Planes in books

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After a long wait, the local lending library was able to obtain for us a copy of “Open Cockpit” by John Nesbitt-Dufort, DSC (Speed & Sport Publications, London. 1970-ISBN 85113-140-2), in which he describes what it was like to fly a dozen pre-war training and military aeroplanes, and compares some of them with cars.

For instance, the author remarks that, like motor-cars, most aeroplanes have their own individual virtues, and in some cases vices, so that he had taken the liberty of comparing one or two of them to makes of cars. Thus he remembers the Hawker Fury as having the sparkle of a Bugatti coupled with the docility of an Hispano Suiza, or as something between a Ferrari and a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud Ill. The Gloster Gauntlet he likens to a Bristol 400, as both shared speed, flexibility and comfort, while the Avro Tutor he thought of as in the same category as an old Austin Ten, reliable but unexciting. These recollections of flying the older aeroplanes were originally published as articles in aviation magazines, under the nom-de-plume of “Wing Commander X” (not to be confused with “Flying Officer X”, whose diaries we serialised in MOTOR SPORT some years ago!).

From them we learn that the author had his first flight in an Avro 504 with RAF V8 engine as a boy, that in later years, posted to a Siskin Squadron, he was rumoured to have won a low-level race with the Flying Scotsman express, that the Armstrong Siddlely Jaguar IV engine in the Fairey Flycatcher blew back exhaust-smuts and oil over the pilot’s face, that the Sunbeam Arab engine in the Bristol Fighter caused excessive vibration, the Armstrong Siddely Puma instability, and that the latter was liable to burn out exhaust valves in its original form, the earlier Bristol Mercury in a Gauntlet to fail, even catch fire, on the very rare occasions when the valve-gear lubrication broke down. The Liberty engine in a DH 9A was said to represent a severe fire hazard in a crash due to its Delco Remy coil-ignition, which makes one wonder whether this was the cause of the mild fire which broke out in “Babs” after the LSR accident which killed Parry Thomas at Pendine in 1927?

Nesbitt-Dixon is warm in praise of the old Avro 504, one of which he discovered hanging from the roof of Avro’s Ringway factory when he was an AFEE test-pilot in 1942 and got flying again. Of the Hawker Tomtit he says he only wished he could have afforded to fly such a little thoroughbred regularly. Another book for those who collect aviation titles. WB

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