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on 1 March 2017
This is a really good book - a must for anyone trying to understand what happened

Now I understand how Britain squandered its aeronautical lead after WW2. At times the Author's flowery prose and his overt focus on test pilots can distract, but in reality, he is using the test pilots themselves as a means of telling his tale. Once you get his approach, this book just sucks you right in - this is indeed a compelling book.

One could not make up - or have your worst nightmare - on all the various factors that played their part in the demise of the industry - once you read about these, the industry's end was absolutely guaranteed ...

Many internal factors played themselves out almost from the start that doomed Britain's aerospace industry to being a bit player on the world stage ... its fate was at once strange, ingenious, tragic, avoidable but inevitable A highly recommended read
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on 8 February 2016
An excellent book well written which gives a great insight to the British aircraft industry post war. There is no doubting the commitment, skill and bravery of all involved from the pilots and engineers and designers who built and flew these fantastic aircraft. However "History is written by the victor".
What none of these books touch on is the true origins of these aircraft. They are all German, the Vulcan and Victor were lifted from German designs after WWII, indeed Handley page even kept on the German design team (in the UK) after the Victor was completed. All of the swept wing theory and design is all German. Indeed the De Havilland swallow was a copy of a design by Alexander Lippisch.

The only true British design I can find that used a swept wing was the De Havilland Vampire which did not enter service until after WWII.

The widely circulated myth is that Roy Chadwick designed the Vulcan, he did a fine job leading the British team building it but it ain't his design. Bravo UK for building these but please give credit were credit was due. The UK aircraft industry owes it success to the UK forces who seized the designs and research before the Russians or Americans could.
Want to know who really designed Concorde? It was two Germans,look up Johanna Weber and Dietrich Küchemann, their work is still used today by Boeing and Airbus etc, It also explains the explosive growth and rapid decline as there were no new fresh ideas when the captured research ran out.

Recommended, but I do wish we had a genuine book that really gave credit to where it rightly belongs, the Germans.
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on 5 May 2014
Presentation

Cover 4/5 - Vulcan an appropriate flying craft to have on the cover especially in the original white.

Content

Having been a child in the late 1940s and early 1950's growing up during the main period described in detail in this book and also having seen recent BBC4 programmes on the UK post war military and civil aviation industries my reading about the material often in more detail proved a nostalgic and sad experience.

James with his own obvious enthusiasm for flight, which I share, has blended descriptions of the hopes and aspirations of the time, technical aspects, risks and the post war industrial scene very well.

For those who look back to those times as good times compared with current times where governments set up proposals, spend lots of money and then cancel or restrict order numbers ... it appears life has not changed and perhaps never will.

I have ordered a copy of the Quick and the Dead and look forward to reading that book as well as a complimentary read.

A recent visit to the Mosquito and De Havilland Museum at South Mimms England is also worthwhile. A poignant reminder of what the De Havilland family must have gone through with the loss of two sons, a mother,the Comet and the D110 at Farnborough with its crew - all in ten years. Until I went to the museum I did not realise the size of the D110 as developed as the Venon. I also recommend a visit to Cosford many of the aircraft can be seen, including Comet, TSR2 Lightning prototype and a stainless steel flying craft I never knew existed.

Well done James.

Alexander of the Allrighters and Ywnwab!
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TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 22 January 2012
James Hamilton-Paterson is a successful author whose other works cover themes as diverse as classical music, undersea exploration, politics in The Philippines and cookery-themed humour. With such a seeming hotch-potch of interests you'd be forgiven for thinking he might not be the ideal writer to tackle the history of British aircraft design and manufacture between 1945 and the mid-1960s, the iconic aircraft it produced and the industry's eventual decline.

Surprisingly, `Empire of the Clouds' is in every way a superb piece of work, born from the deep passion of a true enthusiast. The author brings insight and knowledge about the companies and their often autocratic founders, disastrous cost-cutting, failures of management and tolerance of outdated industrial practices. Together with bean-counting, vacillating politicians and duplicitous national airline carriers, this lethal cocktail of ineptitude eventually resulted in the slow destruction of a world-leading industry.

However, the book is in no way downbeat in tone. On the contrary, it's an elegy to a bygone age before the design and production of new military and civilian passenger aircraft became so expensive that only international conglomerates or huge corporations could hope to deal with the complexities, and before the depressing triumph of dreary health and safety obsessives bludgeoned the initiative, romance and sheer daredevilry out of aviation forever.

The stars of the book are the aircraft of this romantic era fertile with new ideas, and the heroes the test pilots who flew them. If you have a passion for these wonderful aircraft then you're in for a treat. The eloquent stories of the less-than-perfect Gloster Meteor, the twin-boomed De Havilland designs culminating in the Sea Vixen - concept-based on Messerschmitt's Me163 Komet rocket-plane but with a twin-boom tail added for stability - the formidable but flawed delta-winged Gloster Javelin, the superb and long-serving Canberra which became a global export triumph, the extravagantly funded V-bombers (Britain ended up with three good designs where one would have sufficed); the Hunter - surely the most graceful jet aircraft ever - the Comet, Viscount, Britannia and VC10 airliners are told in a lively style sprinkled with humour and a genuine love for the subject matter.

It's a shock to learn that many test pilots through the late 1940s and 1950s were killed doing a job for which they were paid a merely average wage around £1,500/annum (the present-day equivalent of about £25,000), the then-going rate for a highly experienced ex-RAF pilot to literally risk life and limb daily. Outspoken Anglo-Canadian test pilot Bill Waterton, almost killed when the prototype Javelin he was flying shed its elevators at low altitude over Wiltshire and who later became a vocal critic of the industry in his Daily Express column, enjoys (possibly too much?) prominence in the author's narrative.

Before the age of computer-modelling software, no-one really knew how an aircraft would behave in flight until it took off. The first chapter, `Death at Farnborough' describes how the DH.110 flown by John Derry and Tony Richards broke up at the Farnborough air show on 6 September 1952, and how one of the burning engines killed 29 spectators and seriously injured another 60, as well as of course killing Derry and Richards. Now the DH.110 had a fatal design fault and was not ready for public display; De Havilland wanted to show it off to prospective export customers before it was ready. Neither the contemporary media nor the public pored mawkishly over the tragedy as they might today: aviation was understood to be a dangerous business and we were at the very edge of technology, and this kind of incident was accepted as the price of progress. There were (amazing from today's perspective) no calls for `increased health and safety regulations', and the next day the crowds turned out at the show in even greater numbers, despite the rain. "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there" wrote Leslie Poles Hartley. They certainly do.

A fine illustration of the UK Government's failing the industry is offered by the story of the Fairey Delta, which the manufacturer was forced to take to France for testing because of the UK Government's noise-restrictions on supersonic flight. Marcel Dassault was delighted to offer his company's facilities at Cazaux for Fairey to test their radical new delta-winged design, the last British aircraft to hold the world speed record. Dassault learned from the British company's delta-innovations and later said "If it were not for the clumsy way you tackle things in Britain, you could have made the Mirage yourselves". The Dassault Mirage, based on the Delta design, became a highly lucrative export for France for the next 20 years; the Fairey Delta was scrapped by a myopic and incompetent UK government who had decided, in 1957, that there was no future for manned aircraft but that from now on, ground-launched missiles would replace them.

Although Hamilton-Paterson's book is full of textbook lessons in how not to run an industry, his writing at times verges on the poetic. His story of a 1968 return trip from Stansted to Hong Kong in a Britannia cargo plane, wherein he spent a great deal of the journey on the flight deck relaxing with the crew and during take-off and landing simply lay down on the cargo of cotton bales, evokes a long-gone era before the processing of millions of passengers with security-obsessive industrial thoroughness became the depressing routine which now attends international travel.

The English Electric Lightning, Britain's only 100% home-produced Mach 2+ interceptor, was the apotheosis of power; a manned missile designed for pure performance which could reach 60,000 feet altitude in 60 seconds and fly comfortably over 80,000 feet where the curvature of the Earth is clearly visible. Famous for awesome acceleration and prodigious thirst, it was uniquely able to intercept the American U2 spy-plane and retired in 1988 after 28 years of front-line service. The author's description of witnessing nine of these temperamental beauties in flight sums up the romance of this long-gone era to perfection:

"The battering of 18 Avons on reheat seemed enough to jar the planet from its orbit...we were cocooned in thunder, annihilated by din...it was beyond exhilarating, a brutal, beautiful efflorescence of pure technology. An ex-Lightning pilot has words for a luckless modern generation: `Next time you watch one of those motoring programs on TV, remember that for someone who has flown a Lightning, driving a Ferrari is about as exciting as driving a Trabant.'"

De Havilland, Supermarine, Hawker, Gloster, Vickers, Handley Page, Avro, Fairey, Bristol, Blackburn; once household names of companies employing hundreds of thousands of skilled workers in Britain's largest industry at the leading edge of high technology, are no more. The decline of smaller family-owned aircraft companies and their `consolidation' into conglomerates has been a global phenomenon (yes, in the USA and in France too). Once aircraft bearing these iconic names, standard-bearers of `belief in the future' and the courage and tenacity of the human spirit, soared across the skies and filled our days with dreams of greatness. Now we are more likely to obsess about health and safety regulations and `blame culture', the trivia of overpaid celebrities whose exposure to genuine danger rarely extends beyond `rehab' or `reality TV'; we are ruled by credit default swaps, centralised debt obligations and irresponsible bankers (the perennial duplicity of elected politicians however remains a depressing constant).

Once we reached for the stars; now we reach for the video game. Reading Hamilton-Paterson's poetic elegies to triumphs of complex technology such as the Lightning and the emotions they once stirred in souls fortunate to live in a more optimistic bygone age, the reader can't help but feel that despite obvious progress in many areas, as a nation and perhaps even as a species we are now somewhat diminished from what we were.
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on 22 December 2014
I think that every student undertaking an MBA in Business should be required to read this book - especially if they are going to end up in the banking industry or in government. Beautifully written, a great read and full of excellent detail about the men and their machines. You read this book and have to wonder - what went wrong with British industry? Here is the story of world-leading aircraft products. The book goes a long way to explain how we were both in the lead and at the same time managed to completely lose the plot as a country. In some way the book also explains the changing attitudes in our society between the end of the war and the 1960s which lead to us becoming the sick man of Europe. If only governments and bankers had kept their nerve we'd be building Jumbo jets in this country instead of buying them from overseas.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 5 June 2014
I purchased this book after having seen the author, James Hamilton-Paterson featured as a 'taking head' on a BBC 4 TV documentary about the history of the British Aviation Industry. I thought that the book would perhaps deal more with the stories of the aeroplanes themselves - when I was a kid growing up in the sixties, World War 2 wasn't so far away, chronologically, and us Brits still seemed to be punching above our weight in terms of aeroplane innovation. This book deals more with the politics of the post-war Brit aircraft industry, and it clearly states what the problems were, and how the aviation eventually just fell apart. He does feature several test pilots' stories, which are interesting, and talks about the magnificent aircraft, and his love for the subject matter is clear, but sometimes the schoolboy sense of awe can occasionally grate, and it's not quite as engaging as I'd hoped for. Still a good read for those interested in the story of the decline and fall of British post-war aviation business.
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VINE VOICEon 2 July 2013
This review of the British technological successes of the Fifties and Sixties is an unashamed love-story comprising a mixture of the sheer power of these aircraft and a Dan Dare sense of awe. The reasons for failure ultimately could be blamed on fat-cat management, changeable civil servants and nasty politicians, but even wearing his heart on his sleeve the author sees that matters are not always as simple as that. Moving from a total war set-up to one in peace-time will always cause the closure of hallowed business names, and politicians who close projects answer to those paying 98% tax (as some did in that era). Yet to the author, the sadness at wasted opportunity and admiration for the French who went it alone comes through his analytical qualities. For someone with little grasp of science the engineering stuff was fascinating. Next time I fly I will be thinking of those whose struggled to make it the experience that it now is.

Pity about the check-in queues.
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on 27 June 2013
As a lifelong aviation enthusiast, this book was a revelation to me. In a highly engaging style, we get the inside story on an industry that promised so much in the 50s and 60s but was ultimately unhinged from both the inside and out.

In a wider sense, this book is actually about the decline of manufacturing industry as a whole in Britain - and indeed the decline of the nation itself. So much of what is written here as to the reasons why rings true to me. It's not hard to see how we've managed to end up in the 21st century with an economy built on sand; our brightest graduates seduced into thinking that a career in the financial services industry is in some way a worthwhile use of their lives; car plants owned and run by the Germans and Japanese; new nuclear power stations built, owned and run by the French, and so on. The author handles the politicking in a commendably even-handed way I feel.

But politics aside, there's more than enough for the plane nut here. I found the segments on aircraft that were proposed but never materialised (or advanced beyond the initial prototypes) utterly fascinating. How can I have never heard of the Vickers V-1000 for instance? The specific problems of supersonic flight are lucidly explained, giving sense to why the wings of supersonic aircraft are shaped the way they are. We also learn, for instance, that the VC-10 has its engines mounted at the rear of the fuselage rather than slung beneath its wings for good reason.
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on 14 February 2012
This book details the post war testing and introduction of the jet fighter and bomber in the fifties and sixties. I can remember most of these in the air and reading this book gave an insight as to their flaws and the 'gentleman's agreement' of the aircraft industry and the Governments of the day which produced so many flawed designs that cost us the lead in aircraft production and more importantly, overseas sales to a world eager to arm itself with the newest and fastest designs. The description of the crashes and the effect on a pilot was upsetting in its graphic nature but necessary to be told. It seems amazing that the best designs were very often not recognised as such until far too late and rendered obsolete. The attempt to reconcile the reputation of one test pilot is perhaps a side issue to the main narrative but at least gives a good insight into the aircraft manufacturers of the day from one who was close enough to the action to see that the whole edifice needed streamlining and pruning. The description of how difficult to fly some of these Great Hopes were is both illuminating and eventually depressing. Even the cancellation of TSR2 is covered and as with all this book, both sides of the argument are put across albeit perhaps not as dispassionately as they should be. Well written and informative, it is best read by people who remember these aircraft and those who see the Vulcan at air shows and wonder what it was built for.
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on 16 November 2012
This is a first rate book. It describes the decline of the British aircraft industry - concentrating mainly on the military side - since the Second World War.
The book is unashamedly personal; the author remembering his own love and fascination with new aircraft and air shows, and interweaving his own memories with the overall story.
That story is in many ways depressing; symptomatic of British attitudes after the war, when the country simply refused to accept that it was not longer a great power in the world. This meant entrenched views, and a refusal to accept change and progress until it was all too late. Add to that a degree of government and political incompetence, and the end result was all too clear for those who opened their eyes.
The book is full of the author's enthusiasm for his subject, and is well written and organised. If you are an aviation fan, this book is a must; even if you aren't, there is still much to enjoy.
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