Prior to reading this book, I had no particular interest in the Valiant, and was only vaguely aware of this aircraft. But because of my previous positive experiences with Osprey publications, I began to read the book with the knowledge that I would soon know more about the Valiant and its role in the Cold War than I did at the outset.
This book is written by Andrew Brookes, author of over a dozen books related to aviation and recipient of the Aerospace Journalist of the Year Award in 2004 and 2006. Mr. Brookes also has some expertise in the subject of aviation, amassing some 3500 flying hours Victors, Canberras, and Vulcans. The man knows what he is talking about.
Valiant Units contains about 30 original color side-views of the Valiant, the work of Chris Davey, Mr. Davey is no stranger to readers of the Osprey series of Combat Aircraft. His work appears in a number of previously published Osprey books.
Divided into nine chapters, Valiant Units begins, naturally, with the inception of the creation and design of the Valiant. Beginning with the “spec orders” that outlined the aircraft that was being called for by the Royal Aircraft Establishment, chapter 1 describes in detail how the Valiant design exceeded those RAE requirements and how the aircraft, literally, took shape.
Chapter two describes two firsts which every new design experiences. The first long distance Operation for the Valiant was to Australia, a natural turnaround point for flights launched from England. The Op showed that the Valiant could, indeed, operate far from home. The other first is the inevitable “first loss” of an aircraft and, unfortunately, the crew. A trim tab issue caused the first crash of a Valiant 3 minutes after takeoff, resulting in the loss of the crew. Ejection seats were not used in the Valiant and exiting the aircraft in an emergency proved very difficult.
The Valiant was used in a hot war zone, and the third chapter contains information describing that experience. During the Suez War, Valiant units were dispatched to Malta and used to drop bombs on Egyptian airfields. This experience is aptly described as a “cock-up”, or better known to those who speak American English as a “SNAFU” (situation normal…all fouled up). In fact, I found this chapter to be the most interesting due to the window it provided into the British view of Egypt and the nationalization of the Suez.
Chapter four is entitled Nuclear Trials, and the label is apt. The chapter details the British effort to drop a live weapon successfully with the Valiant. The chapter describes the tests in Western Australia as well as the technical issues that had to be overcome in order for the exercise to be successful.
The remainder of the chapters covers the history of the Valiant – as a delivery platform for the Blue Danube nuke, an air refueler, and its role as a deterrent against Soviet expansion. The final chapter describes the last days of duty for the Valiant, a part of every historical account of any aircraft, and one that generally generates some dismay that the airframe has come to the end of its service. In the case of the Valiant, the end came, not necessarily due to better technology resulting in better aircraft, and not due to any failure of the aircraft to meet its mission specifications, but rather to something that, at the time, was beginning to make an appearance as a serious and final cause for the retirement of aircraft. The Valiant, it appears, was the victim of metal fatigue. Metal fatigue, although a known cause of aircraft failure, wasn’t recognized as the same highly important factor in aircraft design and construction that it is today. Valiants, literally, were falling apart and the decision was to park them. In fact, as the author points out, with only few exceptions, the decision was made to blow up the airframes and scrap them where they stood.
This book is highly recommended. Valiant Units of the Cold War continues the long line of excellent publications from Osprey. The information provided covers the Valiant from inception to the blow-up of the Valiant airframes in Jan, 1965. This recommendation also is based upon the historical information contained in the book, taken from 1st hand eyewitness accounts and historical documents. Further, this publication contains many b&w photos and well as a number of color images, as well as the side-views produced for inclusion in this publication. An excellent read, start to finish!
Thanks to Osprey for providing this review sample, and to IPMS/USA for the review opportunity.