This book represents a novel approach to aviation history, and instead of the usual treatment of aircraft types, famous pilots, or even significant designers, the author identifies what he considers to be the significant aircraft producers of the World War I era, and goes through the development of the companies and the actions of their founders and CEO’s, explaining how their aircraft were developed and used. After producing a list of 92 significant producers, the authors selected 27 to discuss in detail, and he does an excellent job of presenting the startup of the firms, the personnel involved, and the airplanes, both successful and unsuccessful. He alludes to the postwar period a number of times, as many of these aircraft, such as the DH-4, Curtiss JN-4, and other types were used long after the end of hostilities, in both military and civilian roles.
Since the writer is British, the emphasis is on British, and to a lesser extent, French types. Although at least 20 firms produced military aircraft in the United States during the war, only one, Curtiss, is covered. Other firms, including Standard, Thomas Morse, Aeromarine, Lewis & Vought, and Packard, are not mentioned at all. However, the coverage of the selected firms is excellent, and brings out some interesting facts I wasn’t aware of. The Farmans, for example, were English, not French, although they built most of their airplanes in France. And the interaction between manufacturers was also covered in detail, where one company would manufacture and sometimes improve on the products of another firm, while other organizations only produced airplanes under license from the original firm, never designing planes of their own. At the end of each chapter, a list of the airplanes produced by that company gives information on the size, weight, powerplant, and performance of the type. At selected points throughout the book, excellent photos are provided of the aircraft, most not having been published before. Occasionally, as in the case of the Armstrong Whitworth FK.3, an illustration is provided with no accompanying text. And in the photo, the Curtiss JN-3 is identified as a J-3. (A Cub?) But most of the types were illustrated, and identified correctly, although major production models were sometimes excluded. Possibly the author thought that most readers would be familiar with the type, and photos were unnecessary, there were no three views, only photos.
For anyone with a serious interest in World War I aviation, this book is a must have, since it covers a topic that has not been sufficiently explored before. The history of aircraft producers has always been a sideline with most authors who tend to concentrate on aircraft and pilots, and this author breaks away from the tradition and discusses the companies themselves. The text is well written and very interesting reading and this book is definitely worth having if you have any interest in the subject. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Amberley Publishing Co. and John Noack for the review opportunity. It was a good read.