Slide Rule is Nevil Shute's autobiography from his childhood until 1940, and was published in 1954.
Nevil Shute Norway (1899-1960) is best known to me as Nevil Shute, the author of novels including: `No Highway'; `A Town Like Alice'; and `On the Beach'. He wrote 24 novels -many of which I've yet to read - as well as this autobiography. But there's another side to Nevil Shute Norway: he was involved in the early years of British aviation, including the competition to build a commercial airship between 1924 and 1930.
Nevil Shute Norway was educated at Shrewsbury School and Baliol College, Oxford. After a brief period at the Royal Military Academy, he worked for the De Havilland Company from 1920 to 1924. His work in the design and drafting of aircraft led to his being appointed to the Airship Guarantee Company where he rose to be the Chief of Engineering. During this period, there was a competition to build an airship which could be used for regular commercial traffic across the Atlantic.
`It was generally agreed in 1924 that the aeroplane would never be a very suitable vehicle for carrying passengers across the oceans, and that airships would operate all the long distance routes of the future.'
A competition was established, between Vickers Limited (which then established the Aircraft Guarantee Company (AGC) as a subsidiary wholly responsible for the airship construction) and the Air Ministry. Nevil Shute was on the AGC team. The government airship was the R101; the AGC airship was the R100. R100 successfully completed a return trip to Canada in July/August 1930. On the 4th of October 1930, R101 en route to India, crashed killing 48 people. Nevil Shute blames bureaucrats and bad engineers for a series of events which led to the crash. The crash of R101 effectively ended the airship program.
After the airship program ended, Nevil Shute formed a venture capital company called Airspeed Limited which built first gliders and then commercial aircraft. Between 1932 and 1938 (when Shute left the company) he describes the challenges of developing a new company in what was then a new industry. It makes for fascinating reading.
The book finishes two years after Nevil Shute left Airspeed Limited, and I wish that he'd written a second volume covering the next period of his life. Now that I've read this book, I'm keen to read more of Nevil Shute's fiction. Many of his novels draw on his experiences in the aviation industry.