Harold Penrose

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Pay tribute to Harold Penrose, who gave many of us so much enjoyment (and information) along the years with his books on aviation history. Not only history, his earlier books captured to perfection, in my opinion better than any other writer has managed, the art and pleasure of flying aeroplanes with those wonderful little volumes / Flew with the Birds, No Echo in the Sky, Airymouse and Cloud Cuckooland (1967-1982 Airlife).

Penrose’s great works were the five volumes covering British aviation, spanning The Pioneer Years, through those of the Great War and The Armistice, The Adventuring Years and Widening Horizons, ending with The Ominous Years up to 1939 (Putnam 1967, 1969, 1973; HMSO 1979, 1980). Then came another enormous task successfully completed, an account of the world’s airlines from the start of civilian flying to 1980 Wings Across the World (Cassell 1981). These are wonderfully complete histories, yet never dull; Penrose had his first flight in an Avro 504K in 1919, became Westland’s test pilot, later manager, and knew the aviation “greats” and saw it all, some horrific forced landings Included, and he interspersed his serious history with delightful anecdotes and descriptions of important personalities.

This all came to a head in his welcome auto biography Adventure with Fate (Airlife 1984). I am devastated that there will be nothing more from aviation’s greatest author. The best tribute will be for you to obtain, from lending libraries if necessary, his books and read them, if you have yet to do so, or having done, re-read them. WB