De Havilland had a ‘family’ feel as a firm, and the book reflects the human story that lay behind the ill starred machine.

I SHOULD DECLARE a disinterest here. I don’t have much time for the usual run of airliner monographs. They remind me uncomfortably of unwanted birthday gifts, lie around the house unread and come into their own only when one needs something to level the slide projector.

Cheerless sentiments that had more or less gelled as firm prejudice until I received this book on the D.H.106 Comet. It is another edition from Paladwr in the USA, and it echoes the outstanding design and very individual style of illustration found in Charles Lindbergh, published by the same press. Jointly written by expatriot Ron Davies, who spent nine years at de Havilland under aerodynamicist Richard Clarkson, and Philip Birtles, former de Havilland engineering apprentice and Deputy PR Manager, De Havilland Comet is very much a labour of love.

De Havilland had a ‘family’ feel as a firm, and the book reflects the human story that lay behind the ill starred machine. The endpapers feature chalk and charcoal sketches by Ron Davies of the six leading lights of the Comet design and production team, and the text itself includes biographical notes on Ronald Bishop, Richard Clarkson, John Wimpenny, David Newman and William Tamblin.

Old hands both, Davies and Birtles relate the Comet’s rise, fall, revival and afterlife (as the Nimrod) with clear authority. Given their joint credentials, their text ought to be reliably accurate too, although I did trip over the caption on page eight, which likened the 1939 Fairey FC 1 airliner project to the de Havilland Albatross ‘but with four engines instead of two’. (The Albatross, of course, had four engines.)

I would doubt there is much further sport for the nit pickers though. Rather, there is a great deal of novel background material and illustration; things like the Horsa glider fitted with a Comet nose to test visibility in flight and de Havilland’s use of a nosewheel taxi rig, which was based on a lorry chassis, for ground testing all genuinely interesting stuff and beautifully presented too. There is a great deal of information packed into these 63 pages.

As they did in his super Lindbergh book, Ron Davies’s hand drawn maps and diagrams bring the aeroplanes and their commercial and proving routes alive. Mike Machat’s aircraft profile drawings, reviving the Comet’s many vivid and varied colour schemes, further enhance the impression (the printer has included a true silver ink for the bare aluminium lower fuselages that typified the era). Such is the effect, I even found myself gulled into reading the tabulated data on individual aircraft histories, for goodness sake…

I think you will have realised by now that this is one airliner book that will most definitely not end up propping up the slide projector. Paladwr really knows how to produce pleasing books with special appeal. De Havilland Comet is one more of their editions the other aviation publishers might do well to study; it would make a very welcome birthday present for anybody interested in aeroplanes. Philip Whiteman.

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