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|F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation
by Tony Holmes
about 7 1/4 x 9 7/8 inches
cost: $22.95 U.S.
published by Osprey Publishing
This book may be purchased from your favorite local bookseller
or ordered from the publisher - www.ospreypublishing.com
Orientation check: OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM is the
military appellation given to the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Reality check: This book, written by probably the most prolific authors in the Osprey "stable" and certainly a master of his craft, recounts the use of Grumman's elegant F-14 not as a long-range air combat fighter (the role for which it was designed) but as a bomber. Though there is no ignominy in any combat role, the use of this thoroughbred flying machine to drop bombs is akin, in this reviewer's mind, to using a Maserati to deliver mobile homes to Florida retirement communities! Be that as it may, the F-14B was the best machine for the mission, the only in-theater machine armed with Mk.83 airburst bombs, incomparable time-over-target eudurance and two pairs of eyes in the office.
Author Australian Tony Holmes, to his credit, does not insert the reader into the sky as a phalanx of retribution rains down from the sky; he leads us into the story beginning with how news of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks reached those destined to participate in the military action that would follow starting October 7. The extensive use of the Tomcat in TARPS (Tactical Aerial Reconnaissance Pod System) missions was a revelation to me.
This book is intended for adult readers, not because of flesh or salty language but because of the all-business, comprehensive but tight writing which is almost an Osprey "trademark." It's also assumed by the publishers that the myriad acronyms, familiar to military personnel and talented authors who write about them, will eventually become familiar to civilians. In this they are mistaken. The acronyms are shared "spelled out" just once and they readers are on their own. A page with acronyms listed with long versions would have helped.
Also uniquely Osprey is the use of "aeroplane" instead of "airplane" as a stateside publisher would use. What can I say? The Brits determined that "aeroplane" worked in 1911, so there's no need for Britannia to cow-tow to the colonies' infernal 21st century preferences.
The story of the opening opening VF-213 (F-14Ds) mission is a nail-biter with unexpected suspense; a fine first foot into the fray. It was at this point when I knew I didn't want to put the book down. Credit is given to British Royal Air Force tanker crews whose VC-10Ks and Tristars permitted faster cruise when taking fuel in Tomcats with maximum ordinance. Tomcats sometimes had to disengage from KC-135s when the tanker had to initiate a turn to stay on its designated racecourse track, and reengage after resuming straight and level cruise. It was a surprise to me. There are many more in the story, all of it related in extended quotes from participants who talk the talk and flew the missions.
Units participating and BuNos of participating '14s, and notes re losses are listed following the end of the illuminating narrative.
The concentration of detailed terminology in the rest of the book, makes the book easier to disengage, though the kind of info shared will be milk and cookies to readers conversant with the modern military lexicon.. It does not impede the flow of the story, but this reviewer felt like a student with three years of high school Spanish taking on a reprint of the first edition of Cervantes' Don Quixote. I felt privileged as a learning aviation reader/historianj to be allowed "in" to overhear the inside story.. The end of that story, the Tomcats' operational record in Enduring Freedom, came sooner than anticipated: in November 2003.
The conclusion was more abrupt than the beginning. The time bdtween their withdrawal from that theater to their retirement from active duty in the fall of 2006 is not addressed, not even in a brief epilogue. The author finished his part in the production in October 2007, so it sould have been possible. And perhaps my lament is "much adoo about nothing.". The author and publishers don't hint of "last call" coverage of the 'Cat, so we'll wait for that story, probably to be shared in another Osprey publication. I wouldn't bet against it.
Photography by US Navy service personnel and color illustrations by New England "key contributor" Jim Laurer are the icing on a tasty cake. Each of Laurer's 21 color profile drawings includes back pages descriptions and selected close-up illustrations. This reviewer was impressed with the variety of colors used so late in their operational lives. Anyone who thought the famous black nose 'Cats went out with light gull grey and white will be set straight, and gladly so.
The story of the F-14 would have been far different if attacking "fleets" of Su-24s, and Tu-22s had threatened US Navy carrier operations at the height of the Cold War. Who could have imagined, when the first examples were introduced to VF-1 on October 12, 1972, that they would end their combat days flying reconnaissance and CAS (close air support) missions against extremely religious ground forces with no air force at all? The crews who flew and maintained Grumman's last "cat" proved it to be even more capable and successful than envisaged in the early days of its gestation. Tom Holmes' fine book is eloquent testament to that success. For that reason, I highly recommend it to readers who, want to know more than "what you read in the papers" about this outstanding airplane.
|Pictured leftt and below: this reviewer's "epilogue" to this
reivew whows the last F-14 to appear at an airshow in Springfield, Illinois. June
25, 2006. (photos by Job Conger)
|San Francisco Bay Area Aviation
by William T. Larkins
Ronald T. Reuther
about 6 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches
published by Arcadia Publishing
This book may be purchased from your favorite local bookseller
or ordered from the publisher - www.arcadiapublishing.com
I could not preface this review better than the authors do
on the back cover of this new release in Arcadias Images of Aviation series.
From hot air balloons to jets, no other location has a more diverse aviation history than the San Francisco Bay Area. Aside from private and commercial airline operations, the area has housed the NACA/NASA Research Center, the prestigious Boeing School of Aeronautics and the dirigible USS Macon. It is currently the center for antique aircraft in Northern California and has been the site of numerous flight records, including the Dole Race and Amelia Earharts circumnavigation attempts. San Francisco was also the home of the pioneer Pan American Airways flying boat, which opened the Pacific Ocean to air travel.
The "must-read" Introduction explains the book chronicles the areas history through 1968. It also addresses misinformation which erroneously has attributed all of the areas aviation activities to simply San Francisco. Fred Noonan, navigator of Earharts star-crossed trans-world flight attempts would have a problem with that since he plotted Oakland across the bay. So do the authors, and rightly so. Implicit in the intro is the irony that military aviation, which played a major role in early history here, was about to go super nova and almost disappear from the scene in the years following.
Arcadia Publishing has unlocked new vistas for enthusiasts with this series by providing inexpensive, primarily pictorial but credibly researched specialty soft cover, limited-focus chronologies of flight. Instead of a 300-page slick paper tome about California aviation, they are producing several that focus on regions of the Fremont State. Bluntly stated, readers reap the benefit of more pictures that most such larger volumes would include and we dont have to wade through significant-but-less-engaging explication; (for imagined example) "From June to December 1942, Acme production increased from 24,935 units to 39,813 while reorganizing the board, relocating to Smithberg and appointing as new president Willard Jones, formerly of Rachet Industries Ltd." Historians benefit from concise, informative captions, nuggets that may be considered in greater detail in research beyond the series.
Eloquent proof of the effectiveness of this approach is on page 16, a fine photo of a Curtiss Eagle, a tri-motor biplane transport. Captions in average publications would typically state, at best. "Curtiss Eagle tri-motor biplane transport operated by California Air Transport Company", and wed be glad to know that much. Here, the caption provides a somewhat abbreviated history of the airline in five and a third lines!
Did you know until now that the first powered flight of a lighter-than-air machine in the Western Hemisphere took place in California in 1866? Details on page 10.
People factor almost as much as flying machines. Whenever two or more airplanes gather, there are characters and legends: Lindberg of course, but starting with John J. Montgomery and including Jack Irwin,, Vern Gorst, T. Claude Ryan, Socrates Capelis and Captain Elgen Long who flew around the world, longitudinally, rather than latitudinally and landed on seven continents in a Piper Navajo when? The authors dont say, but the year was 1971. Ample credit is given Ann Pellegreno who duplicated Earharts circum flight route successfully in a restored Lockheed 10 in 1967. Excellent pics before takeoff and following successful return are included along with full credit to the rest of her crew. Many of those pictured were in transit when photographed, but the quality and size (a full page for Montgomery) equal anything likely to be encountered elsewhere.
Anyone who imagines (as this reviewer did when I turned 60 in 2007) that you have seen pictures of most everything that flew stateside in the saga of slipping surly bonds is likely to discover the folly of such premature satisfaction while inhaling with your eyes the seldom-heralded remote corners of the aviation world; for example, Oaklands WASP Airplane Companys single-seat open-cockpit monoplane of the late 20s, no doubt inspired by an ocean-hopping Minnesotan in 1927. Seldom documented in print is the Taylorcraft TG-6 training glider of World War II converted to a powered light plane. Featured is one based at Hayward Airport in 1946. At the top of the opposite page is the only "hiccup" in the entire production is a reversed photo of a surplus Lockheed F-5G (recon P-38) owned by Bill Lear, Jr. This is the "upside down postage stamp Jenny" and collectors of this kind of thing will want to purchase this first edition before they correct it in the second. Many pictures are set one to a page, and the two-page spread of the Sikorsky S-42 is not only a memorable picture; it carries a memorable story as well. Military aircraft and people, most now dusty memories, are well-represented in photographs, too many and to diverse to properly describe here. The photos are a generous, comprehensive, array of "nuggets" on paper. With just a few exceptions, none of these pictures have appeared in the popular aviation press.
The entire presentation is exceptional for the knowledge shared by authors who know where the hyphen goes when captioning an F6F-3. Youd be surprised how many enthusiasts, for whom "aviation" is a diversion like bird house building and needlecraft, dont know where to put the hyphens and how many editors dont care. This books authors end editor click like a B-17 crew on their 20th mission over hot Europe. The pros will find the delivery refreshing, almost a joy to the eyes, and the rest will learn from the fine example.
Kudos to authors and publishing team for a birds eye look at the passing parade. I enjoyed the visit west, and my guess is that you will too.
The Show Is On the
Mark (left) and Paul pose during a visit to AeroKnow.
Gary Niehaus (left) talks with Paul about the volume reviewed above. Gary plays with the Springfield Municipal Band as Mark Foutch did for many years, and he said he looks forward to reading more about the euphonium player who departed the SMB just a year or two before he joined it in the late 60s.
Paul gave an informative talk about his grandfather and answered questions from those who attended the booksigning.
Proud father, Mark, III, looked on and listened.
Prairie Archives owner John R. Paul (center) posed with Mark and Paul after a successful booksigning at his incredible bookstore.
|The Royal Air Force In Oklahoma
Loves & Courage of the British Air Crews
Published by Oklahoma Heritage Association, 2006
ISBN 978-1 885596-56-7
Here's a terrific book written by a retired dental professional who was not
smitten by the flying "bug" before she could ride a bicycle and whose first and
likely only book of aviation history has been a project coming together for decades. For
too long, the story of a brief few years of earnest, dangerous activity in the skies above
Northern Oklahoma, has been waiting for the telling, lost in dusty documents and the
memories of a diminishing number of American citizens and the British servicemen they came
to know. It is a story for ages, shared in an exceptionally well-produced slick paper,
hardback format with hundreds of photographs of aircraft, people and places.
It is not a guide for model builders looking for dozens of color schemes for Stearmans and Cornells. It is dinstinctly disconnected from the pantheon of aviation specialty titles which incorporate the standard "PT-17" and "PT-19" usage into their lexicons. It also refers to a "North American Harvard AT6 aircraft." Many readers will understand that the AT-6 in American hands was called the Texan; not Harvard (used only in Canada and the rest of the British empire) and understand its role as an aircraft with no need for the additional word of explication. In subsequent correspondence, the author explained her use of "Harvard" was based on what former RAF servicemen, interviewed in England told her. So suddenly Harvard makes emminent sense! Once over these "humps," readers can appreciate the extensive research expended in this effort. The book succeeds as none before in revealing the people part of the two units engaged: the No. 6 BFTS (British Flying Training School) at Darr School of Aeronautics, Ponca City, Okla. and No. 3 BFTS operated by Spartan School of Aeronatics in Miami, Okla.
Considering the most likely readers of her saga are likely to be family of
participants, since the original flight and maintenance crew trainers and trainees are
departing this orb all too rapidly, Denson's preamble Chapter One is a most illuminating
consideration of what led to the establishment of stateside training bases well before the
US was visited by Japan on Defember 7, 1941. Did you know the Brits painted white stripes
on dark cattle so motorists would be more likely to see them in nil-light conditions
throughout the countryside during the war? Well, either did I, and there's a picature to
prove it happened.
First arrivals from the Empire during this time, all wearing civilian clothes of course, were not welcomed with open arms. The Foreword by RAF No.3 Squadron graduate Raymox Baxter, OBE, briefly explains his perspective of a total immersion introduction to life in the land of "weeny roasts" and "Cuba Libras." Adding to that perspective is a smattering of close-photographed letters back, document covers and telegrams, all "veddy British" and fascinating, every one.
Technically, the author has taken facts at face value from extensively footnoted sources. In Chapter Two, she explains the BT-13A (official designated name: Valiant) was "known among RAF students at "The Vibrator" and in so doing, may lead readers to wonder: What an unusual name for an airplane. Why did they call it that?" The answer is that it shook so much in flight because of the rigid engine mounts, that "Vibrator" was an alliterative and fitting nickname. It is not always the preferred sobriquet. When this reviewer wrote airshow program for Rudy Frasca years ago, including the mention of an appearance of Dr. Mark Foutch with his P-51 Mustang and his wife Marjorie at the controls of her BT-13 . . . . I was expressly forbidden from using the appellation by then almost universally connected to the sturdy but shaky Vultee. The descriptions of the locales, including photos of downtown Ponca City and favorite hangouts is absolutely first rate throughout this engaging volume.
Again, the flavor is of the era. I hope British historians and kin of British servicemen who trained in the US will snap up this epic whle the snapping is good. They will learn a lot that their husbands, brothers and grandfathers never got around to explaining, especially since more decisive and harrowing times in combat seem to have put the training scene into the background. The appending includes lists of students enrolled at the training schools: last name, first name, rank and course no. Genealogists take note! There may be nuggets in these lists and photographs you will mine nowhere else. Picking up where the lists leave off is an extensive index which includes a brief reference to the Confederate Air Force -- which it was in 1987 when former trainees returned stateside to attend one of the CAF's air shows in Texas.
Most gratifying to this reviewer was the profusion of local photographs. I have seen thousands of airplane pictures, and recognize the "look" of a factory or "Official U.S. Army Air Forces" photo a room away in heavy fog and moderate precipitation. There's not one in this book. They're all local. BRAVO!
Still, the aviation specialist in me just itches for a book that focuses more closely on photographs of aircraft with markings, including visible serials on vertical stabilizers. There are only two in this terrific book: pages 118 and 123. Such a book could be made for a song, and would find many ready readers in the aviation history community. Based on the top quality and great variety of pictures in this deluxe production, my bet is that photos of the type needed may be accessible already to the Oklahoma Heritage Association and organizations like it.
Training operations all over the world during WWII have been neglected too long. You will not find a better glimpse of the benevolent humanity of the effort than The Royal Air Force in Oklahoma by Paula Cormack Denson. This is a story for all air and war historians on both sides of "the pond" to savor and to share with future gnerations as well!
|Very Long Range P-51 Mustang Units of the Pacific War
by Carl Molesworth
softbound, 128 pages, with color illustrations
about 7 3/8 inches wide x 9 3/4 inches tall
#21 in the Aviation Elite Units series publsihed by
Personal note: When a supporter gave me a $50 Barnes & Noble certificate Christmas, I decided to buy aviation books to review here. My goal was to find maximum value for that kind of money, and I was fortunate in finding these two Osprey books on the shelves at B&N. I've already acquired 38 of their same-sized Aircraft of the Aces and Combat Aircraft series, and the new series additions, like the others, happily exceeded my great expectations.
Very Long Range (VLR) P-51 Mustang Unites of the Pacific War presents
the largely unheralded story of the final phase of the US offensive campaign against
Japan. In combat less than six months the Mustang pilots must have felt like the
team sent to the hoops to play the last 10 minutes of a runaway round ball game. While
most of the pilots were fresh out of flight school, their leaders were battle tested, many
returning after months of duty stateside, wanting to get back to the real action and
providing the fresh second lieutenants with unmatched leadership on the ground and in the
air. They began ops at a time when their very reason for being there was in jeopardy. The
low altitude night missions against Japan's home islands initiated March 9 had
demonstrated the vast improvement of that tactic compared with high altitude daylight
raids. Even so, there were long-range missions to be flown and a growing routine of close
support as well. Following their return to Iwo Jima after spending more time in the air
than any other single-seat fighter jockeys flying routine missions, pilots often had to be
assisted out of their cockpits by ground crews.
Imagine the challenge of sitting 7 hours straight in a metal straight-back chair without standing up, urinating into a tube and keeping your pet Doberman away from your nachos and cheese while paying attention to whatever's on the TV screen, while breathing oxygen wearing a rubber mask. . . . and you'll only begin to understand the challenge of VLR missions.
Author Hess knows his subject. Particularly noteworthy his attention to the parade of P-51 units that set up shop. Military historians will eat this intricate saga up like beefsteak on a stick.
Cover illustration artist Jim Laurier and aircraft color profile artist Mark Postlethwaite amplify the outstanding photo coverage by contributing accurate color and inspiring illustrations of 30 P-51s flown during that period. Marking information and brief descriptions of their place in historical context add unprecedented depth to the depictions.
Appendices provide brief descriptions of general unit markings, a list of unit commanders and victory claims by VLR pilots.
There is one picture of a P-47N in this fascinating story, and that's as it should be. The book is about 'Tangs; not 'Bolts. But it will inspire readers to wonder about the life of the really late late-comers to the Pacific. How did the two aircraft compare in the VLR role? Did any "N" drivers make ace? What did adversaries think of the ultimate Thunderbolt? My guess is that Osprey is already working a book to answer those questions and more.
In the meantime, I recommend this volume to historians and airplane enthusiasts without reservation. It's more than a good read; it's an education, and a fine one at that!
|49th FIghter Group
Aces of the Pacific
by WIlliam N. Hess
softbound, 128 pages, with color illustrations
about 7 3/8 inches wide x 9 3/4 inches tall
#14 in the Aviation Elite Units published by
It's easy for many World War II aviation historians to
name at least two combat groups which served in Europe: the 56th which flew P-47s from
start (in Europe) to finish, and the fabulous 4th which destroyed 1,000 enemy aircraft.
Most students of the Pacific war will do well to remember "The Black Sheep
Squadron" and leave it at that. But the 49th Fighter Group, where a Minnesota kid
named Richard Ira Bong hung his parachute, is probably the longest serving outfit of any
Allied service, and as such, merits a special place in the lore of Southwest Pacific..They
committed to war when they sailed west in January 1942 and the group didn't quit until the
surrender. Like few, if any AAF, units, they flew the P-40, P-47 and P-38 but never the
William N. Hess ranks with the top aviation historians in print. His Fighting Mustang; The Chronicle of the P-51, published in 1970, emulates this volume which first went to press in 2004. The accuracy of the fine cover illustration by Mark Postlethwaite and 39 color profiles by Chris Davey equal the scholarship of the author. Osprey title art is consistently first rate; not true of some aviation periodicals published in the "Kingdom."
Not popularly acknowledged but evident in this fast-paced saga is the relative informality of war west of Hawaii. Top scoring P-38 maestro Bong was given special opportunities, once his talent for combat became evident, to seek the enemy at his own initiative. This is not to say he flew his own special war, but as a member of headquarters flight, he flew when he wanted to fly. Commendable attention is given to his activity, revealing him to be more human that most Bong fans may think, but a dedicated warrior every step of the way.
News to this reviewer was the group's brief operation with P-47s which arrived in December 1943 and flew with 40s and the earlier-arriving 38s for just a few months. This interlude is well coverd in Davey's color profiles, many photos and detailed text.
Appendices include victories scored by unit within the 49th and a list of aces. The concise notes about the color illustrations, part of all volumes in Osprey books encounterd by this reviewer, are here as well. Color accuracy and detail in discription are conspicuous in the quality of their rendering. A
The photo coverage of dozens of almost forgotten pilots who played a vital part on the high road to victory is also most commendable. In the heat of a festering New Guinea summer in 1943, who could have imagined that an informal snap shot would reach thousands of cool, clean citizens all over the world in 2007? This is what the best history is about: telling future generations the stories of valorousm brave men who fought for and died for freedom. Author Hess and Osprey are sharing these stories, almost faded to dust, in ways that make them easily understood, appealing to the eyes and inspiring to those who read them.
As a model builder I have often thought that if I simply bought and built all the models Monogram Models ever manufactured, I'd be deriving maximum enjoyment of the hobby for every dollar poured into it. The same can be said regarding Osprey. There is more bang for the buck in the afore-mentioned series than I've found in any publisher's efforts encountered so far. I bet that like they used to say about Frito's potato chips, if you try just one, you will not stop at one. And if that's how it all works out for you, I can't imagine anyone at Osprey getting in your way.
|Wings Across America
by Bruce McAllister
and Jesse Davidson
foreward by George McGovern
softbound, 228 pages, 192 photographs
11" wide, 8.5" tall
Roundup Press, Boulder, Colorado
$39.95 - USA / $49.95 - Canada
This book may be purchased from your favorite local bookseller or ordered from the publisher - www.wingsalcan.com
The title of this book is printed in metallic bronze pigments across the top
where visitors to this page see only an expanse of black. The cover did not
"scan" well for this review.
Vagabonds of the Sky (reviewed below) sells for $30; Wings Across America for $40. Beside the page count, what's the difference?
The page count is relevant. Books like this don't happen via costless divine intention. The people photographs are more plentiful, the book is a saga; not a series of vignettes, and there's a terrific section at the back devoted to color phtographs of air mail "first day (of issue) covers," envelopes with air mail stamps and not one of them with a Zip Code!
[ Let me purge a minor complaint early. ATTENTION CAPTION WRITERS: When saying (I'm making this up; not quoting.) -- Douglas Baxter poses with his Rexaplenty QR-5 aircraft -- spare the readers the "aircraft" suffix. We KNOW it's an aircraft as we know an "F-16 fighter" is a bleeping fighter. The name and designation tell us. If you're married to someone named Lucy, they SPLAIN it to us. So spare us! Okay? Thank you.]
Although George McGovern is a great American, flew B-24s in the MTO in WWII, and believed in peace, the 74 words he contributed to this book advance the story not one scintilla. What he says, the authors could have said. If you intend to purchase this book to reap his wisdom, save your money or adjust your expectations.
Authors McAllister and Davidson have succeeded in producing the finest-quality pictures of a by-gone era you are likely to encounter between two covers; many full page reproductions, many attention-arresting formal and informal portraits of pilots and players. Color photos are interspersed, most taken in the 90s of aerial views and individuals involved in the "hay days" or heydays, if you prefer. There are also color reproductions of a Travel Air decal and an air mail timetable. The "true color" comes through in the text, the story most commendably researched, reflecting the tempo of the times and sharing occasional glimpses of the times as they echo today.
The story is eloquently expressed wtihout being pedantic or juvenile, and the stories are as fresh as your morning aftershave. If you can't believe one air mail pilot landed in dense fog and taxied for 35 miles, jumping over fences the way a pilot might abort a takeoff six feet into the air, believe it. This is a fascinating read!
Even so, and as with Vagabonds, an early disclaimer states that the authors "cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of this information and it is not to be used for navigational purposes." Can you imagine a sleepwalker in a ragged Citabria getting lost between Elko and Carson City because he was following this book?! I can't. But in this litigious society, if it did happen, the publishers would be glad for their foresight.
There are no "cookie cutter" pages. Every spread is a visual and factual adventure. As withVagabonds I felt I had ridden a roller coaster by the time I finished the Introduction, and things only improved after that. When you read the photo captions, it becomes obvious why McAllister and Davidson shared the saddle. The latter's Aviation Archives contributed probably half the pictures. I looked closely at every picture in the book and did not find myself quibbling (politely) with the choice of a single one! The pictures of the people are as fascinating as those of the aircraft and places.
Modelers will find the book a treasure trove. Thanks to the large size of most of the pictures show amazing detail. A civil Jenny used for air mail delivery in the 20s (page 32) hit my eyes like a ton of bricks!
Content of this remarkable volume "leans to the West" in its focus, though there are photos from east of the Rockies in the mix as well. Considering McAllister's home base in Boulder, Colorado this is not surprising, and considering how the major adventures lay in the maelstrom of air between Denver and the "left coast," it's understandable.
The story ends in 1938 with the introduction of the DC-3, and fittingly so.
As involved as I have been with aviation history for all of my adult life and most of my halcyon yoot -- youth, if you prefer -- it is not ofen I'm surprised any more. Top quality makes me smile more than a picture I've seen in eight other publications. Wings Across America surprised me often in my trek from cover to shining cover. The quality makes old National Geographic and Flying Aces magazines look like basement press enterprises in comparison. This is more than a book you will enjoy reading. My prediction is that you won't miss an opportunity to show it off to your aviation minded friends. Rather than loaning it out to them and risking errant coffee and pepperoni stains on perfect pages, demand they buy their own copies. My bet is that they will!
Vagabonds of the Sky
$29.95 - USA
Barnstormer. It's possible a lady or gentleman could grow
up in the 21st century and be as unfamiliar with that word as with "awl," or
"buggy" or "hat pin.". . . or "Packard." And that's a shame.
The cover suggests this is a Rolls-Royce-quality book, and the contents confirm that
impression. Only a hard cover could have given a better impression, and considering the
production costs of hard-cover books, publishing Vagabonds in soft cover was a
smart decision. It allows the story to reach more of the people who will learn from,
and appreciate, what waits within.
Author McAllister credits the Rheims France 1909 international air meet for being the first air show. This is arguable. Early exhibition flying events drew thousands of spectators to the hope of merely seeing an "aeroplane" fly and maybe even "perform" a 360 degree turn in the air. As he states, aerobatic flying didn't enter the picture until about 1913. What establishes this book as "pages to own" are the pictures. An early disclaimer states, "The author . . . cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of this information." Dang! I thought I was getting history here. Instead, I'm told that what I think is real turkey, may be tofu, instead.
I didn't have to wait long to encounter that tofu. The picture of a Curtiss pusher on page 3 shows an airplane unlike any I have seen in all the published works I have read over 58 years. It reminds me of a clipped wing Piper Cub with wings that end where the struts connect from the fuselage. I do not believe that airplane ever left the ground, but I don't have to. The disclaimer told me I shouldn't bet on every horse I encounter. Other pictures make up for it in spades: large, full page spreads and large, color reproductions of posters and contemporary illustrations. McAllister wisely credits the source of each photo/graphic at the end of each caption. BRAVO! We don't have to trace things back to pages from an appendix at the back. By page 13 I was appropriately and truly kocked of my keister, so to speak by the full page picture of Bill Lindley and his wife at Daytona Beach, Florida in 1918. It shows an "advertising flyer" in the true sense: sponsor names painted all over the JN-4! Wow! And all this commentary is from the Introduction!
Many know of Lincoln Beachey, the first major "name" who earned star billing when he flew exhibitions for crowds of thousands. The pictures took my breath away. I could almost smell the castor oil and fuel! Not so well known (to me) are the Mabel Cody and Gates Flying Circi. The Hollywood movie pilots are also covered. Only one picture in that chapter does not beling: Robert Redford from the movie The Great Waldo Pepper. How the fring-frang did he make it into this 20s context historical tableau? BRAVO the credit given to Dick Grace and Frank Tallman, "The 13 Black Cats" flyers and Howard Hughes! It gets better . . .
Individual chapters about Ernie "Ox" Boffa, Frank Wein, Evelyn "Sharpie" Sharp and Clyde Ice, who barnstormed with a Ford Tri-motor advance the saga into the 30s when Florence "Pancho" Barnes enters the scene. Chapter 9, devoted to her is the most impressive coverage of this legend I have encountered, though I understand at least one biography of her was published. That book has not crossed my transom, but I bet it's a good one.
McAllister deserves a whale of a lot of credit for finding early barnstormers and traveling to photograph and interview them as they approached the winter of their lives. Among those visited were Nick Elntine,"The Zero-Zero Barnstormer" (buy the book and see what he means!), Chuck Doyle and other "house crashers" -- they used to do this at state fairs in front of packed grandstand crowds --, John Miller, Jack Greiner and Charlie Kulp. No performing barnstorming aircraft is younger than the 1946 Cub flown by "The Flying Farmer" Kulp whose comedy act may preceed the legendary U.S.N.R.'s Dick Schram who carried it to its zenith.
Air show fans will wonder about other great pilots whose stories and images aren't covered in this book: Dick Schram, absolutely; the Cole Brothers, for sure, Alford Williams, oh yes, Frank Hawks, darn tootin' and other regional stars who never ascended to the national limelight. My guess is that 1. there were only so many pages, and McAllister had to draw the line somewhere to keep from charging $139.95 for the book he may have wanted to produce and 2. some of the above were more "air show people" than "barnstormers." The distinction is important.
It is not hyperbole to state that Vagabonds of the Sky is the best pictoral about barnstorming a 21st century reader is likely to be privileged to purchase and read. When you consider the price of a typical monthly aviation magazine, packed with advertising and subscription fall-out cards, and how these 151 glossy, heavy stock paper, colorful (in more ways than one) pages celebrate an era when brave pilots thrilled crowds before FAA inspectors (not that there's enything wrong with them) and litigious wankers sapped too much of the gusto from the air show skies, this book is a bargain. Unless your FLIR is targeting turbine machines exclusively, you should haul ace and buy this book. It will fascinate you and make you cherish the memories of great men and women!
by Kirk W. House
softbound, 128 pages, pictoral with captions
6.5" wide, 9.25"tall
$19.95 - USA
This book may be purchased from your favorite local bookseller or ordered from the publisher - www.arcadiapublishing.com
Pioneer aviator and Curtiss Aircraft founder Glenn Curtiss was not a kid with
a dream when he learned how to fly about the same time as the two bike makers from Dayton.
He was a successful manufacturer of motorcycle engines. It's important to understand that
this well-produced pictoral is devoted to what happened after he exited the airplane
business to become a land developer in Florida and the company he founded had merged, in
1929, with Wright Aeronautical. Don't expect pages of Jennies; they're for another
era. The book picks up as C hypen W began pioneering in its own way with names like
Junior, Condor and Hawk. Even when people remember the immortal SB2C and P-40 as
"Curtiss" aircraft, they are correct in that Curtiss was part of Curtiss-Wright,
the way Vought was part of United Aircraft. As you never hear of a United-Vought Corsair,
people don't remember Curtiss-Wright Warhawks.
Author Kirk House was director of the Glenn Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, NY. He has written several books about Glenn Curtiss, and it's probably a good bet that all are as readable as this effort. Credentials like House's should guarantee historical accuracy, intelligently written text and a retrospective of the company, worth $19.95, as Arcadia Publications have proven to be. In some ways, he succeeds.
For example, the photographs and reproductions of company graphics are first class from cover to cover. House shares a feel for the people who worked for C-W. About 95 percent of the photos are new to this reviewer. Particularly noteworthy are the details of the Condor, which serves as the "poster child" for why Curtiss-Wright was a star-crossed company. At a time when most manufacturers were looking ahead to a world of monoplanes and stressed-skin aluminum construction, C-W directors believed the tried and true fabric-covered biplane was cheaper to build. And even though they'd never win the Collier Trophy for advances in aeronautical science, the consensus at management was that they'd make a faster dollar. Flash forward to the P-40 through P-40Q and P-60E that died ignominiously at the starting gate, and one begins to see how some companies (another example - Ford, today) who cling to the past will sacrifice their future.
Also-ran divisions and offshoots -- the ill-fated Bleeker helicopter, Keystone (makers of the high-wing Patrician airliner), Sikorsky (a division of Curtiss-Wright, House says) Curtiss-Reid, are mentioned in pictures and captions. Not so well captioned is the license-built deHavilland Gipsy Moth. C-W bought rights to the design from the license-holding Moth Aircraft and built several at the Curtiss-Robertson Airplane Division in St. Louis. House includes a few pictures of it, but credits only "another Wright subsidiary" with manufacturing it.
Given far better, nay excellent coveage are the Curtiss-Wright flying schools and the Engine Division. The war years (the one we declared) pages also excel in company pictures and graphics and many excellent photos, new to this reviewer. Only ten pages cover C-W after WWII, but many readers will be surprised to learn the company is still in busines, though anyone looking for a picture of their last manned flying machine, the X-19, will find it absent.
The only significant disappointment in the book is the photo caption text. Consider the example on the lower half of page 45. The caption reads, "Curtiss-Wright's National Air Transport flew airplanes that were surprisingly small by today's standards." Though readers won't know from this caption, the airplane pictured is a Curtiss Carrier Pigeon. Despite what the caption writer suggests, the Carrier Pigeon's wing span of 47.5 feet was rather respectable by today's standards unless you're looking at one parked next to a Boeing 777. Readers probably should know that they're looking at a Curtiss (before the merger) Carrier Pigeon and that it was designed for the sole purpose of flying air mail. Readers also should know there is fantasy shared as fact in the page 121 caption, "The XP-87 Blackhawk, a night fighter with two Westinghouse jets..." "Two Westinghouse jets" is accurate if you're counting the engines on only the left or right wing of the airplane because in fact, the airplane was built with four Westinghouse J-34 engines. The handy consolation for this pen-in-mouth faux pax may be "Those who don't know won't mind, and those who do know probably won't buy this book." This reviewer has hopes for a broad readership for Kirk House's effort and I wish these and mis-statements had been nipped in the bud, before they blossomed in print.
Overall, this reviewer was happy with the read. If readers dig no deeper into the history of this star-crossed firm (Maybe not so star-crossed; they're still in business!) the book will serve well the story of a remarkable airplane manufacturer. The people pictures, the interesting graphics and maps speak as eloquently to the history of the age as the company. That is why I recommend it to the curious reader looking for a first step into the saga of a legendary American enterprise.
Surplus WWII U.S. Aircraft
Phone orders using MC/Visa
Surplus WWII U.S. Aircraft
By William T. Larkins
The name Larkins on a book carries the same cachet with experienced aviation historians that the names Halberstram, McCullough and Brands impart to tomes of U.S. history. That is because every one of his books (including U.S. Marine Corps Aircraft 1914 1959 and The Ford Tri-Motor 1926 1992) and the countless articles he has written for the American Aviation Historical Society Journal have been concisely written, sans fluff and fabrication, and eminently factual. Surplus WWII U.S. Aircraft continues Larkins run of wide-spectrum-readable productions.
I expect most who encounter this book on a bookstore shelf or just delivered by the post office will spend considerable time browsing the pictures and reading captions. For many, this encounter will introduce types never known, including the Interstate TDR-1, Fleetwings YPQ-12A (I had never seen that bird before, other than a teensy pic in an Air Progress.) and a dazzlingly clean Brewster SB2A-4 in Georgia. Larkins credits contributing photographers early into this production (page iii), including the evergreens, Bodie, Bowers, Olmstead, Taylors (Norm and Bob) and Veronico to name just a few. This group effort is what makes the book unique. Many of the contributors could not have produced a singular similar book, because of the thousands of pictures in the myriad collections, none have the depth that Larkins alone has photographed and gathered over many decades. It is to the contributors credit, and Larkins, that they came together here.
It takes awhile for the enormity of the surplus at hand in 1946 to sink into the brain. While many readers remember pictures of fields of B-52s at MASDC in Arizona after the Vietnam War, and some vaguely remember much-reprinted pictures (some of them Larkins) of fields of Fortresses and Libs, the reality beyond those lamented vistas documented in this book, is more stunning than imagined. Many more sites than the legendary Kingman, Arizona former AAF air base were involved. Larkins story of surplus disposal begins in Chapter 1 at the time soon after World War I and concludes at the end of the WWII disposal program in 1947. Subsequent chapters describe U.S. Navy disposals and focus on major disposal sites of all military and militarized former civil aircraft.
Its tempting to list the photographs of exceptionally rare surplus aircraft included in the book. That list would include a Stinson UC-81F, civil PBM-5s, a surplused Supermarine Stranraer. But if the XPQ-12A pic didnt convince you, a civil O-47A and Tim N2T-1 probably won't either. Did you know Howard Hughes owned a Consolidated PB2Y-5? Me either. Seeing Gerald Liangs fine picture of Hughes' Coronado with a 1960-something Volkswagen Microbus really caught my attention. I was also surprised by the number of Beech AT-10s that made it into civil hands, only to disappear like proverbial Mayflies, all too soon.
Bomber historians will spend considerable time with the very well documented profile pictures of the surplused arsenal. Though the US insignia are overpainted, many other detailed markings remain visible, including training school codes properly attributed. Also noteworthy are the pictures of TP-40s destined to be reincarnated as frying pans and the variety of lightplanes returned to the skies in civil hands.
Consider the lists:
ATC Type Certificates applied to surplus aircraft
Limited Type Certificates
Group 2 (Memo) Approvals
Restricted and Experimental Certificates
World War II Surplus Aircraft Storage, Sales and Salvage Yards
Storage and Sales Depots
War Assets Corp. Sales Centers and Sales Depots (locations and types sold from them)
If you want to know how many Pratt-Read TG-32s were available for sale by the War Assets Administration during the week of January 24, 1946, here is the book for you!
Fighter jocks are the only fans not likely to be blown away by Larkins elegant exposition, and its not his fault. Though many medium and heavy haulers came home after the war, most lighter types were bulldozed into pits in fields where they lay, so to speak. Foreign surplus sites are beyond his coverage here. The world is waiting for an Air Britain guru or Pacific war specialist to dig into that historical turf. In the meantime, the coverage given to stateside fighters by the author covers the ground admirably. Who knew (before this book) that a YP-61 made it as far as a boneyard in Ontario, California in November 1945? Wow! Good photo coverage too!
Interspersed among the lists toward the back of the book are reprints of magazine advertisements by the Reconstruction Finance Corp (BT-13s for $975. Does that bring a tear to your eye or what?) and War Assets Administration. These ads reveal how much more than airframes were up for grabs: tires, propellers, magnetos . . . "From this store of material you will probably find the things you need to keep you flying." an ad says.
Also included are personal pictures and recollections by the author of his years of "focusing" on war surplus machines. The book is more than a comprehensive historical record well-documented; it is a memoir of one of the worlds most dedicated aviation historians. Though inconsistent with what might appear in an academic document, the recollections add to this books value because the author is accurate in his lexicon. Typos are conspicuous in their near-absence. I encountered only two, but I wasnt hunting with my telescopic sight.
Surplus WWII U.S. Aircraft is a seminal book about a part of aviation history which most pilots and crews at the time were all too happy to put behind them. We know this because new aircraft sales fell flat as a Vanguard satellite launch rocket. Nobody imagined so many thousands of military service veterans (God bless them every one) would walk away and never look back. William Larkins fine book gives an unprecedented, lasting portrait of those brief few years. This reviewer predicts it will inspire future aviation historians to build on this effort.
I enjoyed Surplus WWII U.S. Aircraft from cover to cover. I bet you will too.
reviewed by Job Conger
Delta Air Lines - 75 Years of
by Geoff Jones
published by Arcadia, 2A Cumberland Street, Charleston, SC 29401
approx. 6 1/2" x 9 1/2", softbound 128 pages
ISBN #0-7385-3170-7 price $19.99
Writing an airline history is a whale of a lot more complicated that it used to be, thanks to a little thing called deregulation. If you think tracing the lineage of English royalty is a challenge, try tackling airline genealogy! Author Geoff Jones, a Brit himself, has succeeded admirably in dilineating the profusion of shared designator commuter airlines that served as conduits for passengers in small cities into Delta's five hubs, primarily Atlanta Hartsfield International. Chapter 8 is a mini-history of Western Airlines which Delta acquired in 1987. This chapter alone is packed with photos of that airline's fleet since its founding in the 20s. What might have been a sentence or two in a compact narrative like this was, instead, 21 pages of photographs and history shared in the main, through the captions.
Other separate chapters describe the acquisitions of Chicago & Southern and Northeast Airlines in Delta saga, each with impressive arrays of photographs
The publication is a straight-shooting story of an enterprise that began as a crop-spraying company in 1924 and became one of the most successful airlines in the world.Surprisingly, the company's agricultural focus did not end with the launch of scheduled passenger carrying with a Travel Air S-6000B in 1929. That adjunct continued until 1966.
One factor which makes Delta unique is their consistent success. True, there have been minor setbacks, but while other carriers born in the 20s "spun in" following de-reg, and some surviving carriers are very publicly "on the ropes," Delta has remained, if not always in the black, at least always in the air.
Apparent in the many fine photos is that Delta's success has not been attributable to standardization of just a few aircraft types. It might be said, based on the pictures alone, that Delta never met a transport it didn't like! They were the first airline to fly the Convair 880, and bought 17 before taking them off the line in 1973. Almost forgotten is their use of civil Lockheed Hercules cargo carriers, also retired in 1973, giving way to the greater cargo capacities of jumbo jets. After spurning the McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 and buying Lockheed 1011s instead, they bought the higher tech MD-11s and were a major user of that type before settling in with Boeing as their prime provider.
And while politics have always played a role in airline operations, international politics, alliances with Air France, Aeromexico, CSA Czech, Korean Air and Alitalia have paid dividends as the new century got rolling.
Overall, Delta Air Lines - 75 Years of Airline Excellence suffers few, if any (I didn't find any) annoying breaches of logic and established nomenclature that sometimes appear like a mouse tail in a bowl of vegetable beef soup and spoil the flavor or the rest of the book There are more facts per page of interest to aviation enthusiasts here in most books published by Arcadia, a point I make after having had the pleasure of reviewing several. Author and Arcadia have made the most of this very engaging, picture packed format, providing significant, illuminating information with lots of eye candy for casual airline enthusiasts in its many fine pictures. The book is sure to provide a launching pad for other historians to build even more detailed, larger format historical "feasts." In the meantime, there is plenty to digest in this effort, with little risk of encountering a mouse tail or other catalysts to indigestion from the process.
Thanks to Arcadia Publishing for the review copy!
Chicago City of Flight
by Jim and Wynette Edwards
published by Arcadia, 2A Cumberland Street, Charleston, SC 29401
approx. 6 1/2" x 9 1/2", softbound 128 pages
ISBN #0-7385-3170-7 price $19.99
If there had not been a Chicago, home of Octave Chanute who corresponded with, visited with and encouraged two bicycle makers from Dayton, Ohio, there are reasons to expect that the birthplace of aviation might be Hammondsport, New York or Paris, France. And though that coincidence is one of connecting genii and not geographies, Chicago remains today a fulcrum of flight. Authors Edwards have shared some exceptional research in sharing many images from early posters and postcards. Almost forgotten today is the fact that Chicago was host to several international air shows before World War II. The posters for these events, starting with a P.T. Barnum balloon exhibition in 1875, should be reproduced in color and full size, but even this budget-priced collection captures the feel of an era before air travelers wore cut-off jeans and tee shirts to 40,000 feet.
It's in the Lindbergh chapter that silly errors stick out like flatulence at a wine tasting. A picture caption on page 42 explains that the future famous flyer flew air mail in a "refurbished DeHavilland (nicknamed 'Jennies') DH4." True, he flew refurb'd DH-4s, but the "Jenny" was a nickname given the classic trainer built by Curtiss and designated the JN-4. Many historians, conversant with this era would have caught that error, as well as the one on pages 44 and 45 where "Jennie" is attached to DH-4 and DH-4 is attached to an airplane which is neither. A fast glance at the curved wing tip is all the confirmation you need of this.
On the positive side, the pictures and historical notes about the area's early airfields are first rate. Sorry to say that instead of a picture of Orchard Place Airfield (ORD) in the days when Douglas C-54s were built there, the authors present a postcard image of a C-54. Also noteworthy is the coverage of the many aircraft manufacturers which called Chicago home. Among them Boeing, Heath, Howard, Laird, Stiles, Ta-Ho-Ma and Viking. Suppliers to the industryy are commendably covered as well.
Conspicuous in its depth of coverage is the Wright Redux creation and flight of a Wright 1903 Flyer replica. This project merits more than thee 20 pages devoted to it in this book about the history of aviation in Chicago. A book of its own, a web site, multipart coverage in an aviation periodical, all would have better suited this subject than inclusion at the end of this book. In its place, additional pictures of the recently demised Meigs Field would have fit this book like a glove. Greater coverage of Midway and O'Hare would have been terrific. And here's hoping the authors produce a second edition of this well-done effort some day.
Overall, Chicago, City of Flight is an engaging, easy reading book, recommended to all who want to learn more about the high roads in and out of "that toddlin' town."
Wichita's Legacy of Flight
by The AIAA-Wichita Section with Jay M. Price
published by Arcadia, 2A Cumberland Street, Charleston, SC 29401
approx. 6 1/2" x 9 1/2", softbound 128 pages
ISBN #0-7385-3180-4 price $19.99
What a terrific cover! The AT-11 buzzing the prairie grass is a real attention getter, and what better brand to represent that city than Beech?
If Chicago can be considered a fulcrum for aviation, Wichita must be an American Mecca, and an unexpected one at that. Who would imagine that a farmer named Clyde Cessna would create an original design, based on a Bleriot clone he owned earlier, and go into business with Walter Beech and Matty Laird? As the authors explain, Wichita had seen a lot of flying since before the Wrights struck the mother lode in Dayton. As events transpired, early flyers needed somewhere to come down between NYC and LA, and Wichita seemed to be pretty close to ideal and unavoidable unless your mother-in-law lived there.
This series of books consists of usually-well-selected pictures with long captions underneath, presented in chronological order relating to each chapter's focus.
The authors deserve a lot of credit for pictures from the golden age, not only of the planes, but the people, the buildings, the popular places of the era. The between the wars time can be further delineated into Before the stockmarket Crash and Accelerated Development.
Only the failing of whomever captioned the pictures can be consistently faulted in the entire series of enjoyable Arcadia books. The page 60 picture, taken apparently at the same time in 1942 or 3 as the cover shot, notes the "AT-11 'Kansan' bomber" which was to "bombing" what my Ford Escort is to "moving van." The AT (stands for Advanced Trainer; comprende muchacho?) was used to train crews destined to fly bombers in combat. A few -- with a different name and designation -- did serve as bombers in the Chinese Air Force, but when the picture shows an AT, one should talk AT.On page 61 the authors state that the Beech Grizzly (XA-38) didn't go into production because late in the war, the jets were taking over. The truth is that the design was outperformed by the Douglas A-26 whose designers had to foresight to incorporate tricycle landing gear, fast becoming the state of the art. But that's okay. Beech also produced Staggerwings after World War II. Walter loved his biplanes. On the other hand, I did not know until this book, that Beech produced a prototype automobile called The Plainsman. The name suggests one of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns, but it was an aesthetically pleasing car.
Lesser known aircraft companies (Siebel, Swallow, Swift) have fair coverage. The pictures will spark many memories and serve as catalyst to many readers who never knew there was a Swift biplane. Photo coverage of the city as aviation began to ebb from the city as a major employer is absolutely first class. It's great that somebody remembered to take pictures. A lot of those sites will be parking lots too soon.
Wichita's Legacy of Flight may be considered an excellent template for future volumes, though it's hard to imagine that any will top this one. An excellent read and highly recommended!
Naval Air Station Lakehurst
by Kevin Pace, Ronald Montgomery and Rick Zitarosa
published by Arcadia, 2A Cumberland Street, Charleston, SC 29401
approx. 6 1/2" x 9 1/2", softbound 128 pages
ISBN #0-7385-1160-9 price $19.99
Two milestones in the history of human flight came to pass in the final years of the most recent century: the virtual extinction of rigid flying airships, and the era when being a black pilot was a big deal. AeroKnow recently received two pictorals which capture these earlier times, and we are glad to review them here.
The beige-tint covers impart a feeling of greater antiquity than the events merit, but the choice of pictures in both is first rate throughout. Lakehurst began as a US Army chemical munitions proving ground next door to a Naval facility, and the two were combined into a navy facility after the end of WWI. Construction on the first airship hangar began in 1919. The pictures and informative, well written captions tell the story of how involved this base was with British and captured German machines in addition to domestic product. For the price of this small book, there's a lot of education and revelation in the pictures. When this reviewer caught himself wishing for a coffee-table, large format volume that would better show the incredible detail in some of these pictures, I realized that such a book would cost four to six times as much as the one in hand. Though the format is small, the value is large. As a fan of the Curtiss F9C, I hoped to see at least a few pictures of the airplanes deployed sans landing gear, and though there were none, there were a few of the Sparrowhawk I had never before seen, I felt that brief episode in the annals of aviation history deserved more. Coverage of the German Graf Zeppelin and Hindenberg is first rate. A scant 10 pages are devoted to Lakehurst activities during World War II. I gladly would have surrendered pictures of F-8s for interior views of K-2 blimps, but when considering this book is the story of what stayed on the ground, the base, the lack of thorough coverage of flying machines is understandable. The final chapter, Lakehurst Odds and Ends, is an all-too-brief tour de force of activities from 70s to now. I was surprised to learn the French Dassault Rafale was tested at Lakehurst. Who knew?
This pictoral "Cliff's Notes" of a major saga which was very much in the background as Miramar and Patuxent River grabbed the headlines is an excellent jumping off point that will inspire many, this reviewer included to greater study beyond. It's well-written throughout, and the photographs are all one could reasonably expect from a book this size. Recommended!
The Tuskegee Airmen
by Lynn M. Homan and Thomas Reilly
published by Arcadia, 2A Cumberland Street, Charleston, SC 29401
approx 6 1/2" x 9 1/2 " softbound 128 pages
ISBN # 0-7385-0045-3 price $18.99
for more information: www.acrcadiapublishing.com
If aviation history books I read as a kid had extolled the exploits of black air men and women of France or England or China or even South Africa, I could better understand the grudging acknowledgement of the success of struggle of black aviators to ultimate parity in the late 20th Century. Though there is no doubt of the fears and prejudices of white citizenry, the fact remains that the USA is the only nation in which such a story of success can be told.
The Tuskegee Airmen is not the first book about this subject to reach AeroKnow, so there was less of a "gee whiz" reaction when reading the story. But the pictures brought faces and a glimpse of reality missing from other treatments. A four-page Introduction concisely shares the history that is revealed in greater detail in the picture captions. The first chapter, African-American Aviation Pioneers, lays the foundation for the story that follows. It would have been great to know (in one more sentence) what happened to Eugene Jacques Bollard, "The Black Swallow of Death," a black fighter pilot who flew for the French in WWI, but it was not to be. Even getting note of the man's life to the readers' eyes is a significant accomplishment. The story necessarily continues beyond World War II to share the results of what happened to the Tuskegee men after that war The last person mentioned is Robert L. Curbeam, Jr. a shuttle astronaut.
Throughout the volume, packed with snapshots loaned from "Private Collection" as well as more formal views from NASM and the USAF, there are minor lapses of fact. A "Mrs. Young" is pictured on the wing of a PT-19. Her first name is lost, and captioning the picture this way limits, rather than enhancing the authors' credibility. Theopolis W. Johnson (page 36) is credited with flying "F-47s." On page 59, the caption explains that the 99th F.S. was supplied with "Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk airplanes." Unfortunately, P-47s are depicted in the picture above. Most aviation writers understand that Curtiss-Wright is to P-40 what General Motors is to Camaro, and the mention of "airplanes" leads me to wonder if the authors were quoting their caption info from a wartime news release written by a recent draftee PIO who had never seen a P-40 or P-47. These minor infractions muddle the historical record and might have been avoided with an editor who knew aviation.
Selection of pictures of the men and women is first rate throughout the book. Snapshots have a charm and authenticity of their own. Views of the buildings, the environment all around, the total scenario including maintenance and support crews, show us what no other publication has revealed. The book's authors and producers deserve a lot of credit for getting these pictures out of scrap books and corners of closets and onto the page where they can be appreciated by grateful readers. If you are a model building interested only in full views of airplanes, this is not the book for you. Same thing goes for aficionados of "so I did and then they did and we did" chronicles. This reviewer came away with a greater appreciation for the selfless dedication and contributions by brave men and women. Our nation is better for their effort. And we are better for recognizing and remembering. A good read!
Birth of an Aviation Legend
by Donn A. Byrnes and Kenneth D. Hurley
published by Sage Mesa Publications, P.O. Box 2397, Los Lunas, NM 87031
6" x 9" softcover 307 pages plus 34 pp appendicies
price: $17.95 + $3.00 shipping & handling. For more info see www.sagemesa.com
This reviewer believes that no individual in a P-51 cockpit during World War II contributed more to the cause of freedom than any of the select few test pilots involved with Lockheed's A-12 and SR-71. I remember how a person connected to the Concorde test program (going full tilt at the time the SR was revealed to the public) said something like "We've been working on our program for many years only to find this program has succeeded almost overnight!" The SR is still the most modern, fastest, highest flying airplane ever built, and its removal from the activde USAF inventory is a national embarrassment, a view shared by the book's authors and yours truly.
Blackbird Rising is a precisely appropriate title for this book. It has no hair raising tales of dodging SAMs over New Orleans or Hanoi because revealed in this tech-packed story is the "stage before that stage," the Category II pre-operational testing which qualified the titanium trolley for ops with the United States Air Force. That period runs from 1958 to 1970. As a result, the book's informative, too-long untold saga lacks the pacing found in many airplane monographs. It is a chronology of systems, each a vital part of the whole, and each very well dscribed. If your interest in aviation history is limited to what's needed to appreciate the latest P-47 plastic model kit, you will find this read more tedious than slogging through Beowolf your freshman year at college. War college 1st lieutenants, engineers and Pentagon-grade administrators have more to harvest from this crop of facts than mere historians. And that is perfectly okay. Blackbird Rising does not put the reader into the cockpit, but it gives you a seat at debriefings, so to speeak.
The information, very well organized and supplemented with a 17-page glossary, notes about key players and their subsequent careers and a list of references is an incredible value for the price. A story of this magnitude should include an index at the end. It does not.
Written by Dean A. Byres, Colonel USAF (retired) with extensive quotes from Kenneth D. Hurley, Lt. Colonel USAF (retired), these gentlemen were involved with the Category II program from the start. Byrnes was involved in the North American XB-70, and the comparison of the two designs shows the genius of Lockheed's SR while illuminating many frailties of the Valkyrie.
Three other notable ommissions, taken for granted in typical airplane monographs, merit mention. The first is a lack of a table of contents. Readers are taken from the acknowledgements, dedication,. foreword, introduction, authors' biographies and prologue right into Chapter 1. Though the lack of a "table" kept me right on track into the meat and potatoes of the story, it also kept me from appraising and appreciating in advance, what I would read and in what order It also made it harder to backtrack. I learned to live with my initially poor understanding of different kinds of cameras. I simply swallowed hard when encountering references to them in subsequent chapters and pressed ahead. Appendix B (glossary) helped on more than one occasion. With a TOC, I could have referred back to reprise a challenging segment, and without it, I lived with my partial understanding.
Anyone familiar with Roy M. Braybrook's incomparable essays on aerodynamics in Air Enthusiast/Air International understands the value of illustrations and pictures that reveal graphically, complex points described in text. I learned how a turbojet changes during a typical Mach 3 mission by studying illustrations in periodicals, particularly, the afore-mentioned one. I doubt that I could have fully appreciated Donn Byrnes fine writing without that earlier study. Perhaps there were security considerations in not including pictures of the equipment or systems. There are other places to find pictures -- Crickmore, Drendel, Miller come to mind -- but they would have worked well in Blackbird Rising, and probably significantly boosted the book price. While the book succeeds without them, I would have leared more with.
Perhaps Blackbird Rising's greatest accomplishment is that it reveals so much (in words) that has not been so well revealed before. There is a human element in the author's "voice" which is not revealed by number-crunching technophiles. Among new facts to this reviewer were the story of flight suit colors. The precise conformity to Category II test tracks that covered half the country at a time when we didn't know the airplane existed, and stories about supporting the program from the cockpit of a Cessna U-3 Blue Canoe, a USAF 310, reveal elements not shared elsewhere.The interface between Category II testing the SR and the A-12 operations was new turf for me. So too the development of service-level maintenance manuals for the service-level rank and file USAF maintainers, in-flight refuelling development.
There were chapters in which my mind found its step, a groove for minimum drag dynamic transit across the pages, and cruised happily until I covered the territory. Other chapters (just one or two) I felt I had aborted the flight before reaching 40 miles and hour on the active runway and had to be towed back to the hangar. On balance, what I was privleged to see in reading this Blackbird Rising was a rare view of a major hunk of hardware as seen by few passengers until now.
Congratulations and thanks to Donn A. Byrnes for producing a book that contributes significantly to this historical record of an incredible airplane. Thanks especially for his skill and dedication (and that of his colleagues) in nuturing that design to the point where the USAF could step into the cockpit and start writing headlines with it! Blackbird Rising is a good read; recommended!
Tiger Tales An Anecdotal History of the Flying Tiger Line
by LeVerne J. Moldrem,published by Flying M Press, 366 Milky Way, Prescott, AZ 86301
approximately 5 1/8" x 8 1/4" 571 pages hardbound black & white photographs
Price: $35 Available from Flying M Press http://www.flyingmpress.com
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