of British, American and Russian political activity at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The other is of the use by the Royal Air Force (RAF) of the nuclear-equipped (and American-built) ‘Thor’ Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM), a weapon loaned to Britain by the United States of America at a time when Great Britain had no viable nuclear weapons of its own.  As they were (at least nominally) the owner/operators of the missile, the RAF’s story is the larger of the two, and is enhanced by personal reminiscences which give insights into the realities of  life and thoughts at a time of international uncertainty. Details of the interaction between the RAF and the United States Air Force are also given, and make for interesting reading. The technical development of both ‘Thor’ and the long-range, nuclear-armed missile, is also covered in depth.

The largest section of this volume consists of 16 Chapters. They are preceded by an Acknowledgements section which thanks those who contributed to the finished work. Two Appendices are included. One provides technical details of the missile itself, the other a list of the RAF units which operated it. Included in this section are details of Unit Numbers, Base (Station) locations, deployment periods and Commanding Officers. A Bibliography details reference sources, while an Index completes the volume. Sixteen pages of captioned photographs appear in the centre of the work; these are from a variety of sources.

Although this book is both well written and illustrated, no mention of its photographs appears within the Contents section. The Contents sections also contains no reference to the existence of a map (Thor and Jupiter Sites in Europe and their effective range) on page 32 or of technical diagrams on pages 36 and 37. The absence of these details was a disappointment.

In this Reviewer’s opinion, this volume is likely to be of greatest use to historians specialising in the geo-political events of the ‘Cold-War’ era (of which the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ was the apex), although more generalist historians may also find it of use.  It could well become a valued resource.  Aside from historians (and due to the breadth of its subject), this work may well be of interest to other groups. These could include those interested in both the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force and the equipment and history of those organisations. Readers interested in military aviation, ‘rocketry’ space exploration and Twentieth Century technology may also find it informative.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8. It should have been higher.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviews: Contact nzcrownmines @gmail.com

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Book Review: ‘Launch Pad UK: Britain And The Cuban Missile Crisis’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Images of War: Veteran Lancs; A Photographic Record Of The 35 RAF Lancasters That Each Completed One Hundred Sorties’

 

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Images of War: Veteran Lancs; A Photographic Record Of The 35 RAF Lancasters That Each Completed One Hundred Sorties

Author: Norman Franks

Total Number of Pages: 166

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6

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It is a human foible to mark special occasions, irrespective of whether they are birthdays, victories or the rescuing of animals. As proven by this volume, aircraft are not immune from the practice, especially if it is wartime and they have managed to survive long enough (despite concerted enemy actions), to have achieved a centennial; by flying 100 missions over enemy lines.

This volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts-picture book’ genre.  It uses both text and photographs to  record the service careers of  the Royal Air Force (RAF)’s 35 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers known to have completed at least 100 operational flights over Germany during World War II.  A section is also devoted to those Lancaster’s’ which ‘Either through becoming casualties, or war weary or lacking time, did not complete a hundred [missions]’.  It is noted that ‘These are examples [of such aircraft] rather than a definitive list’.

The book is arranged in six Chapters, each of which covers a specific block of month/s  during the period May 1944 -May 1945.  Within each chapter, an individual aircraft’s history is given in a sequence based on the machine’s unique RAF-allocated serial number. A photographic section appears at the end of each chapter, and this also follows the alphabetical serial number sequence. This enables a reader to locate both an individual aircraft’s history and the relevant photographs within the chapter’s images section. An Acknowledgements section provides source-information for the photographs appearing within the work.  An Introduction gives background details relating to operational and technical matters associated with the Avro Lancaster’s operational career. There is no Index.

Because of its subject, this volume is encyclopedic in nature. It is well written, and contains a wealth of information about its subjects. The lack of an Index however, requires much unnecessary time-wasting on the reader’s part especially if searching for a specific machine or individual.  For this reviewer, that is a major difficulty, and serves to reduce the volume’s usefulness.

This work may appeal to several groups of readers. These could include Lancaster-enthusiasts, those interested in the Royal Air Force and World War II aviation, together-with  aircraft modellers of all scales.  Aviation and military historians could also find it worthy of their attention.

The volume may also have some appeal to genealogists and family groups seeking images of members who served on RAF Lancaster’s during WWII. The lack of an Index may however preclude any in-depth searching by such readers.

Due to the lack of an Index, on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 6.  Were that it was not so.

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nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing: Contact nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Images of War: Veteran Lancs; A Photographic Record Of The 35 RAF Lancasters That Each Completed One Hundred Sorties’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘LADY LUCY HOUSTON DBE: AVIATION CHAMPION AND MOTHER OF THE SPITFIRE’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Lady Lucy Houston DBE: Aviation Champion and Mother of the Spitfire

Author: Miles Macnair

Total Number of Pages: 248

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 8 ½

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When delivering his famous monologue in William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, Lord Jacque states: ‘All the World’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts…’ The  monologue  effectively summarises the life of Lucy, Lady Houston DBE. It could indeed be a fitting epitaph, although, after reading her biography, this reviewer suspects that the Lady’s response would be both unprintable and perhaps a little more abbreviated.

In the Twenty-first Century, Lady Lucy Houston is little known. Her name, if recalled, is invariably linked to the Supermarine Spitfire aircraft via her financing of the British entries 1930’s-era  Schneider trophy seaplane races; events which  resulted, eventually,  in the development of internationally-renowned aircraft and aircraft engines.  This contribution is acknowledged in the volume’s sub-title ‘…Mother of the Spitfire’. Yet there is so much more. Lady Houston was the epitome of contradiction.  She was a very strong-willed and determined woman, who literally rose from rags to riches via a set of carefully planned marriages and conquests. She was obsessively patriotic, passionate about aviation and contributed large quantities of money to its development. Yet equally, Lady Houston could be simultaneously bossy, manipulative and incredibly loyal. She could also be wilfully-blind about human frailty and became completely besotted by a member of the British Royal family. Yet these were only some small facets of her remarkable life. . There were many, many others. Contradictory certainly, infuriating, definitely, and ‘Eccentric’ in the best ‘English’ tradition. Despite (or perhaps because of) these traits, the subject of this work is ultimately, quite endearing. We will never see her like again.

The author has undertaken extensive research on his subject and has produced a well-written and very readable biography of a remarkable woman. Yet the work is not just about a single individual.  The reader is also introduced to other notables of the subject’s era,. Contemporary history is included to both ‘frame’ the larger narrative, and to add colour to it, with the chapter devoted to King Edward VIII being especially interesting. Colour and Monochrome photographs, together with reproductions of relevant documents and cartoons, provide visual assistance to the narrative. Where additional Reference Notes are used, these are End-note in format.

The work contains 21 Chapters and four Appendices, together with a Foreword, an Acknowledgements section and an Introduction. As previously-noted, a List of Illustrations is provided, and within this, separate sections (FiguresPlates-Black and White and Plates-Colour) detail the images that the book contains.  A Bibliography, an Index and a Notes section are also provided.

This reviewer was disappointed to find that despite the Mother of the Spitfire subtitle, the Schneider Trophy Races from which the Supermarine Spitfire evolved, form only one chapter of this volume, although their connection with the later aircraft is acknowledged. The races, together with the Mount Everest flights which she also financed, are presented purely in the context of Lady Houston’s life.  The numbering of the photographs within the work, (where ([B] for Black and White; [C] was for Colour]), was initially disconcerting, while this reviewer would also have liked to have seen better definition of both the Lowe cartoons and the various printed documents that appear within the work.

This reviewer believes this volume will be of value to those who are interested in both the British aristocracy and the British Monarchy (especially King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson).  Historians interested in both European and British politics of the 1930’s, together with those with a more-general interest in that era should also find it of use. Readers seeking additional information about the Schneider Trophy seaplanes and the Supermarine Spitfire may not however, find what they are looking for within its pages.   Were that that was not so.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it 8 ½.

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nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing: Contact nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘LADY LUCY HOUSTON DBE: AVIATION CHAMPION AND MOTHER OF THE SPITFIRE’.