THE YEARS TO which Howard Fry refers in his title cover the span of his flying career, from his joining the RAF in 1932 and learning to fly on Avro 504’s, until his retirement in 1967 whilst flying Britannias.
THE YEARS TO which Howard Fry refers in his title cover the span of his flying career, from his joining the RAF in 1932 and learning to fly on Avro 504’s, until his retirement in 1967 whilst flying Britannias. Few, I feel, would disagree with him describing them as ‘the best years’, given the enormous advances in aviation during this period.
Fry found life in the inter war RAF a little boring, with its lack of flying due to government cutbacks (plus ça change…) and when offered the chance to fly for Imperial Airways, he grasped it with both hands. Flying an Empire flying boat meant not only a large increase in salary, it also meant being able to fly in his ordinary uniform inside the warm cabin, instead of shivering in multiple layers of sheepskin in the open cockpit of the bombers of the day. It also meant the chance to see vast areas of the world, including most of Africa and across the Middle East to India, Burma and Singapore.
The declaration of war meant curtailment of flying boat services direct from Southampton to Durban and Singapore. Fry was posted to the former to help set up what became known as the Horseshoe Route, the route up the east coast of Africa to Cairo, through to India and Singapore and back to Durban the same way. This was the means by which, with interconnections, it was possible to keep routes around the world open. In this way, aircrew and supplies could be moved anywhere they were needed.
His post war career included flying the Empires and Solents almost up to the end of the flying boat services, after which he moved back to England, test flying at Hurn. He went on to fly Britannias and 707’s. His last flight back from Durban was also the last flight of Canopus, which was scrapped immediately afterwards. Fry feels very strongly that the decision to cancel the flying boat service was wrong, and argues this point very forcibly. One point he makes is that in the flying boat service, passenger comfort and satisfaction were the top priorities, something which can be contrasted with today’s airlines. Certainly no airline captain today would be allowed to fly up the Nile at fifty feet so that his passengers would have a good view of the temple at Abu Simbel, as regularly happened with Imperial!
Having read The Best Years of Flying in company with Corsairville, I have to say that I found this by far the more informative book. Howard Fry did it; he flew these machines and aviation minded people can relate to his experiences. Ernie Hoblyn.