A good book can be a source of knowledge, comfort or a way to scare yourself silly while you are waiting for the cloud to clear or the wind to veer to suit your plans. Here are a few of my recommendations that are sure to please pilots and armchair aviation enthusiasts alike.
Not all of these books have a connection to Scotland but there are many that do. I am confident that any pilot, cadet or spotter will enjoy any of these as a gift.
My first recommendation is a stunning hardback packed with history and brilliant photography. My absolute favorite image is of two Vampires taking off from what is now a stretch of the M8 motorway at Hillington. Glasgow's Airports will leave those who remember teary eyed with nostalgia and those who are to young aghast at the diversity of aircraft that once filled the skies.
My next choice, "Prestwick's Pioneer", is the biography of a man I would love to have met. I am sure that men like Dougal McIntyre still exist, but they are rare, and probably choking in red tape. This book is an inspiration to what one motivated, passionate individual can do. I doff my cap to you Sir.
An epic journey through the prolific post war era when Britain was at the forefront of aircraft design and production from a pilot's perspective. A test pilot's perspective to be more accurate. Combining biography with history to chart the changes and ultimate decline of the biggest names in the business. Empire of the Clouds is a fascinating read which gives an insight into the thoughts and feelings of the men in the cockpit during a time when duty and loyalty still meant something.
Vulcan 607 is a cracking, true tale of the mighty Vulcan's only angry campaign. After decades of service the call to action only came at the very end of its career. From the early political and strategic decisions to the scrabble for the spare parts required to the first Black Buck mission itself. You can practically smell the cockpit in this detailed account. I loved it.
Phoenix Squadron is a close look inside the Fleet Air Arm culminating in a revelation that may be quite uncomfortable for American readers. It is a source of pride and comfort for British patriots. (Or it would be if it did not highlight deeds that we can never accomplish again.) The quiet glory of the airmen of the Royal Navy is often overshadowed and overlooked by the image of their RAF counterparts. This book goes a long way to redressing the balance.
"Flak" and "Fly" are volumes one and two of a remarkable set of first hand reports and personal experiences from aircrew in the second world war by Michael Vietch. The interviewees are predominantly Australian, as is the author, although there are also accounts from Englishmen, New Zealanders, a couple of Germans and even a Scotsman from the Isle of Lewis. These are the experiences of not just pilots, but navigators, gunners, bomb aimers and wireless operators from humble an unsung types of aircraft in obscure, under reported campaigns to the iconic marks in the famous battles. I listened to these tales via the Audible app from Amazon in the unabridged versions; I cannot recommend them highly enough. The books are narrated by the author who, as well as harbouring a lifelong passion for aviation is also an actor, really bringing the characters to life, capturing the often irreverent vernacular of the day.
I have always had the deepest respect for the men who flew into harms way every day, despite the knowledge that their chances of surviving were minimal. (One in fifty according to one of the interviewees, and that is based on facts and observations on the squadron at the time, rather than dry statistics 65 years later.) These book have served to deepen that respect further than I thought possible. These men are almost all gone now, it is only right that their stories are immortalised, they must never be forgotten,