THIS DIARY, WRITTEN throughout the summer of 1935, and first published in 1939, is an aviation classic to rank with Birds and Fools Fly and Sagittarius Rising.

THIS DIARY, WRITTEN throughout the summer of 1935, and first published in 1939, is an aviation classic to rank with Birds and Fools Fly and Sagittarius Rising.

The author of Pilot+s Summer was a young pilot officer. After serving in Egypt he returned to England to train as an RAF instructor, and the diary covers the period of his training.

So, picture yourself, say, in the open cockpit of a really gorgeous biplane: an Avro 504-which the author calls a ‘Crab’; an Avro Tutor or a Hawker Hart. You already know how to fly these machines. You will have forced-landed them when the engine stopped, flown aerobatics in them, and even flown them (on a limited panel-all there was then) at night and in cloud.

In the other cockpit is an even better pilot than you-the chap who is going to teach you how to instruct your students in the art of flying. Your only means of communication is a Gosport tube. This flexible tube connects ear-cups in your flying helmet to a mouthpiece in the other fellow+s, and vice versa.

Your objective is to master the instructor+s patter, the words you will be using to your pupils. You aren+t allowed to choose your own-the script is already written, and has to be word perfect. For instance, you must not refer to the ‘stick,’ and certainly never to the ‘joystick’, the terms you are familiar with; from now on, it+s a +control column+.

Hard enough. What makes it really difficult, though, is that you have to co-ordinate the patter with what is happening to the aeroplane. When you say, “And the stick comes all the way back, stalling the wings, so that the wheels and skid drop simultaneously onto the ground,” that must be exactly what you cause to happen, at precisely that moment.

The author has a talent for description, so you get a good idea of what it was like, for instance, to loop an Armstrong Whitworth Atlas, or land a Hawker Hart in a crosswind.

The author set out to convey the flavour of service life at the Central Flying School. He does this very well, rather in the style of Punch magazine, by means of dryly humorous anecdotes, and thumbnail descriptions (he says of one instructor, ‘the bowl of his pipe looked like a caried tooth’).

There are entertaining accounts of the train journey from London, a (highly expensive) visit to a snobbish West End tailor, conversations after dinner in the Mess, entries from the Mess Suggestions Book and tales of the perils of having one’s bath prepared by one’s batman.

The writing seems a little dated at times, but it is always high quality. The author has an original way of describing things, such as ‘rocking and bumping down the stairway of troubled air’ for final approach on a windy day.

Here is how the author describes a spin, as flown in an Avro 504 with a hood covering the rear cockpit, blind but for a limited panel of instruments:

‘Throttle back, stick back, back, back. Rudder central. The needles stand up and down. Airspeed flickers back, forty-five, forty, off the map. Full right rudder. Woosh, round we go like a kettle dropped down a well.

‘”Come out,”the instructor commands.

‘Centralise rudder by eye. Needles saw madly all over the shop. Count two. Stick central by eye and ease it two inches forward. Immediate terrific bodily sensation of going into a spin the other way. Quite a tight, fast one too. But you disregard it entirely. Needles no good for some seconds yet, either. Airspeed begins to drop back now 100, 95, go. Stick forward a little, good solid pressure and gently open the throttle to sixteen hundred again. From four to two thousand feet in about twelve seconds.+

As a final inducement, the book has some beautifully drawn colour plates by M D Howley illustrating the aeroplanes described in the text. There are also a number of black-and white-photographs.