I have always been fascinated by ''what if'' scenarios. In aviation, this translates as aircraft that never got off the drawing board. So, when I bought Tony Buttler's British Secret Projects: Bombers Since 1949 and Soviet Secret Projects: Bombers Since 1945, I was aiming at numerous descriptions of unbuilt projects.
Was I in for a treat. Yes, these books bring lots of text and drawings about endless scores of aircraft that never got built. However, their greatest strength is where they describe the development of airplanes that did in fact get a first flight. In both books, Buttler outlines the evolution in defence thinking of the relevant country at Ministry level, its impact in the doctrine for strategic defence and the consequent requirements and specifications of combat aircraft that should fit said doctrine. Each book then goes to show the industry's approach to the specifications, explaining each manufacturer's technical solutions to the problems posed: wing shapes, engines to be adopted, undercarriages, weapon loads, crew, why and how they would or would not be adequate, etc. The reader gets to see how aircraft designers think and how diverse aircraft features affect in-flight behaviour, cost and effectiveness. Then the Author retells of the military's view on each project and the reasons for their adoption or rejection, the changes in requirements and therefore in specifications, contemporary views about in-service limitations, engine concerns, development cost, time to service entry, upgrades and the like. The political implications are also described (cases in point: the tortuous road that led to TSR.2 and its sad demise, and the AFVG discussions between the UK and France before commitment to Tornado). As a result, each chapter follows the backstory of development of well-known types, from the point of inception to detail design, with a comparison to the competitors up to the point when each fell by the wayside. The reader gets to see the whole gamut of projects that were mused before final adoption (or cancellation, as applicable) of Canberra, the three V-bombers, Buccaneer, Shackleton, Gannet, Seamew, TSR.2, Harrier, Jaguar and Tornado.
All of this in a text that is fluent and light to read while, at the same time, the books are generous in technical specs, line drawings, and pictures of wood models, mockups, wind-tunnel models and actual prototypes.
I recommend Buttler's books to a variety of readers: those keen on the evolution of strategic thinking behind the military aircraft industry, those that want background on the requirements, development and reasons behind features of aircraft effectively built, and those that want to know more about the aircraft that remained stuck on the drawing board. At any rate, a good, solid, information-laden read -- page turners with plenty of eye candy to boot.