RogerBW's Blog

Fly Navy: The View from the Cockpit 1945-2000, Charles Manning 02 July 2015

2000 non-fiction, a collection of anecdotes by officers of the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm.

As the preface puts it, the exploits of the Fleet Air Arm up to the end of the Second World War are well-recorded; but the ethos of British naval aviation generally hasn't been, and while the men who'd flown off the post-war carriers were still alive and able to recount their experiences the Fleet Air Arm Officers' Association put out the call for "what it was like". This is the edited collection.

It's quite a short book, so at best it's a very patchy diary of the post-war FAA, but the writing has a strong sense of immediacy, whether it's a general reminiscence of what a particular aircraft was like to fly, or a specific recounting of a particular incident. This isn't just "Sharkey" Ward talking about fighting (though there's an extract from Sea Harrier over the Falklands here); it's small stories like a night training flight gone wrong because the "cleared" runway at Lossiemouth still had a pile of snow on it, or the junior officer told to work out the safe load of Marines to be deposited on a mountaintop in Oman aboard a Whirlwind Mk.7 who came up with the answer "one, perhaps one and a half at night".

There's generous use of photographs, in many cases of the specific incidents being recounted; and there's mention of near-forgotten technological dead ends like the Supermarine Attacker, a jet with tailwheel landing gear (not the best visibility for carrier landings).

The experience is something like what one might hear in the squadron mess as the old hands tell their best stories (though with rather less profanity). As well as the technical detail, which is what I came for, it's a fascinating look into the lives of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Much of this book is available via Google Books.

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