Customer Reviews: Roaring Thunder: A Novel of the Jet Age (Novels of the Jet Age)
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on February 10, 2006
In a creative way of sharing aviation history, Boyne's first in a planned trilogy describes the dawn of the jet age, and covers the first 15 years through the Korean War. The novel revolves around a fictional patriarch, and aviator, Vance Shannon, and his two fighter pilot sons, and the real life industry geniuses of Sir Frank Whittle, the British inventor of the jet engine; Hans von Ohain, a German jet engine designer; and Dr. Anselm Franz. Famed aeronautical engineer Kelly Johnson; the daring test pilot Tex Johnston, and others are found throughout the story.

In the first half of the book, Boyne gives the reader a "fly-on-the-wall" perspective between the German aviation industry and the British/American industry. The United States was slow to enter the field of jet propulsion. Political and military leaders chose to concentrate on mass-producing the conventional airplanes that could contribute more quickly to the war effort. Imbedded in the novel are a number of "what if" questions about this nearly fatal miscalculation.

After World War II, Boyne describes the confluence of American and German scientists, and industry giants who brought the United States and the world into the jet age. Boyne is at his best as he describes the aerial warfare in Europe and in the skies over Korea. Boyne has written a first-rate story, and a dramatic accounting of one of the 20th century's greatest human accomplishments. Readers, who enjoy aviation history, and/or aviation novels, will enjoy this epic tale.
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on April 30, 2015
As a noted aviation historian, Walter Boyne brilliantly wove the story of a fictional family through the of birth of the jet age.
He is one of the few individuals to able to pull it off.

I feel like I read a entertaining novel and gained an education in return.
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on July 29, 2006
This is a pastiche of aviation stories, glued together with a plot and characters. The aviation stories are interesting and, like the novels of Nevil Shute or Ernest K. Gann, give intriguing glimpses into the development of aviation--jet aviation in Boyne's case.

But there is a story.

And the story is awful.

Probably Herman Wouk was not the first writer to set up a plot in which a father and two sons are conveniently all in the military at wartime. Upton Sinclair's Lanny Budd could only be in one place at one time. Wouk's fictional family, able to be in three places at the same time, could manage to appear at all the significant events of World War II history. Boyne uses precisely the same device. I don't say he stole it from Herman Wouk. But I do say I was constantly reminded of "The Winds of War."

The plot and characters are wooden. The references to sex are embarrassing. ("The long drives down Route 101, crossing the border at San Ysidro and then having a drink at the 'Long Bar' in Tiajuana[sic], were a magic preparation for their long nights of intensive, inventive sex.") They read as if a 1950s writer were trying to imitate a shockingly frank 1960s blockbuster because he had heard that sex sells.

The character Madeline's mysterious secret is annoying when revealed.

The worst problem is not knowing which of the aircraft detail is real and which is fictional. Ernest K. Gann was not averse to saying bad things about real aircraft types, but apparently Boyne's "Massey Dual Quad" is fictional. I think. If it is an aircraft-a-clef I don't know what real aircraft it is supposed to be reminding us of.

There is also a 20-20 hindsight problem, as when a character comments that "the only chance Boeing would have to catch up is if something happens to the Comet..." and when Vance feels that something is just not quite right with the square corners of the Comet's windows.

Incidentally, I don't know what the historic von Ohain's attitude toward Naziism was, but in the book he wrings his hands over and over about how terrible it was and how much he hated having to work for the Nazis ("Yes, that was my He S 011. Four years of development went into it. But I'm glad that it never went into a Nazi warplane) that I began to think that Ohain, or Boyne, doth protest too much.

In terms of fiction-writing skill, Boyne is no worse than Dan Brown--but that's not much of compliment.

Despite its defects as a novel, I think anyone who likes aviation fiction will like this book.
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on March 23, 2006
Walt Boyne's "Roaring Thunder" is an entertaining flight through the origins of jet aviation. As a long-time jet pilot in the same B-52s Col. Boyne used to command, I knew some of this history, but Boyne brings this colorful - and true - tale of the jet to life through the eyes of his central characters, the Shannon family.

Their flying and business experiences in the pre-WWII aviation industry, followed up with some harrowing combat scenes set in the Second World War and Korea, serve to narrate the revolutionary changes that jet engines brought to military and commercial aircraft.

You'll meet the German and British fathers of the turbojet engine, von Ohain and Whittle; the brilliant Lockheed designer Kelly Johnson, Boeing test pilot Tex Johnston, and the jaded Luftwaffe ace, General Adolf Galland. These historical characters, animated so well by Boyne, give us a "you are there" rush as aviation history unfolds before our eyes. This is a jet-powered story that soars high and races along at the speed of sound. Strap in and take off!
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on January 5, 2007
The Great War has been over for a decade but a new Cold War between the Soviet Communist blocs and the West is frighteningly on the brink of turning hot with atomic weapons that will make the fire bombings and the two atom bomb blasts of WW II look like a picnic. In this new world order of hostile rivalry with both sides wanting to bury the opponent, competition is on the land, sea and air.

The American aviation industry with powerful political pressure and support knows they must reengineer (anachronism that fits) their design to produce faster and more mobile fighter jets and a spy plane that can take pictures of Russian activity, but fly above radar. In that environs, family patriarch Vance Shannon and his twin sons, Tom and Harry, work on the new technology that leads to spy planes, supersonic jets and other flying vessels but it is Sputnik that changes the interrelation dynamics.

Though the plot is thin, the story line is exciting and faster than an SST as Walter J. Boyne uses a family of flying aces aviation engineers to showcase the Cold War in the sky circa 1955- 1973 (Nixon is the bookends). Readers will feel the pressure that every Russian advancement and every Khrushchev shoe-stomping bravado causes the Americans to feel inadequate and in need to do more than keep up if they are to win the Cold War, which is at one of its prime peaks of enmity. SUPERSONIC THUNDER provides insight into the beginnings of the Jet Age as former enemies from WW II become bedfellows while former allies become deadly adversaries in a changing world that is difficult for people living during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon Administrations to comprehend as they did not have this entertaining novel to guide them.

Harriet Klausner
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on February 15, 2006
Walter Boyne's latest novel, Roaring Thunder, lives up to the title. It is historical fiction at its afterburner-roaring ride across three continents and through two wars that delivers the history of the development of the jet engine in a hugely entertaining manner. Boyne resurrects the German and English titans of the early jet age to show them laboring under the bureaucratic short-sightedness of their respective countries to independently come up with a machine that would revolutionize air warfare and give birth to the modern airline industry. In the telling of that story, Boyne takes the reader into primitive laboratories where geniuses tinker and into the cockpits with the earliest test pilots to experience their harrowing first jet flights. Boyne's accounts of German jet fighters hurling through squadrons of B-17 bombers will really get your adrenaline pumping. The reader is introduced to the fictional Shannon aviator father and his two military-pilot sons. ...and live the tale of the early jet age through their eyes. These are not flawless, two-dimensional heroes. We see them as real people afflicted with the burdens of humanity...ill-conceived decisions, fear, love, betrayal. I can't wait to see them developed in the rest of Boyne's trilogy. Roaring Thunder is a great read!
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on May 21, 2010
Most airline passengers take the horrendous airport security and boarding difficulties with a resigned shrug and a usually unkept vow to never fly again. At home on TV we view with casual acceptance the precision placement of ordnance in all weather conditions from airplanes that can't even be seen. What is missing with all of us, though, is the tremendous struggle just to get those passenger planes and military aircraft into the air in the first place.
Walter Boyne skillfully conveys that struggle in "Roaring Thunder," an exciting chronology which details the birth of jet engines and the incredible effort put into designing the airframes those engines propelled. From dangerously awkward designs in Germany and Italy in the Nineteen Thirties to functional but slow engineering in England and the United States in the Forties and Fifties, Boyne brings to life the men and women responsible for today's aerospace industry seemingly effortless ability to design and fabricate our current commercial and military engineering marvels.
Boyne's background as a USAF pilot, director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, best-selling novelist, and renowned aviation historian, serve him well as he combines a modicum of fiction with an abundance of fact in "Roaring Thunder." Boyne articulates the national and international community of aviation pioneers in a most readable form that portrays reality by utilizing the fictional Vance Shannon family. Shannon and his two sons' experiences as combat and test pilots mirror the true triumphs and tragedies of pioneer pilots and designers who are introduced to the reader as the book progresses.
The book is full of Paul Harvey type "story behind the story" anecdotes that fill in what really happened behind headlines and press releases. One of the most important and far reaching is when Boyne details the fateful military aviation errors made by German leaders in WWII which aided immeasurably to the Allied victory.
So the next time you must strap into the aluminum tube and be subjected to the vagaries and humiliations of commercial flight, take Boyne's "Roaring Thunder" with you and escape to the rich history of how it all came about in the first place. And when you are finished, take comfort that the saga continues as "Roaring Thunder" is the first in a trilogy.

This review is by retired USAF fighter pilot Mark Berent, author the Vietnam airwar “Wings of War” historical fiction series and many free articles available on all E-Books. See
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on July 2, 2010
An entertaining historical novel and a good review of the progression of jet aircraft design and development from the prior-to WWII period to the mid-50s. There are a lot of familiar names in here and the story is plausible. Great fun and a quick read and a good way to pass the time on an airliner.
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on April 3, 2006
This is a fairly interesting book that has several problems. First, if you are an aviation fanatic, you've read most of this before. If you are not, the level of detail will probably bore your eyeballs out. Second, if you are serious about aviation, there is no explaination of who is real and who is fictional, which leads to a lot of wondering about third tier characters. And third, the worst part, is that there's no bibliography. We are all supposed to take, on faith, this massive brain dump from Col. Boyne and if we want to research something further, that's just tough luck. Especially if you're not sure if you agree with some things. Lastly, the Vance penchant for being in the right place gets a little old after a while, not to mention the magic ability to discern aircraft problems. Particularly since the Vances are so stupid about sex. And there's lot of sex here, I guess to keep the non-fanatics awake.
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on June 11, 2015
Good read for the technology background. Characters a bit shallow.
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