Farnborough – 100 Years of British Aviation

Book Review

100 Years of British Aviation
by Peter J Cooper
Midland Publishing
208 pages, hbk
US$34.00, £24.99

Farnborough has played a pivotal role in the development of British aviation since 1905, when it became the site of the Balloon Factory of the British Army. The first aircraft flew from the site in 1908. The Balloon Factory became the Army Aircraft Factory in 1911 and then the Royal Aircraft Factory (RAF) in 1912. The RAF designed and produced many aircraft for the RFC and RNAS during the First World War. In 1918 the organisation moved from aircraft production to research and development, becoming known as the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE).

From 1948 onwards the airfield became host to the Farnborough Air Show. Other units lodging here have included the Empire Test Pilots School, the Meteorological Research Flight, the Institute of Aviation Medicine, and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch. The RAE became the Defence Research Agency on 1991, and in the same year it was announced that this organisation would consolidate at Boscombe Down. The last DRA aircraft moved out from Farnborough in 1994. Part of the site became a business park, and in 2001 the airfield was sold to TAG Aviation for development as a business jet centre. A museum created by the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust remains on the site today.

Peter J Cooper’s book covers all these aspects of Farnborough’s history in great detail. The main chapters are presented in chronological order, with sub-sections describing the events for each year. Where possible the aircraft involved in flight testing are identified by serial number. The chapter on the SBAC displays describes the highlights of each show, and lists the significant aircraft that were in attendance. Each of the lodger units has a chapter to itself, describing it’s activities and detailing the aircraft used. The demolition and reconstruction of the site after 1994 is well described and illustrated, and the establishment of the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust concludes the main text.

The Appendix provides a list of the individual aircraft used by the various RAE/DRA research flights, with a brief note on what testing each aircraft was involved in. The largest operator was the Aerodynamics Flight – otherwise known as the Aero Flight, a good name for an aviation website perhaps?

The book is extremely well illustrated, with nearly 400 b+w and colour photos of the airfield and the actual aircraft mentioned in the text. Many of these are previously unpublished. The glossy paper used has ensured that reproduction of the images is very good. The endpapers show a useful plan of the airfield dating from 1988.

The author has produced an extremely well written and truly comprehensive history of aviation at Farnborough, which deserves a place on any aviation enthusiasts bookshelf. Highly recommended.

– John Hayles

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Hover M.F.11

Book Review

Høver M.F.11
Profiles in Norway Nr.2
by Arild Kjaeraas
Arild Kjaeraas
32 pages, sbk
US$n/a, £9.99

The second in a series of books that deal with Norwegian aircraft and aircraft in Norway, this title focuses on the Høver M.F.11 naval reconnaissance floatplane. Beginning in 1932, twenty-five machines were delivered to the Norwegian Navy and they were still in service when Germany invaded in April 1940. All operational aircraft were employed in bombing and reconnaissance operations against German naval and land forces in the ensuing battle, and several were lost. After the Norwegian surrender, the surviving aircraft were flown for a while by Germany and Finland.

This A4-size book is not so much a narrative history of the M.F.11 as a collection of information about this aircraft. After a very brief introduction the main text begins with the individual histories of each airframe and then a short description of their combat use during the German invasion. This is followed by a Technical Description, a few paragraphs on the aircraft in German service and a review of the Broplan 1:72 scale vacuform kit. The last three chapters cover a flight to Spitzbergen in 1935, some salvaged parts now in a museum and use of the aircraft in Finland.

The book is illustrated with clear b+w photographs throughout, often presented at half-page size, plus 6 colour profile drawings and a 1:72 scale 3-view line drawing occupies the centre pages. A sectional line drawing of the fuselage and some colour photos of the Broplan model and salvaged museum items are also included. On the back cover, a hand-coloured photograph of a M.F.11 in flight is particularly attractive.

All text is in Norwegian and English, including photograph captions and drawing annotations, and appears to be free of typos. The printing on semi-gloss paper is to a very high standard, allowing very good reproduction of the photos and colour drawings.

This book therefore serves to complement information published elsewhere, rather than to present a detailed history of very aspect of the M.F.11’s service career. For aviation historians, the information presented on this largely forgotten aircraft will be fascinating, while scale modellers will find this book invaluable. Other titles in the Profiles in Norway series are listed elsewhere on the Aeroflight website.

– John Hayles

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Profiles in Norway

The Dutch Naval Air Force Against Japan

Book Review

The Dutch Naval Air Force Against Japan
The Defense of the Netherlands East Indies, 1941-1942
by Tom Womack
McFarland & Company
207 pages, sbk
US$35.00, £22.50

In 1941 the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), now known as Indonesia, had been a Dutch colony for nearly 300 years. Comprising several hundred islands located between the Philippines and Australia, and stretching from the Indian Ocean to New Guinea, this vast territory occupied a key strategic position in South East Asia. Since the 1920s the Dutch Naval Air Service, or Marine Luchtvaart Dienst (MLD), had used seaplanes and flying boats to patrol the numerous waterways between the islands, keeping a watch on shipping and delivering supplies to isolated outposts.

From early 1940 onwards Japan and the NEI engaged in a increasingly frosty ‘cold war’, as the aggressive territorial ambitions of the Japanese became all too clear. This confrontation turned into open warfare on 7 December 1941 with the infamous Pearl Harbor attack. Air and naval attacks on Dutch territory and shipping dramatically escalated as the Japanese rapidly occupied French Indo-China, Malaya, Borneo and then the Philippines. Although supported by a limited contingent of US and British forces, Dutch military preparations in the NEI had been dealt a severe set-back by the German occupation of the Netherlands in May 1940 and were woefully under-prepared for the conflict. The Japanese began to use captured air bases to conduct seriously damaging attacks on NEI installations, and on 10 January 1942 commenced a step-by-step invasion of the NEI. This culminated in February 1942 in the progressive occupation of the key island of Java, forcing the NEI governor to surrender in early March.

This book deals in detail with the activities of the MLD during the Japanese invasion of the Netherlands East Indies. The contribution of Dutch forces to the Allied war effort during this period was quite significant, but is often overlooked in accounts of the Pacific War. With their 175 aircraft, the MLD in Southeast Asia outnumbered American and British naval air reconnaissance forces combined. However, three months of intense fighting cost the MLD over 80 per cent of its aircraft and resulted in the loss of thousands of naval personnel. Operations of the United States Navy and Royal Air Force flying boat units are included in order to provide a thorough history of the campaign.

The author begins with a description of the origins, equipment and doctrine of the MLD in 1941, sketching in the historical background and the state of preparedness of the NEI armed forces at the time. The most modern aircraft in service were the Dornier Do 24 and PBY Catalina, which operated from a number of purpose-built flying boat bases located throughout the islands. A large number of secondary refuelling bases were also available for use. Before the war started the MLD was busy conducting neutrality patrols, but soon added convoy escort and anti-submarine operations to its many tasks. Encounters with enemy fighters and flying boats became increasingly common as the MLD sought to provide advance warning of Japanese movements in the region – the first Do 24 being shot down on 17 December 1941. Unfortunately, attempts by the MLD to raid Japanese shipping and naval bases were often ineffective due to inaccurate bomb aiming.

The invasion of the NEI itself saw the MLD operating round the clock to keep higher command informed of the latest tactical situation. Losses mounted rapidly as the flying boats were often operating well beyond the meagre friendly fighter cover that was then available. The long flying hours took a large toll in aircrew fatigue, and the serviceability of aircraft also fell as the aircraft became worn out. In the early days, tired units could be quickly replaced by fresher crews, but within weeks aircraft losses and crew shortages made this almost impossible. The last few chapters cover the MLDs disastrously organised attempt at evacuation to Australia and Ceylon, and an overall review of the MLD’s performance.

In nearly all cases, specific incidents are based on official NEI records, cross-checked against Japanese records, and include the serial number of the aircraft involved and sometimes also details of the crew aboard. This allows the reader to trace the history and eventual fate of individual aircraft during the conflict.

There are eight appendices, listing such information as brief MLD squadron histories; Do 24, PBY-5 and reserve seaplane individual aircraft fates; specifications of MLD and Japanese aircraft; MLD seaplane tender details; MLD air bases in the NEI. The book concludes with 18 pages of author’s notes, a bibliography and an index. The work is illustrated with six maps identifying the main islands, the location of MLD bases and the progressive advance of Japanese forces. Thirty-four b+w photographs illustrate the aircraft, ships bases and personnel involved. There are no colour illustrations at all.

The book is printed entirely on lower-quality matt paper, more akin to that found in a paperback novel, which means that reproduction of the photos is not as good as it could be. Despite the acknowledgement remarking on the number of times the text has been proof-read, the mis-spelling of Sikorsky as ‘Sikorski’ occurs an annoying number of times, including in the index! (But not, curiously, when mentioned in the authors notes). Otherwise, the typography appears to be error-free.

The military air campaign in the NEI has received little coverage in the English language, and this comprehensive account admirably fills a gap in our understanding of the early weeks of the Pacific War, being both highly researched and very readable.

– John Hayles

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Spitfire: The Biography

Book Review

Spitfire: The Biography
by Jonathan Glancey
Atlantic Books
260 pages, hbk
US$26.35, £17.99

After all the hundreds of books and thousands of words dedicated to the Spitfire, here is another book on Supermarine’s famous fighter. Ostensively aimed at the casual reader, this title attempts to portray the history of the Spitfire from initial conception to post-war legend. The author, Jonathan Glancey, is the architecture and design editor for The Guardian newspaper – not a background you would think well suited to this task, but he is also a pilot and Spitfire enthusiast.

The introduction gives an overview of the Spitfire Legend and the author’s growing interest in the aircraft from his earliest schooldays. This is followed by a chapter on the life of the Spitfire’s chief designer, R.J. Mitchell, and the origins of the design. Many pages are filled with a description of all the Schneider Trophy races, but few words (if any) are spent on the lessons learnt that were applied to the Spitfire. Similarly, frequent mention is made in the text to the thin wings of the Spitfire, but no explanation is given as to why Mitchell wanted a thin wing. On page 28 the author confuses radial and rotary engines, and then goes on to imply that the Roll-Royce Kestrel engine was a derivative of the Curtiss D-12.

By now it is clear that the book is more about the legend than the facts. No opportunity is missed to sing the praises of the design, and much space is wasted waxing lyrical on its shape, handling and firepower. The next chapter covers the production and entry into service of the Spitfire and it’s role in the Battle of Britain. Little mention is made of the difficulties in getting the Spitfire into mass production, and the Hawker Hurricane’s role in the battle is suitably denigrated.

The following chapter describes the Spitfire’s role in the Battle for Malta and elsewhere, including its successful use in the war against Japan. The RAF and Royal Navy’s postwar use of the Spitfire and Seafire, and its service with overseas operators such as Israel are described in a separate chapter which culminates in the Indian Air Force’s retirement of the type in 1958. The chapter First Among Equals then spends 45 pages describing rival German, American, Russian, Italian and Japanese fighters of World War Two. The text is quite detailed, but spends little time on direct comparisons with the Spitfire.

A lengthy chapter entitled Spitfire Spirit explores the role of the Spitfire in modern popular culture, from movies and comics to Airfix kits and Triumph cars. The execrable propaganda movie ‘First of the Few’ is described as touching and moving. The Epilogue features Diana Barnato-Walker and her memories of her time as an ATA pilot delivering Spitfires to RAF airfields. The book is concluded by a section entitled Technical Specifications, a Select Bibliography and and index. The former lists each mark of Spitfire and Seafire with an in service date, total built and a brief note on the modifications applied. Major variants also get a side view line drawing and selected technical data. The Mk.IX is illustrated by a 4-view line drawing.

A little hint of the tone of the book is given early on, in the dedication, which includes the phrase “…to the infamous memory of Britain’s New Labour governments, their love of ill-founded war and their authoritarian fight…”. Quite what this polemic is doing in a Spitfire book is a mystery, although Guardian readers will love it. The book is slavishly politically correct, with lots of “Good Germans” flying with the Luftwaffe, some paragraphs on the role of women as ATA pilots and production-line workers, and another box is ticked with the mention of ethnic minority pilots. The Air Ministry and RAF senior officers are portrayed as ignorant ‘desk jockeys’, so we must assume that it was merely an accident that the RAF got the right aircraft at the right time in sufficient numbers.

The book seems to be entirely based on secondary sources and a handful of interviews with surviving pilots, hence the historical distortions presented must be attributed to the current author. The narrative jumps from theme to theme and often diverts down blind alleys which do not add to the overall story, such as a list of the owners of RAF Bentley Priory back to the 1840s, and the identity of the driver of the bus in the Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour.

Twenty-eight b+w photographs illustrate the book, but only twelve of these depict Spitfires – one is a model. There are no colour illustrations at all. The book is printed entirely on matt paper, but reproduction of the illustrations is reasonable. Unlike the writing, the typography appears to be error-free.

This rambling fractured hagiography adds nothing to the existing body of knowledge on the Spitfire, and does not present it in a new way. Probably less than two-thirds of the book is about the Spitfire itself, and much of this is presented in an off-hand uncritical manner. Do we need another book on the Spitfire? Not this one we don’t.

– John Hayles

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Hurricane R4118

Book Review

Hurricane R4118
by Peter Vacher
Grub Street
160 pages, hbk
US$37.95, £20.00

Far fewer Hawker Hurricanes have been restored to flying condition than Supermarine Spitfires, and nearly all of these were built after the Battle of Britain. This book tells the story of the rescue and restoration to flight of a genuine Battle of Britain Hawker Hurricane Mk I, serial number R4118.

Peter Vacher works in the publishing industry, but his great passion is restoring vintage motor cars – he has personally restored four Rolls-Royces. In March 1982 he was travelling with a friend in India, helping to research a book on Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars in the country, when he visited Banaras Hindu University. After inspecting two vintage cars still kept in the university, he discovered the remains of a British fighter aircraft in a compound nearby.

The mystery aircraft was later identified from a photograph as a Hawker Hurricane, and the idea of acquiring such a rare type as a rebuild project began to form in his mind. In 1996 the Hurricane was identified as R4118, a Mk I aircraft from a batch built by Gloster Aircraft Company in 1940. In 1997 his offer to buy the remains was accepted, but there then followed six years of wrangling, committees and red tape – along with much patient lobbying – before the aircraft was finally released to his ownership in 2001. Then began the long careful process of restoring the aircraft to flying condition.

With the help of Hawker Restorations Ltd, the airframe and it’s Merlin III engine were stripped, examined, and repaired or rebuilt as necessary to produce an aircraft as near stock summer 1940 condition as possible. Many of the original fittings were reworked and reinstalled, and scores of missing parts were sourced from locations around the world. Eventually, on 23 December 2004, R4118 flew again. It now operates in the colours of 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron, complete with period radio and the original (although de-activated) Browning machine guns.

Every stage of this epic story is ably described in the book, along with colour and black & white photographs and reproductions of some relevant documents. The combat career of R4118, and subsequent relegation to training duties, is well described, together with brief pen portraits of the pilots that flew her. Appendices cover Camouflage and Markings; the Movements Card Form 78; Operational Records with 601 and 111 Squadrons; Close-up Photographs; Engine History; a list of Hawker Modifications and a table of the RAF Fighter Command Operational Aircraft July-October 1940.

Printed on good quality semi-matt paper, the reproduction of the illustrations is excellent and there are no obvious typographical errors.

This informative and well illustrated book gives a good insight into the trials and tribulations of restoring a World War Two fighter aircraft from an abandoned wreck, and recounts the career of this particular Mk I Hurricane in a clear and interesting way.

– John Hayles

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