Wings of the Weird and Wonderful

Published: February 26th, 2011     
Cover art
Cover art
Author: Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, RN
Reviewed by: 
Paul Bradley, IPMS# 35554
Company: Hikoki Publications
ISBN #: 9781902109169
Other Publication Information: Hardcover, 8.25 x 11.5", 288 pages, More than 120 b/w photos and 20 color drawings
Price: $56.95
Product / Stock #: HK916

Captain Eric Brown is the doyen of test pilots; a former Chief Naval Test Pilot and Commanding officer of the Aerodynamics Flight of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, Brown is in the Guinness Book of Records as the pilot-in-command who has flown the most types of aircraft - over 490 and they are all listed in the front of this book. His career in test piloting started back in 1942 after a spell on combat operations over the North Atlantic, and lasted through to the 1960s. He is therefore the ideal person to write about many different types of aircraft from a pilot's perspective and compare them to each other.

This book is a revised and expanded combination of two books previously published in the 1980s and the result is a terrific book. Brown presents, in his own inimitable understated manner, profiles of 53aircraft, featuring mainly British and American types, but also some Japanese; his experiences with German types following WWII are featured in another book, Wings of the Luftwaffe, which is also a must-read. Each profile is prefaced by a short, pithy introduction, based on comments Brown wrote in his log book at the time. Therefore, he describes the Bell Airacomet as "dull and ponderous", whereas the Grumman Bearcat was "a crackerjack - the best American piston fighter I ever flew", while it's contemporary the Hawker Sea Fury was "a truly great aeroplane." At the other end of the spectrum, the Handley Page Hampden was "nicknamed the Flying Suitcase and it flew like one" while in describing the worst aircraft he ever flew, the General Aircraft GAL/56, Brown says "they don't come much worse than this." 

Brown's profiles then take the reader through his relationship with the type, ranging from purely personal views to transcripts of his highly analytical notes from test flights. In many cases, you can see yourself in the co-pilot's seat looking over his shoulder as he flies the craft. Some of the aircraft he flew were highly dangerous - the DH Swallow is described as a "serial killer" - and Brown describes in vivid but understated detail his fight to survive some very hairy moments in the cockpit. It is compelling stuff.

Every type is accompanied by period photos, often of the particular airframe Brown flew, and there are also a scattering of colour profiles by Richard Caruana. Some of the aircraft are accompanied by diagrams from the Pilot's Notes, and a few have two-page cutaway diagrams from the Flight magazine stable.

All in all, this is a terrific book, one that sheds a new light on many of the types featured and one that I can recommend in the highest terms possible. Many thanks to Specialty Press for the review sample.

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