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Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World by [Hamilton-Paterson, James, Hamilton-Paterson]
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Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

A brilliant, nostalgic and provocative look at the golden age of British aircraft, from the post-war jet age to the recent sad decline.

About the Author

James Hamilton-Paterson is the author of Gerontius, winner of a Whitbread Prize; Seven-Tenths: The Sea and its Thresholds; Playing With Water; and most recently, of the wild comic trilogy Cooking With Fernet Branca, Amazing Disgrace and Rancid Pansies. He is also an unabashed fan of great aircraft.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2082 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (October 7, 2010)
  • Publication Date: October 7, 2010
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0045I7FYM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #577,409 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mr. Stephen Greensted on January 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book was extremely painful for me to read. I come from an aviation family, and either knew a number of the featured characters or was related to them. The precipitate rise and fall of the UK's jet aviation industry in the fifties and sixties depended upon a fragmented bunch of constructors, a desperate shortage of money, and a bunch of dim-witted politicians which included Duncan Sandys. Denis Healey also bears a substantial responsibility. That said, it's worth reading this book if only to hear what the test pilots said about the planes they were asked to fly. In particular, John Farley, the Harrier's second test pilot, has some very sharp things to say about the design of the TSR2, which leads him to endorse its cancellation. I should add that my own father was a test pilot. It's a very well-researched book with plenty of personal anecdotes and reminiscences. Finally, it gives Bill Waterton the recognition that he thoroughly deserved. I'm delighted the book was written, but deeply sorry that there was no happy ending.
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Format: Hardcover
James Hamilton-Patterson has always been fascinated by jet aircraft, and that certainly comes across in this fascinating and lovingly written book. Whether he is describing the majestic beauty of an Avro Vulcan climbing steeply towards the cloud base, the elegant design of the Fairey Delta, or the sheer terrifying power of the English Electric Lightning, you feel that his words come from the heart. Sadly, as well as a tale of magnificent men in their flying machines this is also a tale of bumbling bureaucracy, pompous incompetent management, obstructive officialdom, and - it cannot be denied - downright contempt for practical expertise. As a result, the British military aircraft industry, which promised so much in the 1950s and 1960s, has now vanished completely. We will never get it back, because traditions and know-how are handed down continuously or not at all.

The author has skilfully woven in a human element by tracing the careers of a handful of the leading test pilots, notably Bill Waterton, Gloster's chief test pilot from 1946 until 1954. In return for a miserly salary that gave him take-home pay of about £1,000 a year (the equivalent of about £20,000 nowadays), and which was barely increased throughout those 9 years, Waterton regularly risked his life flying aircraft that would never be allowed to take off today. He and other pilots flew without ejector seats and often without even parachutes, freezing in unheated cockpits and with primitive controls and breathing apparatus. He was expected to fly - personally - every single production aircraft that left the factory (fortunately not so many as British aircraft manufacturers had not yet adopted mass production), as well as carrying out a mass of other chores including the administration of several scattered airfields!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a well researched but still a personal opinion account of the demise of the British aeroplane building industry. It has significance for all from engineers to students of political history and shows how ego, political interference and fear of stepping outside the box can destroy the efforts of really great and good people.

Should be compulsory reading for all members of parliament and public officers. They should then have to sit a 2 hour written exam on it and if they fail they should then resign.
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Format: Hardcover
James Hamilton-Paterson is a successful British writer whose other works cover themes as diverse as classical music, undersea exploration, politics in The Philippines and cookery-themed humour. With such a seeming hotch-potch of interests you'd be forgiven for thinking he might not be the ideal writer to tackle the history of British aircraft design and manufacture between 1945 and the mid-1960s, the iconic aircraft it produced and the industry's eventual decline.

Surprisingly, `Empire of the Clouds' is in every way a superb piece of work, born from the deep passion of a true enthusiast. The author brings insight and knowledge about the companies and their often autocratic founders, disastrous cost-cutting, failures of management and tolerance of outdated industrial practices. Together with bean-counting, vacillating politicians and duplicitous national airline carriers, this lethal cocktail of ineptitude eventually resulted in the slow destruction of a world-leading industry.

However, the book is in no way downbeat in tone. On the contrary, it's an elegy to a bygone age before the design and production of new military and civilian passenger aircraft became so expensive that only international conglomerates or huge corporations could hope to deal with the complexities, and before the depressing triumph of dreary health and safety obsessives bludgeoned the initiative, romance and sheer daredevilry out of aviation forever.

The stars of the book are the aircraft of this romantic era fertile with new ideas, and the heroes the test pilots who flew them. If you have a passion for these wonderful aircraft then you're in for a treat.
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