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D. Forbes "Donald B. Forbes" (Kidderminster)
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Murder in Samarkand - A British Ambassador's Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror
Murder in Samarkand - A British Ambassador's Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror
by Craig Murray
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Controversial Tale From Our Ex-Man In Tashkent., 22 Nov 2013
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The BBC's recent screening of the David Mitchell/Robert Webb comedy drama Ambassadors prompted me to buy this book. I remembered Craig Murray from my student days when he variously held the posts of University President, High Hied Yin and Rector. I'd initially been put off buying Murder in Samarkand by what I perceived as being poor reviews at the time of its first publication. This book isn't exactly Kipling: it's more Hapless Tales From The Hills Of Uzbekistan rather than a well crafted work of literature about Britishers abroad. But I found it to be a thoroughly absorbing good read.

Aside from the grim picture of the ghastly Soviet-like regime of President Karimov, which murdered hundreds of dissidents or tossed them into modern-day gulags; our ex-man in Tashkent portrayed the strained workings of a far flung British Embassy having to work with very limited resources. There didn't appear to be a lot of glamour in this Central Asian outpost of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: it seemed to be more steaming bowls of plov rather than platers of Ferrero Rocher.

Humorous comments pop up in some odd places in the text. The ghastly account of the kangaroo court in the first chapter is interspersed with witty, or perhaps wry, remarks. I wasn't sure what tone Mr Murray was going for. But the author's amusing similes, and indeed the soap opera of his personal life, kept me engaged for all 400 pages.

Murder in Samarkand should appeal to anyone interested in the 21st century version of The Great Game which is still being played out in Central Asia. And I would say that this book would be a must for anyone considering doing business or investing in any country with poor democratic credentials as Mr Murray's account has many examples of the pitfalls of carrying out trade in a massively corrupt state.

Apparently this boozed up randy Scott was 'a deep embarrassment to the entire Foreign Office'? I think we could do with a few more chaps like Mr Murray in the Diplomatic Corps. And this book could easily become a fine TV drama staring David Mitchell and Robert Webb.


Boeing B-52 Stratofortress Manual: An insight into owning, servicing and flying the USAF Cold War strategic bomber aircraft (Haynes Owners' Workshop Manuals)
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress Manual: An insight into owning, servicing and flying the USAF Cold War strategic bomber aircraft (Haynes Owners' Workshop Manuals)
by Steve Davies
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Are We Still Over Vietnam?, 5 Nov 2013
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Having read three of Haynes' excellent aviation publications I was expecting the Boeing B-52 Manual to be of a similar high standard; however, I was disappointed with this one.

The cover publicity states that the book is about the B-52 '1952 onwards (all marks)' and is an insight into the 'USAF Cold War strategic bomber' - the cover artwork cutaway is of a B-52G. Yet the prospective purchaser of this Haynes Manual should be aware that it is predominantly about the B-52H, and its scope is skewed towards more recent use of the bomber such its role as a bomb truck in the War on Terror in Afghanistan.

The B-52 variants A through to G are covered in the briefest of terms. Some of the facts quoted seem to require checking for accuracy as well. I don't think the B-52A ever had J67 engines (page 22). With this being a Haynes manual I would also have expected a description of the unusual alternators fitted to the early marques. I would also have liked to have learned more about the 'significant deceleration' on take-off (page 44) when the water injection was turned off: an indicated airspeed vs. time graph might have been useful here.

Any serious text on the B-52 should have included a reasonable account of the aircraft's operations in Southeast Asia between 1965 and 1973. In spite of the fact B-52s flew tens of thousands of sorties in that theatre the topic receives scant attention in this book. The author wraps up the Vietnam conflict in only four pages; half of which are filled with photographs.

The four paragraphs covering the Arc Light missions start, and I quote: 'Arc Light coincided with the US Administration imposing a bombing halt over North Vietnam. The halt resulted in Operation Rolling Thunder'???! I wasn't expecting an in-depth discussion on the air war over South Vietnam but writing like this just isn't good enough. A near 200 page B-52 manual should at least have included a section on Ground Directed Bombing. Combat Skyspot isn't even mentioned in the text.

The writing finally tightens up significantly from Chapter 3 onwards, although it makes for rather dry reading as it appears to have been lifted verbatim from a pilot's manual on the B-52H. As expected ,diagrams and (many original) photographs are first class. Major Scott Moore's description of an entire low-level bombing mission in Chapter 5 finally brings the book to life. But as this is a B-52 (all marks) manual I would also have liked to have read a similar chapter about a likely Single Integrated Operating Plan (SIOP) mission against the Soviet Union.

If the book had been titled 'The B-52H: How The USAF Keeps A 50-Year-Old Bomber In Service' I might have given it 4-Stars. Haynes shouldn't have let this one slip through as a B-52 (all marks) manual. Are we still over Vietnam? Operation Menu doesn't even get a mention.


A Bucket of Sunshine: Life on a Cold War Canberra Squadron
A Bucket of Sunshine: Life on a Cold War Canberra Squadron
by Mike Brooke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buckets of Sunshine and Oodles of Anecdotes from a Cold War Aviator., 31 Mar 2013
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This is a tale of a bygone era in which the RAF had the use of half a dozen airfields scattered from Libya to the Gulf and its pilots still had a navigator to take them to their targets in Eastern Europe. Many aviation autobiographies can be as dull as the camouflage on an RAF jet but Mike Brooke's account of his service on the Canberra bomber was engaging from start to finish. Although dealing with a serious subject, i.e. the possibility of having to go to war against the Warsaw Pact countries, the author keeps the tone of the story fairly light, and there is plenty of humour; he even made the post-flight paper-work sound fun.

The story takes us from his first flight in a small aircraft whilst on a family holiday, through Air Cadets, gliding, learning to fly the Vampire jet, Operational Conversion, and on to the English Electric Canberra B(I)8 bomber/interdictor at RAF Laarbruch in Germany.

The author wasn't afraid to admit to making a few gaffs on his account: at the end of a solo night high-level navigation exercise in a Vampire he misidentified RAF Barkston Heath as RAF Swinderby and joined their Jet Provosts in the circuit for a touch-and-go.

For anyone interested in the Canberra bomber there is a plenty of information about flying the aircraft. Without reproducing the whole Pilot Operating Handbook, Mike Brooke nicely describes the day-to-day operation of the aircraft and some of its idiosyncrasies: it had the useful ability to start both engines simultaneously, and very challenging single-engine handling qualities.

The author describes various methods of weapon delivery, both conventional and nuclear. The Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) and the Idiot's Loop were looked into in more detail. At the end of the book the author briefly looks at some of the shortcomings of the methods employed by NATO in the 1960s. Happily, there wasn't a chapter in the book titled: Off To War With The USSR.

Whether you are interested in first-generation jets, or just want to learn more about the Cold War, I would recommend that you read this book.


Flygirl Adventures: An Autoflyography
Flygirl Adventures: An Autoflyography
by Anita Mays
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.94

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A colection of good STORYS spoiled buy it's poor presentation?, 21 Mar 2013
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Lots of interesting aviation tales from the career of a lady pilot who flew aircraft as varied as the Piper Warrior and the Boeing 727. But the story telling just didn't work for me due to its poor presentation in Flygirl Adventures.

This error-ridden book has been ruined by either the publisher, Austin & McCauley, or by the typesetter at the printers: on the very first page of Chapter One there's an indefinite article missing in the 26th line. The subsequent pages are awash with spelling mistakes and seemingly random use of italics and bold typeface. The frequent use of italicising is very annoying as it keeps on putting the stress on the wrong part of the sentence. I suspect Austin & McCauley's proofreader was on a day off when this 386-page volume slipped through to the printers.

Some of the spelling errors give the text a completely new, and probably unintended, meaning. I had no idea that the DC-3 lacked a conventional 'spa'; perhaps the aircraft was manufactured with just a coal-fired hot tub instead.

The final 100 pages are a haphazard collection of stories that seem to have been omitted from the main text. At this point it looks as though the publisher had decided to print the author's notes to bulk out the book; not really necessary as it is quite a long read anyway. Towards the end of the book I came across a few pages describing the author's flight tests at the conclusion of her training: they should really have been in Chapter One.

The printing gaffs are a real shame because the author clearly has some great tales to tell from the world of non-scheduled passenger flying. Her account of her first training take-offs and landings in a Boeing 727-200 at Kansas City during a massive thunderstorm was real edge-of-the-seat stuff.

Much of the book is taken up with tales of flying the rich and famous around in small executive jets. Quite how the author tolerated the obnoxious behaviour of some of her passengers is beyond me, and how she resisted dumping these characters at some remote air strip behind the Urals I can't imagine. I'm sure there is enough space in the cargo hold of a Legacy jet for a baseball bat and a shovel. Anita Mays must have the patience of Jove.

Although this book may have crashed and burned in my view, I suspect that there may be some mileage in it for posterity. In years to come when jets are flown by robots, or by operators who just press buttons, readers will be able to take a nostalgic glimpse back to an era when real pilots actually flew aeroplanes.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 16, 2013 11:29 PM GMT


First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong
First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong
by James Hansen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.32

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Tangents Than A Trigonometry Class., 19 Mar 2013
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This edition of the authorised biography updates us on the passing of Neil Armstrong in August 2012 and now includes a seven page preface written by the author the month after Armstrong's death.

At 768 pages this biography is brimming with facts about the life and times of Neil Armstrong; indeed, perhaps the author has overburdened the book with too many facts. Reviewers of the 2006 edition have already mentioned the book's meandering style: a little too often the narrative takes the reader away from the action and up another new tributary to discover some obscure detail about the family of someone he knew at college or about a neighbour from his childhood years.

The book starts as it means to continue with a huge amount of detail about Armstrong's early life. However, some of the information is trivial, bordering on the spurious: the author pedals quite a few minor myths about the great man only to debunk them a few paragraphs downstream which I personally found quite irritating.

I quite liked the chapters covering Neil Armstrong's role in the Korean War and his Gemini VIII flight. The chapter covering the F-104 and X-15 program included a few disparaging comments about Chuck Yeager which I would want to corroborate with additional reading before taking this version of the facts as gospel.

By the time I got to the chapters covering Apollo my interest was beginning to wane: perhaps because I was already very familiar with the Apollo 11 mission, but for those picking up on this story for the first time the book contains all the facts that the interested reader needs to know.

The book is furnished with a few dozen black and white photographs, although it would have been nice if it had included a few colour plates as well. Some parts of the text would have benefited from an accompanying diagram or two: I've taken an interest in the Apollo program since...well, the Apollo program, so terms like Translunar Injection and Earth Parking Orbit sit quite comfortably with me - probably not so with the more casual reader.

Fortunately the exhausted reader can stand easy before the end of the volume as the final 120 pages are occupied with acknowledgements, bibliographies, etc.

Unfortunately, this book is two stars short of being a good read. It's a pity that the great man himself didn't pen his own autobiography. It was known that he did intend publishing his work on aerodynamics; perhaps some accounts of his eventful life written in his own hand will turn up in the future.

Donald B. Forbes.


Vickers Wellington Manual: An Insight into the History, Development, Production and Role of the Second World War RAF Bomber Aircraft (Owners Workshop Manual)
Vickers Wellington Manual: An Insight into the History, Development, Production and Role of the Second World War RAF Bomber Aircraft (Owners Workshop Manual)
by Iain Murray
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.95

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wimpys and Sticklebacks: Vickers Wellington, the 'Basketweave' Bomber., 5 Feb 2013
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Having read Dr Murray's previous two publications - Bouncing Bomb Man: The Science of Sir Barnes Wallis and The Dam Busters Manual - a book about the Wellington bomber was clearly an obvious choice of subject for his third work.

The Vickers Wellington Owners' Workshop Manual is a detailed look at the most numerous multi-engined aircraft ever built in Great Britain. It is clear from the author's previous publications that he is an authority on geodetic aircraft structures and all things associated with the work of Sir Barnes Wallis, who was Chief Designer (Structures) at Vickers during the period the Wellington was being developed.

The book's Introduction looks at the theory, development and manufacture of geodetic structures in aircraft and covers the G.4/31, Wellesley and the B.9/32 Wellington prototype. Of course the basketweave structure still had its weaknesses: the book explains why the Wellington still had to have wing spars and intermediate fuselage bulkheads.

Chapter One examines all the different marks of the Wellington and the parallel development of the Vickers Warwick. The high-altitude Wellingtons and their novel pressure cabins are also included, as are the Wellington flying test-beds for the Whittle jet engines and the RR Dart turboprop. There is also a useful 'Wellington Spotters' Guide' table comparing engines, external features, colour schemes, etc. across the various marks.

Chapter Two, The Wellington at War, covers the aircraft's operations in all the theatres in which it served. The chapter concludes with a look at the Wellington's service with Operational Training Units and with other air forces. There is a table comparing the aircraft's survivability with other bombers. A useful subsection, The Wellington At The Movies, gives details of four feature films in which the aircraft plays a starring or a supporting rôle.

Chapter Three is The Anatomy of the Wellington, and the author has gone into every nook and cranny of the skeletal Wellington MkIA 'R for Robert' at the Brooklands Museum to get nice clear photographs of parts described in the text. These are accompanied by several fine photos and drawings from the National Archives. There are also diagrams of the Wellington's autopilot servos, fuel and hydraulics systems, turret diagrams, etc. Weapon loads and load-out options are described and there is also a diagram showing how a pair of air-tailed MkXII torpedoes are accommodated in the bomb bay.

Chapter Four describes the various types of engines fitted to the Wellington: the Bristol Pegasus and Hercules, the Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp and the Rolls-Royce Merlin. There are so many fine photographs and engine cutaways that this chapter would appeal to anyone interested in piston aero-engines.

Chapter Five tells the story of the recovery of Wellington MkIA 'R for Robert' from Loch Ness in 1985 and its subsequent restoration. The reader is given the history of the aircraft, which took part in the Battle of Heligoland Bight, and an account of its final flight and accident in the Great Glen in Scotland.

The following chapter looks at the crews' rôles including pre- and post-flight checks, take-off and landing techniques and emergency drills.

The final chapter deals with servicing and maintenance, and the re-arming and bombing up of the Wellington. It concludes with a description of the recovery and repair of crashed aircraft.

In common with Dr Murray's previous books, the final pages of the Wellington Manual include several useful appendices with glossaries and tables of production marks, prototypes and Wellington conversions.

I would also recommend this book for those readers interested in naval warfare. The DWI equipped Wellington was used to sweep for magnetic mines in British and Dutch waters and also in the Suez Canal and eastern Mediterranean area. Manufacture, fitting and operation of the hoop coil used to detonate the mines is well described.

Air-to-Surface Vessel radar/Leigh Light equipped Wellingtons were in action against the U-Boat threat. The MkII and MkIII ASV equipment, operation and tactics employed are covered in some detail, including Kriegsmarine counter-measures - and RAF Coastal Command counter-counter-measures.

What really makes this book is the little details included in its pages: such as the photo of a rear gunner clambering over the retracted ventral turret of a MkIA in order to get to his post, or the tale of Wellington P2521 which was used as an 'airborne telephone exchange' to relay messages to allied agents in France. If you are looking for information on the Vickers Wellington, or if you are simply interested in aircraft of that era, then this is a must-have publication.

Donald B. Forbes 5th February 2013.


Enemy Coast Ahead- Uncensored: The Real Guy Gibson (Soft Cover)
Enemy Coast Ahead- Uncensored: The Real Guy Gibson (Soft Cover)
by Guy Gibson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.66

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Guy Gibson's Guide To England's Finest Ale Houses, 1939-1943., 31 Aug 2012
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I'd first seen a copy of Guy Gibson's Enemy Coast Ahead some thirty years ago and I'd been looking forward to reading the 'Uncensored' version for some time. Some of the early reviews stated that the choice of typesetting made the new edition very hard to read; I got a copy of Crécy's 2012 reprint and I found the font size to be quite acceptable to my average eyesight. But I had to agree with other reviewers that it would have been nice to have had the reinstated text in the Uncensored edition highlighted so that it was clear what exactly had been removed from the 1946 edition.

The font types and colours used on the cover of new edition are very odd. Although the title of the book is quite clear on its spine, this isn't the case on the cover. I suspect most readers would have expected a greater part of the book to cover the attack on the Ruhr Dams: out of 274 pages only about 25 describe the actual raid, referred to by Gibson here as Operation Downwood. Due to the secrecy surrounding the weapon, Gibson uses a lot of pseudonyms to thinly disguise names and code words. Readers will easily work out the identity of the scientist referred to in the book as Jeff. In fact there isn't a single mention of the fact that the bomb was designed to bounce, again no doubt, due to the classified nature of weapon at that time. Some readers may be aghast at the author's marvelling at seeing fleeing vehicles being engulfed by flood water from the breached Möhne reservoir; but of course Gibson's jingoism, and his views on the destruction of German towns and cities, has to be seen in the context of a continent at total war.

The book opens with the flight out on the Dams Raid in May 1943, but the second chapter takes the reader back to the build-up to war being declared on Germany in 1939. Gibson's fine account of motoring back to his Unit through late-1930s Britain in an old Alvis motor car, and other depictions of England at that time, is almost as good as Orwell in its description. Apparently, the Boar's Head in Carmarthen was well worth a visit in its time.

In the next few chapters Gibson recounts his time on the Hampden medium-bomber with nerve jangling, fatigue ridden, accounts of flying deep into enemy territory. There are also occasional snippets of humour as the author tells of the lighter side of life on a wartime RAF Station. In Chapter 10 Gibson crosses to the other side and joins 29 Squadron, a night-fighter unit equipped with the Bristol Beaufighter. The author gives exciting accounts of hunting German night-raiders in the dark skies over England with his Airborne Intercept radar operator, Sgt. R.H. James. The book's underlying theme of boozy revelry continues, and one occasion the author ends up in front of a magistrate.

We don't get much of a picture of the real Wing Commander Gibson from this autobiographical account of his war experience. Far more revealing accounts have emerged subsequently from others who served with him. We learn a little about his wife Eve; and perhaps unsurprisingly, there is no mention of the mystery WAAF with whom he was allegedly very close to whilst stationed in Lincolnshire. The reader does get some insights into Gibson's Cornish connections during his few periods of leave; we also learn that the bar in the Wellington Hotel in Boscastle is a good place for a quiet beer.

The fine writing style in the first two thirds of the book starts to wane towards the end. Indeed, the final two or three chapters appear to have been written in a rush. And if the rumours about Enemy Coast Ahead being ghost written by Roald Dahl were true then Mr Dahl must have had a change of heart towards the end of this work. There are quite a few typos in the text: the one regarding the 425 (sic) degree intercept heading on page 130 being so glaringly obvious I'm amazed it has never been corrected.

Readers need to remind themselves that the author was only 25-years-old when he wrote this book. The events described therein are testament to the abilities and courage of someone quite rightly held up as one of the finest leader of men in wartime.

Donald B. Forbes 31st August 2012.


Vipers in the Storm: Diary of a Gulf War Fighter Pilot (Aviation Week Book)
Vipers in the Storm: Diary of a Gulf War Fighter Pilot (Aviation Week Book)
by Keith Rosenkranz
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vipers, Mavericks, CNN and God., 21 Aug 2012
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This is Keith Rozenkranz's (callsign Rosey) account of his 30 combat missions flown in the F-16 during the 1991 Gulf War. All the missions are of the air-to-ground variety so any readers expecting tales of American jets tussling with Iraqi MiGs are going to be disappointed. This book is a long way from the world of WWII/Vietnam Ace Robin Olds; Keith's story is very much one of putting bombs and TV-guided missiles onto ground targets.

A lot of the pre-book blurb highlights the author's destruction of 10 enemy vehicles with $1,000,000 worth of AGM-65 guided missiles as the enemy retreated up the 'Highway of Death' back to Iraq. I found that I was more engaged with his earlier missions where the challenges of the enemy's air defences were much, much greater. Whilst the literary merits of this book might be debatable, one can't doubt the bravery of a combat pilot prepared to fly over a hostile country armed with 16,000 surface-to-air missiles and 7,000 anti-aircraft artillery pieces.

Keith's 'diary' of the build-up to Operation Desert Storm is interspersed with descriptions of many aspects of F-16 operations; from engine start-up to practising CCIP bombing with LANTIRN, and using Ground Moving Target mode on his air-to-ground radar to point other weapons' sensors at targets.

The book becomes more diary-like when the air war against Iraqi forces begins in Chapter 22. In the following chapter Keith gives us a very frank account of his first combat mission: a high level raid on the Scud missile production factory at Latifya. With SAMs popping up out of undercast and a 125 knot tailwind, the author admitted that he didn't get his bombs off as he'd missed his cue.

The book really gets unputdownable in Chapter 24 which gives us a gripping account of the attack on the nuclear research facility at Tawaitha just south of Baghdad; the Iraqi air defences seemingly putting up even more tonnage of AAA and SAMs at the attackers than the F-16s were dropping on the target. The tension heightens on the flight home as a stricken F-16 pilot comes on frequency and then reports that his engine has flamed out whilst still over Iraqi territory.

As autobiographies go, this is a warts-and-all account. The author's willingness to admit to making a few boo-boos made him seem all the more human; I'm sure clock-code confusion isn't that unusual in the heat of battle, especially when the enemy has his defences pointing at you.

Very technical topics, such as the F-16s systems and weapons, are described in a satisfactorily clear manner so that a non-technical reader with an interest in modern air warfare will come away with enough understanding to be able to make sense of what is going on. The description of the CBU-87 cluster bomb and its sub-munitions being a good example of the author's ability to convey just the right amount of information.

There is a lot of repetitiveness in this account of the Gulf War which is to be expected as mission after mission departs Al Minhad AB in the UAE, flies up the Gulf, refuels, hits a target and then heads home again. I skipped over a lot of the humdrum domestic details in every chapter about doing laundry, making cups of tea, and showering, etc.

The action concludes with the attacks on the Highway of Death in which the author worked one of the last Kill Boxes in the Kuwait Theatre of Operations. He describes the frustration of trying to get his AGM-65 missiles to lock onto targets in the moist air as other aircraft waited their turn to enter the area.

Most chapters have the author's reports on his opinions of what he has seen on daily CNN TV news bulletins; at first this struck me as being a little odd but I imagine he was trying to frame his missions in the bigger picture of the war in the Kuwait Theatre of Operations. Keith also makes quite a few references to war movies to express his feelings which I found rather strange.

Readers in more secular parts of the world may find the frequent mentions of religion a little jarring. The author is clearly a very devout fellow and on more than one occasion I began to get the impression that God was taking care of Desert Storm rather than CENTAF. I could also have done without Keith's descriptions of his adorable family life which swung from the saccharine-sweet to maudlin.

Having read many accounts about air warfare from the point of view of full-of-themselves squadron leaders, it came as a breath of fresh air to get the point of view of someone like Capt. Rosenkranz who was a bit further down the pecking order. The author comes across as a genuinely nice bloke, rather than one of those silly 'Maverick' emulators who have written their air combat stories in recent years. He did let his ego get the better of him once or twice during the course of the book but those paragraphs were at first glance so obviously cliché I disregarded them immediately.

All in all, I'm glad Keith has put his story into print so that posterity has a record of this huge air campaign as told by a pilot with a bird's-eye view of the action.

Donald B. Forbes.


Sea Harrier Over The Falklands: A Maverick at War (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS)
Sea Harrier Over The Falklands: A Maverick at War (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS)
by Commander Sharkey Ward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Ego Has Landed., 18 Jun 2012
The Sea Harrier Over The Falklands, the controversial account of what really happened in the South Atlantic skies ....according to Commander 'Sharkey' Ward.

I've been meaning to read this book - about a Cold War navy suddenly thrust into an unexpected conflict - for years but poor reviews had put me off. So the 30th Anniversary of the conflict, and an updated edition, seemed to be a good time to give it a go and form my own opinion.

I found Commander Ward's accounts of British jet pilots in action in the skies around the Falkland Islands to be first class. Sharkey's description of the Sea Harrier at war really put the reader in the drivers seat; I could almost hear the growl of the Sidewinder's acquisition tone and smell the odour of the pilot's sweaty goon suit. However, I felt that a good read was ruined by Commander Ward's continual sniping at other units and personnel in the run-up to, and during the conflict. Instead of coming over as the accomplished commander of 801 Naval Air Squadron who had shot down three Argentinian aircraft, the author came over as a very bitter man who had nothing good to say about anyone other than those in his immediate circle of fellow aviators, fighter controllers and understandably grateful Falkland Islanders.

The reader is given a fine account of the squadron work-up to the conflict during the 7,000 mile journey south from the UK. The author describes rocket firing and VT-bombing exercises, and the practice firing of AIM-9s against Lepus flares. I would have given this book 5-Stars for the description of Sea Harrier operations alone, but the tedious repetitiveness of his continual griping made it very hard to read. No doubt the Task Force's limited air assets could have been better employed in the confusion of a hastily planned war, but the author really didn't need to bang on about it on every other page. I'm sure that Commander Ward did go through the Vulcan/Victor Black Buck fuel calculation many times in his head, but I only needed to read about it once. According to Sharkey the only useful thing the Ascension Victor tankers did was to re-fuel replacement Sea Harriers on their way to the Falklands. The attacks on the Task Force Flag Officer were relentless throughout the book, although I did spot a retraction of sorts in the foreword to the 2005 edition.

Aviation fans will enjoy the discussions on equipment in the Sea Harrier FRS1. The use of the Navhars is described in some detail. Commander Ward sung the praises of the Blue Fox radar throughout the book; I was left wondering if it could even have detected the bee in the author's bonnet!

The author's whining tone made Sea Harrier Over The Falklands at times read more like Adrian Mole than C. S. Forester or Cecil Lewis. This is one book that would really have benefited with a co-author, if only to put a check on Sharkey's bluster. I was inclined to take some of the author's rants with a large pinch of sea salt; perhaps there was more than just a bit of bravado in his writing. He certainly seemed to relish describing himself as a 'maverick' several times throughout the book.

I suspect Commander Ward wanted to put himself up on the pantheon of great wartime fighter pilots. However, the only parallel I could find between the author and other flyers was with Douglas Bader; both being legless, Bader in his Hurricane and Ward drunk at the wheel of his Lotus in which he nearly wiped out a family in another vehicle.

Over the years I've had the pleasure of meeting many fighter pilot veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Whilst being aggressive is a necessary character trait of the fighter pilot, Commander Ward's description of his own conduct outside the cockpit made him come across at best as being petty minded; at worst nasty and neurotic. I found his continued attacks on the competence of 800 Naval Air Squadron to be very wearing; he even seemed to doubt their basic standards of airmanship. The author's own account of his petulant popping off at junior ranks in the junior service in the final chapters painted a picture of him as as a deeply unpleasant and out of control wee man.

I'm sure that in real life Commander 'Sharkey' Ward is a delightful chap but he's not going to come over that way in the annals of aviation history; and unfortunately he has written his own character as being a little less than admirable. Never in the field of autobiography was so much damage done to someone's reputation by so many of their own words.

Donald B. Forbes 18th June 2012.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 12, 2012 12:57 PM BST


Ultimate Pilot's Operating Handbook - Robinson R44
Ultimate Pilot's Operating Handbook - Robinson R44
by Bastian Jakob Liebermann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.84

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars R-44 Helicopter Ultimate Handbook, 23 Nov 2011
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I came across this extremely useful book quite by chance whilst looking for a copy of the R-44 helicopter Pilot's Operating Handbook on-line. As it was considerably cheaper than the factory POH I thought I'd take a chance and order a copy. Having just finished a JAA R-44 Type Rating course I would recommend the Ultimate Pilot's Operating Handbook to any helicopter pilot about to undertake training on the R-44.

This paperbacked sized publication expands on all the sections of the factory POH such as Normal Procedures, Checklists, Loading and Performance, etc. There is also discussion of the R-44 variants throughout the book including the float-equipped Clipper and the electronic news gathering Newscopter.

Differences between the R-44 Raven I and II (both systems and performance) are discussed in some detail and the text is accompanied by lots of useful photographs to illustrate the items described in each section. Images of everything from the hydraulic fluid reservoir to headset jacks and warning light test switches are included.

The chapter dealing with checklists uses numbers to cross-reference between the relevant items on the checklist and the actual aircraft part as shown on a sequence of 10 photographs. Ab initio students will be able to get familiar with the R-44 before they even get near the actual aircraft. Pilots who did their initial training on the two-seat R-22 will be able to locate items which are now hidden behind panels on the R-44.

The book concludes with a discussion of energy management, low G hazards and blade stall. A very satisfactory index section will quickly direct readers to the relevant page in the main text.

Hopefully, in future editions the author will expand the book to cover additional topics such as limited power take-offs and landings, and confined area/sloping ground operations as they relate to the R-44. I found a few very minor typographical errors which will no doubt be corrected in the second edition.

Bastian Liebermann has produced a nicely readable book on the R-44 and the author clearly knows his subject. If you are about to spend a lot of money on learning to fly the R-44 make sure you buy this book first.

Donald B. Forbes.

23rd November 2011.


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