Book reviews, February 1971, February 1971

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“British Racing and Record-Breaking Aircraft”, by Peter Lewis. 496pp. 8 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in. (Putnam & Co. Ltd., 9, Bow Street, London, WC2. £6.30.)

This long-awaited book is a remarkable directory of the air races and long-distance record-breaking flights which took place from the ballooning days to the BP England to Australia Commemorative Race of 1969/70. It is produced in Putnam’s high-quality style and copiously illustrated with excellent pictures.

Because of the book’s scope it only covers each event superficially, in spite of its 496 pages, so it is more a directory for researchers and historians than an intriguing account of the great aeroplane races. Indeed, even quite insignificant contests, such as those held at early Hendon Air Pageants and the even earlier (pre-1914) pylon races at Hendon with results (we used to think the former might have been “staged”; apparently not), are included, so the book hasn’t space to deal with each in detail. However, there are tabulated lists of the entries for the Aerial Derby and King’s Cup Races and more important races, quoting aeroplane (I refuse to call them “aircraft”, especially after the late C.G. Grey’s special pleading!), registration, pilot and special features, and the 470 pictures, many apparently reproduced from hitherto unused photographs, are splendid entertainment in themselves.

My favourite racing aeroplane, the 1921 Gloucestershire Mars 1 Bamel, and its close runner-up, the 1922 Bristol Type 72, are naturally included, for this book covers with conscientious thoroughness the 400 and more types of aeroplanes used in more than 1,400 British air-racing and record-breaking undertakings, involving nearly 2,000 men and women. These, by the way, include the luckless Comdr. Glen Kidston, Cecil Clutton, who entered a Tiger Moth in the 1967 Manx Air Derby, and Grp. Capt. Scroggs and his SE5a. The later races cover aeroplanes such as the Beta, Cassutt and TSR-3.

Because of the prolific output of aviation works (which have monopolised this month’s “Book Reviews”) some of Peter Lewis’ data is repetitive and it might have been more expedient to have divorced the record-breaking flights from the races, the Schneider Trophy contents from lesser, land-plane events. However, this would have spoiled the chronological continuity and the author has certainly done a fine job. As a reference work this book is essential to any serious aeronautical library and for those able to read between the lines, aided by superb pictures, what nostalgia it promotes!

The appendices cover technical data for racing aeroplanes from Airspeed A.S.5 to Westland Widgeon IIIA and tabulated race results, from the 1912 Aerial Derby to the Welsh Air Derby Trophy. Record flights have their own appendix, from “Around the World” and “Australia—England—Female” to “South Atlantic West-East”. The World Altitude, Distance and Speed Records are tabulated, but I am not clear as to why the last named commences at 1929 for surely British pilots held this record prior to this?

This valuable and beautifully presented reference work is charmingly dedicated to Sheila Scott, O.B.E., “in friendship and in appreciation of achievements which have imbued British sporting flying with renewed spirit”. The frontispiece picture depicts Sheila with the Britannia Trophy and there are two other pictures of this brave and girlish-looking pilot in the book. Splendid!—W.B.

***
“Sopwith–The Man And His Aircraft”, by Bruce Robertson. 244pp. 11 1/4 in. x 8 1/2 in. (Air Review Ltd., Letchworth, Hertfordshire. £4.)
Every once in a while Harleyford come up with another of their big, pictorially supported books about a specific type or make of aeroplane. The latest is this comprehensive coverage of the products of Tom Sopwith—Sir Thomas Sopwith, C.B.E.

It is the only book Sir Thomas has sanctioned and consequently has the benefit of a unique collection of pictures and accurate information. The early developments lead on to the war-time Sopwith aeroplanes, of which the Pup and the Camel remain household words. The detail is delightful—the layout of Sopwith factories, the depicting of past-personnel, pictures of every conceivable Sopwith aeroplane, in every conceivable attitude almost, technical tabulated data such as aviation enthusiasts avidly devour, even minutely-drawn 1/72 scale plans of Sopwith Wright, Batboat 1a, Gurr Bus, Churchill-Sociable, Tabloid, Schneider, Three-Seat Biplane, Baby, Pup, Triplane, Camel, etc., etc.—what a feast for the model makers, especially the very detailed Camel plans, which show even the wheel-spoke nipples.

Naturally, Harry Hawker is frequently referred to and we learn that his well-known “powerful Sunbeam” successfully towed a broken-down lorry which was carrying the 1919 Schneider Trophy Sopwith from Hythe to Kingston for repairs—this was Hawker’s 225-h.p. Sunbeam aero-engined hybrid, which had a Mercedes chassis. His racing motor boat Kangaroo II and the Austro-Daimler he used for fast journeys between his home and Hook and Brooklands are also mentioned, but the picture of him in “his famous 150-h.p. Sunbeam” is slightly misleading, inasmuch as this is not the hybrid, but Sunbeam’s own 5-litre “Indianapolis” single-seater, which Hawker raced successfully but Geach crashed at Brooklands in 1920. The famous picture of Hawker flying a Sopwith Grasshopper under the Byfleet footbridge at the Track graces page 144. Other motoring personalities include W. O. Bentley, Vic Derrington and Sqn. Ldr. Crampton.

The chapter on “Bentley and his Rotaries” might profitably be read by Alec Ulmann, see “V-E-V” last month! Incidentally, “Sopwith—The Man And His Aircraft” contains a “Tailpiece”, generously acknowledged to this reviewer and Motor Sport; and one picture is of Whitehead Aircraft’s war-time fleet of brass-radiator Model-T Ford 7-cwt. vans.

The colour frontispiece shows a Sopwith Camel countering an Albatross Scout attack in 1918, and the 40 chapters that follow, supported by the copious pictures, tables, drawings and performance figures, make this a complete record of Sopwith aeroplanes, inexpensive at £4. There is even a picture of the pet bear Sopwith kept at pre-1914 Brooklands and a fine photograph of Sir Thomas and Lady Sopwith, Tommy Sopwith and “Sister May”, who so often helped Sopwith in the early days, at the Sopwiths’ home, Compton Manor, with, in the background, the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter in which Tommy has flown-in with his aunt, sixty years after she first went aloft with his father in America in 1910! Most of the pictures are fresh ones, even in the context of earlier Harleyford publications. A comprehensive book!–W. B.

***
“The First to Fly”, by Sherwood Harris. 316 pp. 8 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in. (Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 4, Little Essex Street, London, WC2. £.2.75.)

This book, written by the Editor of Reader’s Digest, covers in some detail the early attempts to fly, from the controversial first-ever by the Wright brothers in America in 1903, who built their own engines, and the pioneer efforts of Viosin, Blériot, Santos-Dumont and others, to aviation up to the First World War. Much fresh material appears and there are some excellent illustrations, although photolitho reproduced. But the bulk of the text is about American pilots, the book having been published originally in the USA, and there is some over-emphasis on crashes. The garb of pioneer female aviators is described, one so modest that she had a bevy of girl friends to surround her until she was safely aboard, but “Mlle. Dutrieu is always corsetless when she soars. She says this affords freedom of movement and lessens the danger in the case of a fall. Neither of the American fliers, Miss Quimby and Miss Moisant, takes this precaution”. When Miss Quimby was thrown out of her Blériot and killed at Boston Harbour she was not strapped in, which brought a retort from Glenn Martin such as present-day advocates of wearing harness on the ground are apt to utter.

“The First to Fly” is in popular style and written in American (i.e., “airplane”) but may prompt beginners amongst builders of models to imitate the pioneers and try for brief hops a few feet above the ground, instead of going in for costly, complex radio-controlled wonders. Or you might even try this, full size!—W. B.

***
Two more titles in the new Lionel Leventhal one-model series of authoritative landscape books have appeared—“The Lotus 49” by David Hodges and “The Ferrari V12 Sports Cars, 1946-56” by Anthony Pritchard. The price remains on the high side, at £1.40 each, so these are definitely “luxury profiles”, but they provide impeccable data and pictures and are a freelance’s delight. Earlier titles were Denis Jenkinson’s W125 Mercedes-Benz and Hodges’ Ford GT40 coverage. The publisher’s address is 677, Finchley Road, Childs Hill, London, NW2.

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