Sky Stories by Dave Unwin
Paperback, 177 pages, black & white illustration
Every pilot who has written a book and who has flown a Spitfire writes a chapter about their first flight in one. So, not quite at random, I’ve just read three chapters from three different authors, back-to-back. First, Dave Unwin’s chapter, ‘Supermarine Spitfire TR 9’, from his new book, Sky Stories; then Harald Penroses’s chapter in No Echo In The Sky; and finally, ‘Spitfire’, found in Neil Williams’s peerless book, Airborne. I wanted to see how they compare and how in exalted company Mr Unwin’s book holds up.
Harald Penrose, Westland’s chief test pilot, flew his first Spitfire in 1938, ‘to gain experience of the latest conception in fighters’. ‘What chance was there for an ordinary squadron pilot to fly one, even just a quick circuit, just to fly a Spitfire?’ asked Williams, a young RAF pilot in the early sixties. ‘None, it would seem.’ But grabbing the chance to ferry a Mk IX from Belgium to Britain, he made his first flight in a Spitfire: ‘the ambition of a lifetime was at last to be satisfied’. Dave Unwin flew a two-seater under the tutelage of John Romain some seven decades after Penrose. ‘I’m back in the cockpit of a Spitfire – but this time I’m sitting in the front,’ he writes. ‘Can it get any better?’
Each of the pilot/authors writes with intelligence, emotion and knowledge. For Penrose the Spitfire heralded a gigantic performance leap into the future. For Williams, a child during the war, the Spitfire, ‘was a symbol, for they were emotional times’. Williams’s chapter, while more technical than Penrose’s is suffused with feeling, and he, like Unwin, when back on the ground simply sits awhile in the cockpit taking it all in, overwhelmed.
That Unwin can be read alongside Penrose and Williams and not fall down is reason enough to buy Sky Stories. Turn to any chapter of Dave Unwin’s anthology of his own work and you will find yourself in the cockpit with him and may find that his words help bring into focus just why we love to fly.
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