"No Echo In The Sky"

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“No Echo In The Sky” by Harald Penrose 134 pp. 8 3/4″ x 5 1/2″. (Aris & Phillips Ltd., Teddington House, Warminster, £6.50).

I have referred to this little book previously; it has been out-of-print for a long time, since Cassell first published it in 1958 and very hard indeed to find in even the specialist aviation bookshops. Now it has been reprinted, in a collection of 35 revived, previously out-of-print, books covering the literature and history of aviation sponsored by Arno Press of New York, an associate of the New York Times. I am very glad of this, because Harald Penrose, one-time Westland test-pilot, has such a fine command of English, and knows so much about the flight of birds and of aeroplanes, and has had such a wide experience of the latter, that this autobiographical work of his should be enjoyed enormously by all who have the romance and adventure of flying at heart.

“No Echo In The Sky” is in the form of 15 short but beautifully-written chapters, each one covering a vivid experience of the author.piloes. Penrose writes from the viewpoint of one who has savoured the pleasure and the drama of flying to the full, and knows how to describe it in writings which can justifiably be described as literature; yet the technicalities are there the r.p.m. and m.p.h. figures, etc., to hold the attention of the purely mechanically-minded. The first chapter of this book describes the boy Penrose cycling to a local field and having a toy ride in an Avro 504, in 1919. The next is about how he was taught to fly, in a Westland biplane, after he had joined the Yeovil Company in 1926. The third short but so-descriptive chapter is concerned with trying a Bristol fighter, in 1927, “my first relatively-powerful aeroplane, after slow school machines …” Notice that they were aeroplanes to Penrose, not aircraft …

So this grandly fascinating little book unfolds, with wonderful insights into a test-pilot’s life, each piece brief but perfectly rounded-out. There is the fun Penrose had in his high-wing Westland Widgeon monoplane, until it was burned-out in a curious accident. He describes next his highaltitude flight in a specially-stripped, supercharged, two-seater Houston-Westland Bristol Pegasus-cngined biplane, which they hoped would climb a mile higher than the ceiling of the current Bristol Bulldog fighter and which was to try for a flight over Everest; Penrose got it laboriously to 37,300 feet, at which altitude the temperature was -65 deg., when the engine stopped and he had to get it in on the glide at Shoreham, Tangmere or Hamble – “Why had I forgotten Gosport and Lee?’ – in this age of no radio aids and with no blind-flying instruments; “Home in that instant became very far away tomorrow would be won only if today, and in this hour, no mistakes were made, and fortune smiled.”

Then we have another adventure, when the Westland PV7, “the biggest high-wing monoplane than had yet been made,” broke up on a test-flight and he had to jump from it and land by parachute, back in the late summer of 1934. From that marvellously-described memory Penrose then tells us what it was like to test-fly for the first time, watched by the staff responsible for it, a Rolls-Royce-engined R.A.F. Westland Pterodactyl tail-less monoplane, early in 1935, of an alarmingly low cliff flight he made in his home-built Pegasus sailplane on a windy day off the Dorset cliffs in 1936, and of his first experience flying a fixed-pitch, woodenpropellercd Supermarinc Spitfire at Martlesham in 1938.

War was closing in and the latter part of the book covers flying a captured Messerschmitt Moog during hostilities, with the danger of being shot-up by an inquisitive Spitfire (the German machine’s direct-fuel-injection gave it “instantaneous and perfect” pick-up), praise for the Westland Lysander, having to force-land a Westland Welkin twin-R-R-Mcrlin prototype in the war-time radio-silence of 1943 when an engine went out and cabin pressurisation failed at 47,000 ft. over Cornwall, and he gives us a graphic impression of what jet-propulsion seemed like in 1945, flying an R.A.F. Gloster Meteor (and the undercarriage warning-lights failed, as this borrowed aeroplane was due to come in to land, with zero fuel!) The book closes with Penrose going on the BOAC familiarisation flight to Singapore in 1952 in the then-new De Haviland Comet air-liner and, a fitting finale, his test-flying of the Westland Wyvern strike-fighter, the 319th-type he had flown, from its initial flight in 1943 to its acceptance by Squadrons in 1953. One flight ended in a landing in this machine, which had killed at least four of Harald’s close friends, with one aileron out of action, after a terminal. velocity dive had all but ended in disaster, the eighth close-call the author had had in this aeroplane…

To quote further from “No Echo In The Sky” is unnecessary. I need only say that I enjoyed it very much indeed, this book about flying which is also about the beauty of the English countryside at different times of the year (it is illustrated by Keith Shackleton’s excellent drawings), and that I think some of you might, too – W.B.

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