Early Canadian Military Aircraft Vol. 1

Published: June 20th, 2011     
Front cover
Front cover
Author: John A Griffin and Anthony L Stachiw
Reviewed by: 
John Ratzenberger, IPMS# 40196
Company: Aviaeology
ISBN #: 978-0-9780696-6-7
Other Publication Information: Hardcover, 8-1/2" x 11", 296-pp (vii + 289), glossy paper, "lay flat" binding
Price: $60.00
Product / Stock #: AOB010

The full title of this book is: Early Canadian Military Aircraft,  Acquisitions, Dispositions, Color Schemes & Markings: Volume 1, Aircraft taken on strength through 1920 with credits to the authors above and also illustrations by Andrew Tattersall (aircraft) and Terry Higgins (maps).

This is the first volume of an intended series which will cover all Canadian military aircraft taken on strength from 1920 through 1938 -- there are 58 such aircraft, and this volume covers the first seven. It's easier to visualize the contents if you know the "taken on strength" date is effectively the first date a particular type is brought aboard, and not just the date individual aircraft were received. The first seven types were taken on strength in 1920 but many aircraft of a type arrived after that date and served through 1929.

The research was done, or at least the balance of it, over a period of 30 years, and the effort is now on publishing it -- which, of course, will be determined by demand for each volume. This is not a minor point because it is rather pricey and postage from Canada doesn't help matters.

The book, and the series, is not just for modelers -- it is an integral part of the story of the development and growth of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The era in this volume, that of "bush pilots in uniform", ends "as the last of the war time aircraft end their service, pretty much worked to death" in the harsh Canadian climate and terrain.

Nor is this "just an airplane book" and I'd like to present an extract from the foreword by Carl Vincent -- also part of a larger piece on the rear cover.

".... this is a part of the central core of Canadian history. In the two decades between the World Wars, Canada developed greatly .... facilitated by the development of technology, of which aviation was a major part [in which] the Canadian government .... played a leading role .... and the RCAF and its predecessors was its instrument. Not only did the "bush pilots in uniform" pioneer myriad aspects of aviation in all parts of Canada, but despite a miniscule budget and a suspicious parliament and populace they maintained the nucleus of a military air arm which slowly developed into the frame work of the wartime RCAF .... An incredible number of [aircraft] types], suitable and unsuitable, were flown and maintained under all manner of conditions ...." 

The aircraft featured in this volume are covered in separate chapters:

  • Avro 504K
  • DeHavilland D.H.9a
  • Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5A
  • Curtiss HS-2L
  • Bristol F.2B
  • Curtiss JN-4 (Can.)
  • Fairey IIIC Transatlantic

Each chapter has two parts. Part 1 covers the service career on a year-to-year basis from initial acquisition to final disposition. The roles and utilization of individual aircraft, as well as relevant personnel and basing, is well covered and, importantly, in an overall framework that allows you to see the larger picture. Part 2 covers the color schemes, finishing materials, and markings. Each known unique scheme is presented as a color multi-view schematic, complete with color keys plus historical and technical notes. This is not just "modeler material", although it certainly serves the purpose well, but rather a portrayal of how numerous things impacted the adopted colors and markings. 

The aircraft chapters are profusely illustrated with an aggregate of 122 pages of color scheme information and profiles, 125 mostly rare photographs, and detailed technical and serial tables. Everything is well laid out such that you aren't dozing through a half-dozen pages of text nor is the text interrupted by seemingly random placement of photos and captions or excessive white-space. After the aircraft chapters come several appendices which cover general information on finishing materials, colors and markings, including reproductions from original documentation, 15 pages of scale drawings (with fuselage cross-sections if you still build your own), maps of bases and of the 1920 Trans-Canada Flight, references, and full indexes.

The book is very well organized, written, and edited. The text flows and reads well -- plenty of information without being dry or overloaded. I don't know enough off the top of my head to spot any specific errors, but I'm usually pretty good at spotting inconsistencies and I found none -- likewise, no spelling, typos, etc. I could probably debate the color they use to represent PC-10, but then again everyone debates PC-10, so just pick your favorite version and move on. I think the series organization, again by blocks based on "taken on service date", will prove itself useful ,not just in the lead-off volume, but in the long run of the series.

Summary

Highly recommended if you have an interest in the subject, whether as history or modeling, or both. It's a bit steep for a general library, but individual volumes may prove of interest -- while most aircraft were British/Canadian, there has always been a US presence in Canadian aviation. From what I've seen in the first volume, this series will be a great addition to the history of early Canadian military aircraft by bringing together several previously published works and many private or unpublished papers.

I cannot claim to be a Canadian historian, but my interest in this series was based on my interest in the inter-war "Silver Wings" era of the RAF (& FAA). I also got rather heavily into the west coast flying boat stations in support of some modeling projects a few years back. Seeing what this series has to offer in those areas, I will be watching my email for subsequent announcements. These are not large printing runs, so if you are interested, I would not procrastinate.

My sincere thanks to Aviaeology for the review sample and to IPMS/USA for allowing me to review it.