IT WOULD SURELY be difficult to write a dull book about flying from Royal Navy aircraft carriers, even in so-called peacetime.

IT WOULD SURELY be difficult to write a dull book about flying from Royal Navy aircraft carriers, even in so-called peacetime.

This book has been commissioned by the Fleet Air Arm Officers’ Association as a record of what it was like, and to some degree still is, to Fly Navy. It is also, as the short but erudite introduction makes clear (as does the list of dead that precedes each chapter) a tribute to the 915 men who have died undertaking this hazardous occupation in the service of sovereign and country since WWII.

Around 100 reminiscences, tales and diary extracts give us an immediate personal impression of the more dramatic aspects of naval air ops, mostly from the flight crews themselves plus others on board. It is all straight from the sea horse’s mouth, none of it second-hand. The editor has his own tale to contribute, and is well-qualified to judge which others to include to achieve a good balance. The black-and-white photographs nicely complement and illustrate the tales. If some are a little grainy, or indistinct, that is because they were clearly taken at the critical moment.

Each chapter covers a decade and is preceded by a one-page resumÄ of the aircraft types, procedures and technical developments relating to the period. Generally, the editor manages to fit in a dig or two at the RAF! For the Fleet Air Arm, losing their most powerful fixed-wing aircraft to the RAF clearly and no doubt rightly, rankles. After all, would the Argentine ever have invaded the Falklands if the old Ark Royal had still been in service with its long-range, long-loiter, eight-missile, pulse-doppler radar-equipped Phantoms and Gannet AEW?

There is a one-page glossary of terms (some aviation knowledge on the part of the reader is assumed) and an index.

Each individual’s contribution focuses on one or two incidents, usually hazardous and often quite funny. It is, as it says on the cover, a ‘warts and all’ record that perhaps benefits from the time elapsed since most of the incidents. It is easier for professional pilots to offer such candour once they have retired, or at least moved on.

Most forms of maritime aviation are included: helicopters hot and high over the desert or deep into jungle clearings as well as over, and into, the sea; S&R ops; fighter-bomber missions against rice paddies in Korea (among more conventional targets); ab initio deck-landing qualification sorties; long route flights with multiple stopovers; even a totally unauthorised trip after a squadron mess night; counter-terrorist ops in the Middle and Far East; and air combat in the Falklands.

Incidents cover a wide variety of scares, screw-ups, and splash downs: bombs that don’t explode; engines that do; catapults going off half-cocked; rocket-assisted take-off gear not going off at all; prematurely firing ejection seats (ouch!); and time and again, no-notice ditchings into cold grey sea right under the bows of 40,000 tons of careering carrier. The reader will have favourites–mine includes the terse r/t call from the three-ship formation leader exhorting two and three to rejoin formation after losing contact: “But you must be able to see me–I’m orbiting over two damn great bonfires…”

Fascinating, funny, gripping. Good to dip into, or read at one sitting. If you like your vicarious aviation laconic, true, fast and dangerous, you’ll enjoy this.