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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking story of heroic pilots and incompetent politicians, 17 Nov 2010
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This review is from: Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World (Hardcover)
I grew up in the 1950s/60s and was an avid plane spotter - always looking up to see the amazing (weird and wonderful) products of the UK aviation industry.

This book brought it all back, and highlighted the astonishing bravery of the test pilots - flying in ordinary clothes, in planes that were of dubious design, and working for a pittance, for the autocratic peers of the industry.

Rightly or wrongly a variety of governments meddled with and, in effect, destroyed the UK aviation industry - we are left with BAe who make the wings for the European Airbus. During the glory days of this book, we were building (badly in many cases!) a huge variety of military and civilian aircraft - Meteors, Canberras, Lightnings, Vulcans, Vampires, Comets, VC10s etc etc - beautiful creatures of the sky - and the things that made us look up.

I remember a particular Latin lesson at school in the 60s, when a rather delicious sound was droning past the window and the whole class turned to watch. "And now a pause to marvel at the modern piston engine in flight" entoned the Beak.

The book details the extraordinary companies (De Havilland, Hawker Siddley, Gloster etc.) many and various businesses who had made the wonderful aircraft that helped us win World War 2, and who were still expecting to continue with their designs and be funded by the tax payer... perhaps the government was right after all?

Fun times! My first job was working for Hawker Siddeley at Hatfield - on Tridents and what was to become the BA146. As a new graduate trainee I was given the opportunity to be "ballast" on a Trident test flight - so I jumped at the chance. The plane was empty of seats - just some lumps of lead as weight, so I sat up near the cockpit. Bliss! We flew out over the North Sea and saw the gas rigs, and then flew back to Hatfield... As we came in to land the co-pilot's head-set fell off, and both pilots bent down to try and pick it up. Sitting in the seat just behind, I could see the runway coming up, and the pilots were still scrabbling around on the floor. I was, I admit, getting a little nervous... and still they couldn't disentangle the cable - both of them fiddling around...

Being young and innocent, I was unaware that the main reason for the test flight was to test the automatic landing system... I guess this was a standard stunt for all the "wet behind the ears" graduates... What fun!

Loved the book, loved the aircraft... what more could one want?
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Dec 2010 15:41:41 GMT
Very humerous review with a serious note. Its writer is obviously very knowledgeable about aircraft and a very funny writer. I do note the bitterness behind his commentary.

Posted on 22 Apr 2011 12:37:50 BDT
Swift says:
Oh those incompetent politicians! If only they had spent more taxpayer money on military aircraft that, as it turned out weren't needed in the least, the museums of today might be marginally more interesting! Did I summarize your review more or less correctly? While I appreciate you are sentimental, there's no point in blaming politicians who ultimately made the right call. Britain's military aviation spending was excessive and needed to be drastically curtailed, and the ultimate failure of the civil sector owed nothing to government meddling than it did to a simple failure to provide competitive products to market in a timely fashion and and appalling lack of marketing savvy (after the comet I was widely known for turning passengers into fish food the comet 'brand name' was stubbornly kept).
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Location: Worthing, UK

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