Rolls-Royce From the Wings 1925-1971 by R. W. Harker, OBE, AE. 168 pp. 9 3/4 in. x 6 1/2 in. (Oxford Illustrated Press Ltd., Shelley Close, Headington, Oxford, OX3 8HB, £4.95).
We have had a surfeit of books about Rolls-Royce cars but very few about R-R aero-engines, or, indeed, about aeroplane engines of any sort. “Rolls-Royce From the Wings” rectifies this omission so far as the great R-R power units from Derby and later factories are concerned. What is more, this is no dry account of the development of such R-R engines from the purely technical aspect; instead, it is autobiography, by someone who, as Rowbotham did and has described in another book about the car-side, began as a Premium Apprentice at Derby in 1925 and went on to thereafter adopt Rolls-Royce as his way of life, ending up as their Military Aviation Adviser and earning the OBE in 1964.
Thus we first follow Harker through his daily tasks as test-pilot from 1935, in the biplanes and then the fast monoplane fighters of those days, and who better to recount the advances and setbacks experienced with all the current and subsequent Rolls-Royce aero-engines? His experiences embrace flying with almost every R-R engine from Eagle VIII to the Spey. All the great R-R personalities emerge in the pages of this fascinating book, which will be as welcome in this Silver Jubilee year as the other, different Rolls-Royce book reviewed earlier. Better than anyone to date, I think, does Harker put over what made the Rolls-Royce Company different from all others, how it bred loyalty in its employees, and the respect they felt for it. The author is especially warm in his praise of Lord Hives, as he is fearless in pointing to what in the end went wrong in the Aero-Engine Division of this great Company. Mr. Harker found it a privilege to work at Rolls-Royce, whether as a pupil straight from Shrewsbury, in the expanding Hucknell experimental flying department, until he was posted to Conduit Street. He looks back to the time when R-R was supreme in the air and orders from the RAF for spares and repairs alone were worth more than £40-million a year.
Those who lap up every scrap of R-R information will enjoy the early chapters when Harker was in the car-test department (there is a picture of him with a P1 test chassis), in which he names some of his fellow testers and remarks that R-R had a Lancia Lambda, a Graham Paige, a Packard and an Hispano-Suiza to access. Later they looked at the Curtiss D-12 aero-engine from America and later in the book the author compares Napier and Bristol engines with those he was helping Rolls-Royce to develop. The work on the Schneider Trophy engines was part of the task, as well as getting the snags out of the steam-cooled Gnatsnapper and other designs.
This book is a most welcome blend of personal reminiscence and technical discourse, and it is very well illustrated. Incidentally, when he was flying for R-R, Harker had had his personal Hurricane, Spitfire, Mustang or Proctor and when he relinquished flying he was given the experimental Bentley 8-B-5, which Lord Hives had used during the war, the only other non-Board member to be permitted a Bentley being Bill Lappin.
This is a very important book, for aviation and the Rolls-Royce fraternity. It would be even better with an index and the publisher’s proofreading is hardly up to R-R standards, but the end-papers depict many famous R-R personalities (with a Mk.VI Bentley and the author’s Bentley featuring in one picture) and there is a list of all 1925-71 R-R aero-engine installations, with the aeroplanes in which they figured, from Eagle VIII to Spey and Ardour. W.B.