In three masterly volumes, Tim Mason has documented much of the history of British flight-testing at government establishments between 1920 and /975. This is the second volume in the trilogy and covers the Second World War, when the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down expanded to meet the wartime need. There has recently been a trickle - not a flood and certainly not a torrent - of the re-issuing of certain classic aviation titles in 'new, revised and updated' editions. This new edition of 'The Secret Years' is a case in point. Having first appeared under the Hikoki imprint in 1998, it now returns with an increased number of pages (368 against 320), revised appendices and a cover price upped by a fairly modest £5. Comparing editions, the text seems much the same as before; which is as it should be, the original being clear detailed and readable. The photo selection - mostly from the A&AEE archives, and of huge interest and value - is again broadly similar, while its reproduction is at least as good and possibly a tad better, which is definitely good news. Where the real difference can be seen is in the presentation which, like it or not (note that your reviewer here offers no verdict of his own), reflects what today's designers believe to be the wishes of the book-buying public. In come tinted images as the lead-ins to each chapter and colour profiles of significant aircraft tested at Boscombe, carefully placed to break up the text. The volume's real value, though, comes in the text which, considering the mass of test reports and documentation from which it was compiled, represents a triumph of summarisation. Every aircraft of the 1,500 that passed through the Establishment during the period is given space and some types such as the Spitfire are accorded upwards of 10 pages. This is an invaluable, distinguished work of reference which fully justifies its place on any self-respecting bookcase. --Aircraft Magazine
Tim Mason had a forty year flying/Royal Air Force career. Since his retirement he has written three books on the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment. The Seaplane Years is the third of those books. (Editor's note: The book is subtitled - A history of the Marine & Armament Experimental Establishment, 1920 - 1924, and Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment, 1924 - 1956)
The book opens with an interdiction by Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire, followed by an Introduction and Acknowledgements.
The first three chapters cover the three facilities used for testing from 1920 to 1956. Of special interest to modelers will be some of the pictures found here. There are a few good diorama ideas tucked into this part of the book. The meat of this book for scale modelers will be found in Chapters 4 and 5.
Chapter 4 is Flying Boats where such familiar planes as the Supermarine Sea Otter, the Consolidated Catalina, and the Martin Mariner are covered along with many others. Each plane has a discussion of it's testing and the findings. For most there are one or two pictures and some, such as the Shorts Sunderland has several photos and a color profile drawing. Most of the pictures are full shots, but a few interesting detail shots can be found in the book. One exceptional series of pictures shows a float plane (a special design called "Mercury") piggybacked on a Shorts Empire flying boat.
Chapter 5 is Floatplanes. Some of the examples discussed include the Fairey Swordfish, Spartan Arrow, De Havilland Moth, and Avro Bison. Again, most entries have one photo, while a few have 2 or 3 and/or a color profile painting. One floatplane I was surprised to see was the Heinkel He 115.
There are seven appendices, including one on German Seaplanes of the MAEE. A useful index rounds out the book. The book contains over 300 black and white photographs and over 20 color profile drawing. I feel that this book is more likely to appeal to aviation historians or aircraft buffs. It is, after all, the story of a testing program and in that sense is very well done. For the aircraft modeler looking for detailed information on a specific plane, it can't be found here.
--Chuck Bush, IPMS # 42838
THIS TITLE HAS been a long time coming, but the wait was worthwhile. Many readers will be familiar with the author's previous books, British Flight Testing: Martlesham Heath 1920-1939
(Putnam, 1993) and The Secret Years: Flight Testing at Boscombe Down 1939-1945 (Hikoki, 1998). This latest volume completes the trilogy, spotlighting the work of the Marine and Armament Experimental Establishment of 1920-1924 and its successor, the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment (MAEE), 1924-1956.
Covering so many aircraft types and such a long period of experimental flying in such limited pagination and wordage must have presented the author with an unenviable challenge, but he has succeeded remarkably well, even if the histories of the numerous types, both famous and infamous, have of necessity had to be somewhat curtailed. That said, there is enough extravagant white space in the overdesigned layout to have allowed for a substantial amount of additional wordage; I know which I would have preferred.
The illustrations, monochrome pictures interspersed with artwork colour side elevations, are plentiful, large and well reproduced, though the need for tinting some of the pictures eludes me. There is much hitherto undisclosed information regarding the testing of this extraordinary pot pourri of waterborne aircraft in the text, which is concise and clear, and informative captions provide further enlightenment.
The first three chapters provide background histories of the stations concerned, Grain, Felixstowe and Helensburgh, and survey the work carried out there. Chapters 4 and 5 cover the flying-boats and seaplanes respectively, concentrating on the trials
(and tribulations) and also providing tabulated data. Appendices cover Cos and superintendents, German waterborne aircraft tested at the MAEE (a stray "e" appears in Bloehm und Voss), flying hours (a whole page wasted on just a heading and three lines of text), a glossary and further reading. The index is confused; under "Engines", for example, one finds some listed by manufacturer and others by type name.
This is a valuable work on an important aspect of official test-flying in the UK, well worth acquiring despite its shortcomings, most of which are down to the designer rather than the author.
4/5 --Aeroplane Magazine - December 2011
Hikoki Publications at Manchester U.K. has published a range of 16 very interesting books on various historical aviation subjects. Latest title released is `The Seaplane Years' written by retired R.A.F. pilot Tim Mason. In this book the history of the Marine & Armament Experimental over the years 1920-1924 and the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment over 1924-1956 is amply described.
The book starts with a short history of the experimental Naval Air Stations at Grain, Felixstowe and Helensburgh. Maps of the sites and a short overview of the organisations are also given. In two additional very large chapters, all flying boats and seaplanes that were tested at the experimental Naval Air Stations are described, including many, many very nice and mostly very rare photographs. Special care has been taken to preserve the nice chamois-tinted colours of the old pre-war black-and-white photographs.. In general the photographs selected are of a very high quality and the poorer quality shots are just included because of their rarity.
Mason gives no extensive technical descriptions of the seaplanes tested, but instead an overview of the actual test results.
As such it gives an unique insight of the flying and handling properties of a number of well-known, but also of much lesser known seaplane types.
Additional details are given in a number of Appendices including information on some captured German types like the Arado Ar-196, Heinkel He-115 and the big Blohm un Voss BV-222 flying boat. The name is misspelled as Bloem und Voss, but at least it has been misspelled consequently!
I really would have liked to see a picture of the Short Mercury seaplane in R.A.F. markings, but apparently this was not available!
Altogether it is a highly interesting story with lots of new and unpublished data in an easy to read style.
The book contains not less than 314 photographs and 29 colour profiles in 240 pages.
If you have a particular interest in British seaplanes, this book is an absolute must; nothing so far has been published so extensively on this subject as far as I am aware and the book is highly recommended!!