Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
Accidents are messy affairs, in the first instance at the scene, and later sometimes even more grievously during the aftermath. Quite how messy depends on how well the investigation is handled and how accurately the conclusions are arrived at. It can be comforting to know that no expense has been spared, no rock left unturned and the truth arrived at by those connecting the myriad fragments of both lives and machines to build a picture of the truth.
Before we take this too much further, lets look at the way a couple of other investigations played out. Remember Egypt Air 990, a Boeing 767-366ER that came down in the Atlantic 60 Miles South of Nantucket, Massachusetts on October 31, 1999?
The airline argued that the aircraft manufacturers product was implicated in the ‘accident,’ but the reality may well have been that the Captain had effectively included the passengers and crew in his suicide. The arguing swayed to and frow until the huff died down…. and what was the conclusion, where was the follow up?
Richard Bach is an interesting soul, his writing was instrumental in shaping my early flying aspirations – mine and probably several million others. One book in particular, A Gift of Wings, captured my imagination completely; I have lost count of the number of copies I have bought and either given away or had ‘appropriated’ over the years.
He made his name as far as the general public were concerned with Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and then (as far as I am concerned) in his later work rambled off into a line of thought that feels like it found its foundations from the hippy trail – just a bit too ethereal and disjointed for my taste.
Although JLS was an exceptional seller, for me A Gift of Wings stands out as his masterpiece. It is a collection of short stories, some based loosely around philosophical ideas but all tied tightly to the world of pure flight and the love of it. Funnily enough I have only just acquired another copy and am working my way back through it, the writing has lost nothing of its power; the odd shiver still weaves its way down my spine. Try ‘Cat’ for a taster….
Yes, his work might try the patience of the hardier, practically minded technocrats amongst us; but Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and A Gift of Wings will live forever as classic aviation literature and enthuse generations of kids (who want to clatter or soar around the sky so badly it hurts) for many generations to come.
A bit more from Wikipedia about Richard Bach
He served in the USAF Reserve as a pilot, and afterwards worked a variety of jobs. He later became a barnstormer. Most of his books involve flight in some way, from the early stories which are straightforwardly about flying aircraft to his later works in which he used flight as a philosophical metaphor. One of his greatest books that many pilots love is A Gift of Wings.
In 1970, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a story about a seagull who flew for the sake of flying rather than merely to catch food, was published by Macmillan Publishers after the manuscript was turned down by many other publishers. The book, which included unique photos of seagulls in flight, became a number one best-seller on both the fiction and non-fiction lists. The book contained fewer than 10,000 words, yet it broke all hardcover sales records since Gone with the Wind. It sold more than 1,000,000 copies in 1972 alone. The surprise success of the book was widely reported in the media in the early 1970s.
In 1973, the book was turned into a movie produced by Paramount Pictures Corporation. The movie included a soundtrack by Neil Diamond.
Another remarkable book in the same class as First Light by Geoff Wellum.
What is striking about this work is the authors honesty. The book is constructed in a diary style and covers in the latter part the advance into Germany when the the retreating army left a lot of things behind – but hung on to their AAA. That made attacking airfield incredibly dangerous and provides us with a gripping account of one such attack. Pierre is tasked with a strike against an airfield well known to him and his squadron. It has fearsome defenses and he makes it clear to the taskers that they must expect heavy losses from the strike. ‘Hit it’ they say, so they do. Read the book to find out what happens but within the narrative is a gripping rendering of what it must have been like to go against a bitter and focused opponent knowing that the odds of your pulling off the target and making it home are miserable.
Whilst I will not engage in the flowery language of the reviewers below, I can own up to this being one of the books that has perched on my library shelf for a the last twenty odd years.
The greatest aviation book ever written.
I have read a number of fighter pilot biographies and countless outer aviation related literature and this one is still my favorite. Maybe because it was one of the first I read but probably more because it is such a great book, very few others really are as personal and brutally honest as this one. If one is only going to read one WW2 biography it should be this one. An extra bonus is of course that Clostermann flies both the Spitfire and the brutal Hawker Tempest, it can not get any better than that, can it?
My return to childhood
If there was only one WW2 book you should read, here it goes.
This book is the first from many WW2 memoirs I’ve read and it’s undoubtedly the best one. When reading this, YOU ARE THERE, smelling the gunpowder, hearing bullets and explosions and wishing only to pass through the hell alive. You will read this book during one long evening and then you’ll return to it, once and again. I remember that I cried when reading the last pages, I cried of relief and sadness, I cried along with the young man, who had come through the most painful chapter of his life. Per Ardua Ad Astra – Through Struggle To The Stars, they say. And you’ll find that definitely true.
Like the other critics I love this book.
But how many aircraft did he shoot down and how many was he officially credited with? In one of the originals 23 and now 33.
Shores has Closterman with c 19.
This latest version is the best. A larger picture of Closterman is created, more irreverant to authority, the issue of losing track of Mouchotte and the criticsm that ensued creates an inpiring picture of a very brave, idiosyncratic fighter pilot. A great book
Sir Stanley Hooker was a remarkable man and an even more remarkable engineer. His achievements stand out as exceptional right across his career. From the Merlin to the RB211 his rapier sharp intellect served us all very well. Where are the Stanley Hookers of today? He lived next door to a good friend of mine and when I waxed lyrical about this book some years ago, I could hardly believe the coincidence.
The reviews below come from Amazon and are worth highlighting.
The remarkable story of a remarkable man
If you have not yet heard of Sir Stanley Hooker, this will come as a treat. As a young (and brilliant) mathematician he joined Rolls Royce near the outbreak of WW2 – to find that the Merlin engine which powered the all-important Hurricane and Spitfire was down on power due to a supercharger design flaw that only he had spotted due to his mathematical abilities. In finding that extra power he will have earned the gratitude of a generation of pilots and by extension the gratitude of the nation whose existence depended on their ability to out-fly the invaders.
There is more… Throughout the war he continuously extended the development of the aircraft enigine superchargers that he had mastered, and became one of the first to appreciate and support Whittle in the development of the Jet Engine. Hooker was one of the key figures in the success of Rolls Royce jet engines, and went on to develop the Key ingredient in the Harrier Jump-jet, it’s dedicated power plant.
And more, much more….
“Not much of an Engineer” has its dramatic personal twists, and Hooker is ruthless with what he saw as his own personal failings. In addition to his mathematical and engineering skills, he writes both fluently and with feeling.
Beg, borrow, or buy it, and read it. Highly recommended.
An Inspirational Engineer
I think I have read this book five times, each time I find something new in it. Hooker shows, time and again, that very often, a simple approach to a seemingly intractable problem can produce extraordinary results. The book, which is “unputdownable”, should be required reading for all undergraduate engineering students.
Find the book here and help people out at the same time. Help out?
I have lost count of the flight deck conversations that I have had over the years that rotate around books and reading. Virtually each and every one of them has included this book by Ernest K Gann.
Those (that I have spoken to) that have read the book rate it very highly whilst at the same time blowing a quick raspberry at the notion that every incident he records in his flowing, lyrical style could have happened to him alone.
Artistic licence may well have been used liberally but the book loses nothing because of it. It is an aviation masterpiece that has similarities to ‘Stick and Rudder’ in that everything within the pages is as applicable to today’s aviation scene as it was when it was written many years ago.
Whether Ernie is telling you about narrowly missing the Taj-Mahal in an overloaded DC3 or describing the captains that he flew with as a junior co-pilot, his quill applies a masters touch that never ceases to entertain.
Subnote: For years I looked for a hardback copy of this book without success. Whilst in Los Angeles some years ago I walked into one of those antiquarian bookshops in Santa Monica. I browsed around until the shop was almost empty and sidled up to the counter. The owner was peering at me across reading glasses trying to work out if I was going to rob the shop or make a query. Every time I had previously enquired about the book I had needed to recite the name, author etc to establish that they had never heard of it and that they had no idea how to find it.
“Ever heard of Fate is the Hunter by….” He cut me off mid sentence – “Ernest Gann” he said. Without breaking eye contact he reached beneath his counter and produced a hard backed copy. I must have looked a picture because he smiled and said, “Don’t get many of these but there is always a market for ‘em. Pilots mostly – you a pilot then?” He popped the book into a brown paper bag and handed it to me. I passed across twenty six bucks. “Yes” I said grinning like I had won the lottery, “..and that is the biggest surprise and the best buy I have had this side of Christmas.”
It was June.
Every fledgling airline pilot could read this book as a primer on the delights and pitfalls of the seniority system within which we all rise, and sometimes fall.
You can always tell when a man has lost his soul to flying. The poor bastard is hopelessly committed to stopping whatever he is doing long enough to look up and make sure the aircraft purring overhead continues on course and does not suddenly fall out of the sky. It is also his bound duty to watch every aircraft within view take off and land.
— Ernest K Gann, ‘Fate is the Hunter.’
If you enjoy FITH, ‘The High and the Mighty’ might appeal also. Same subject, same quality writing.
Are you a student pilot, a flying instructor or just fascinated at how aeroplanes really fly?
If so, read on…..
Wolfgang Langewiesche calls his book Stick and Rudder, “An Explanation of the art of flying,” he chose his description well and anyone requiring that explanation would benefit considerably from this wonderful book.
I used to find as a flying instructor that I really needed around four different ways of explaining any particular concept or maneuver. Wolfgang’s book might well have saved me generating those explanations and given me a ‘one hit wonder’ for each lesson plan.
First published in 1944 this book has remained a standard work and a real ‘find’ for aviators of all persuasions. His explanations, supported by what some might regard as quaint ’40s graphics hit the spot when it comes to the space between understanding and complete comprehension.
There is not a formula to be found in this work nor a piece of arcane aerodynamic theory. Not a scrap of condescension is contained within to intimidate the reader, just the delight that comes from the acquisition of useful knowledge and the pleasure at the writers clear joy at providing what was not available at the time (and largely still isn’t). Enjoy it, it’s a classic!
From the Back Cover
WHAT’S IN STICK AND RUDDER:
* The invisible secret of all heavier-than-air flight–the Angle of Attack. What it is, and why it can’t be seen. How lift is made, and what the pilot has to do with it.
* Why airplanes stall
* How do you know you’re about to stall?
* The landing approach. How the pilot’s eye functions in judging the approach. The visual clues by which an experienced pilot unconsciously judges: how you can quickly learn to use them.
* “The Spot that does not move.” This is the first statement of this phenomenon. A foolproof method of making a landing approach across pole lines and trees.
* The elevator and the throttle. One controls the speed, the other controls climb and descent. Which is which?
* The paradox of the glide. By pointing the nose down less steeply, you descend more steeply. By pointing the nose down more steeply, you can glide further.
* What’s the rudder for? The rudder does NOT turn the airplane the way a boat’s rudder turns the boat. Then what does it do?
* How a turn is flown. The role of ailerons, rudder, and elevator in making a turn.
* The landing–how it’s made. The visual clues that tell you where the ground is.
* The “tail-dragger” landing gear and what’s tricky about it. This is probably the only analysis of tail-draggers now available to those who want to fly one.
* The tricycle landing gear and what’s so good about it. A strong advocacy of the tricycle gear written at a time when almost all civil airplanes were taildraggers.
* Why the airplane doesn’t feel the wind. Why the airplane usually flies a little sidewise.
* Plus: a chapter on Air Accidents by Leighton Collins, founder and editor of AIR FACTS. His analyses of aviation’s safety problems have deeply influenced pilots and aeronautical engineers and have contributed to the benign characteristics of today’s airplane.
I have just read Geoff Wellum’s book ‘First Light’ for the second time and confirmed it in my mind as the definitive account of life as a fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain.
It is exceptional in that it’s refreshingly devoid of the ’40s Pathe News’ fighter pilot blarney that you find in many accounts of the battle. This man lived and flew through a passage of our national history that must have had more written about it than almost any other; to have added a passage to the record so relevant and beautifully written is a major achievement.
If you fly and have wondered what it must be like to be a new boy on a fighter squadron in 1940, read this book. He relates flying experiences and detail in a way I have not read before. The sense of immediacy that he creates is magnificent, it is as if he has rolled back time and re-run his part of the Battle. Brave man, superb writer.
Probably the most beautiful sound ever heard in the sky – the 12 cylinder symphony.
Thank you Geoff, for your book and so much more.
Update – 14th September 2010 http://www.spectator.co.uk/essays/all/6142928/the-89yearold-boy.thtml
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