Book Reviews, July 1969, July 1969

“Our Transatlantic Flight” by Sir John Alcock and Sir Arthur Whitten Brown. 195 pp. 9½ in. x 6 in. (William Kimbe & Co. Ltd., 6, Queen Anne’s Gate, London, S.W.1. 50s)

The first direct crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a heavier-than-air machine is very much in mind this year, because it is the 50th anniversary of Alcock and Brown’s great flight in the Rolls-Royce-engined Vickers Vimy and because of the recent Daily Mail Air Race. So we now have almost a surfeit of books on the subject, although there have been previous books covering it, notably Putnam’s of 1955.

The volume under review gives a very complete account of the flight as described by the pilot and navigator, although neither is alive at the time of publication. It is an epic story of true adventure. Not only is the crossing described in much detail, but Brown’s navigational methods are explained and there is a fascinating chapter on the future of transatlantic flight and the air age as it looked in the 1920s. It is interesting, in the light of subsequent unhappy history, to note the enthusiasm for airships, which emphasises that the R34 made the Atlantic double crossing later in 1919.

The book gains status by having an Introduction by Capt. John Alcock, younger brother of Sir John Alcock, himself a pilot with the World’s record for flying hours (24,500 or 5,500,000 miles) and an account by the late Harry Hawker of his unsuccessful attempt to make the first Atlantic crossing. There are some new pictures, including one of the Vimy at Weybridge in a presumably Brooklands location which I cannot identify (why the tents in the background?) and another showing the gallant crew riding in a delightful rail-car at Clifden, consisting of an Edwardian car literally superimposed on a truck, its back axle connected through a series of pinions to the flanged driving wheels. But what make was it? Other pictures are “old chestnuts” and there is a bit of confusion in the text as to whether the chocolate carried on the flight was Caley’s (page 68) or Fry’s (page 39). Incidentally, the flight was made with Shell fuel and Castrol oil.

There is interesting biographical material about Alcock and Brown, from which I note that the former “was a well-known figure on the Brooklands race-track before the war. He used to race a Sunbeam car with an engine designed by Louis Coatalen and also three types of Douglas motorcycle. . . .” His younger brother ” . . . had a go with Douglas motorcycles in 1920, but (his) interest was only short lived”. There is much of interest about the flight, why Alcock could never relax from the controls for a moment, how an exhaust pipe broke, and Brown’s bravery in climbing on to the icy wings to clear ice from intakes and pitot-heads, heroism he omitted to refer to in his own account of the crossing. Altogether a worthwhile contribution to aviation history.—W. B.


“The Vickers Vimy” by P. St. John Turner. 128 pp. 8¾ in. x 5 3/8 in. (PSL, 9, Ely Place, London, E.C.1. 30s.)

This book, by a 19-year-old author, was also inspired by the Alcock and Brown Atlantic crossing, but is on a broader canvas, dealing with the origin and evolution of the famous Vickers aeroplane and other famous flights made by it. It is right up to date in covering the replica Vimy now being built at Brooklands by members of V.A.F.A. The illustrations are plentiful, although repeating some of those found in larger format in “Our Atlantic Flight” (reviewed above), including Brown’s log of the Atlantic crossing.

I found this book very interesting and it gives more Vimy data for 20s. less than the other volume. On the other hand, previous books have perhaps covered the subject adequately, like the Vickers history by Putnam’s, etc., and I had to turn to J. M. Bruce’s “British Aeroplanes—1914-1918” (Putnam’s) for extension of the data given. This one has plenty of diagrams and photographs, however, and is most readable and informative. There are several fascinating squints of Brooklands in the background and a picture of a Vimy being towed at Martlesham Heath includes a vehicle which looks like a Crossley and which seems to be rigged as a Huck’s starter, presumably for the Vimy, giving the lie to a statement in “Veteran and Vintage Magazine” recently that “other methods were, of course, applied to multi-engined craft”. A vintage Sunbeam tourer is seen posed with the Ross Smith London-Australia Vimy. I must take the author to task for saying (page 72) that Hounslow aerodrome is now the site of London Airport and I was disappointed not to find any reference to Cecil Lewis having flown the transatlantic Vimy from Upavon to Brooklands (presumably a test flight) before it was converted for the great flight (see pages 261-262 of that splendid book “Sagittarius Rising”). However, these are but minor blemishes on an excellent documentary. The Foreword is by Bob Dicker (the picture of him is from Motor Sport), who went to Newfoundland with the Vimy to look after the control runs and who later raced motorcycles at Brooklands.—W. B.


“Concorde—The Story, The Facts And The Figures” by T. E. Blackall. 108 pp. 10 in. x 7 1/8 in. (G. T. Foulis & Co. Ltd., 50a, Bell Street, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon. 56s.)

The Concorde supersonic aircraft, which have flown successfully in France and Britain, open up a new era in passenger flight. A 167-ton aeroplane which can carry 132 people at 1,450 m.p.h., and get from London to New York in 195 minutes cannot but grip the imagination. Here is a book about it all, full of explanatory diagrams, tables and pictures, supported by a right-up-to-the-minute text. The diagrams of Concorde’s control systems and services take the reader to the heart of this significant machine and the photographs span the era from Schneider Trophy racing seaplane to some of the fastest modern flying machines in the World.—W. B.


“Porsche—The Man And His Cars” by Richard von Frankenberg, translated by Charles Meisl (Foulis, 236 pp. 8 5/8 in. x 5 3/8 in. 50s.), has gone into a revised edition, bringing it right up to date since it was first published in 1961. The colour frontispiece picture, of a Porsche 911T winning the 1968 San Remo Rally, was contributed by Motor Sport.

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The copiously illustrated book, “The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten”, published by Hutchinson at 50s., contains a reference to Lord Mountbatten’s friendship with Sir Henry Segrave and a run His Lordship made from Park Lane, London, to the gates of Portsmouth Barracks in 92 minutes, in 1924, “. . . long before motorways, and when four-wheel-brakes were scarcely known”! Unfortunately, the car used is not named.

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Latest in the “Motoring on Regional Byways” series, published by G. T. Foulis, is a 138-page book by Christopher Trent, covering Devon and Cornwall. It costs 25s.

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A booklet consisting of over 70 miscellaneous pictures of vintage and earlier motorcycles, many of them racing machines at Brooklands and elsewhere, including action shots, is available for 4s., post free, from the Secretary of the Vintage M.C.C., E. E. Thompson, 28, Glover Road, Pinner, Middlesex.