Author Archives: Brett Holman

About Brett Holman

Brett Holman is a historian who lives in Armidale, Australia.

a confused man surrounded by social media apps


With Twitter X circling ever closer to the plughole, it's time to have a microblogging alternative. In fact, I already set one up at Mastodon back in November, and spent a bit of time making it comfortable. But the social media landscape has fragmented since then and everyone is fleeing in all directions. There's no longer any one place to go. And so, being as extremely online and extremely indecisive as I am (and also because my day job is in communications), I've settled on… pretty much all of them! So here's where you can find me, in descending order of likelihood:

I'm also on the following, but really just very barely:

Due to Twitter/X's API changes, my Trove bots now only run on Mastodon:

And my AI art accounts are also only on Mastodon and Bluesky now:

For the benefit of wanderers, I'll keep this post pinned on Airminded (which is older than Twitter, and now looks likely to outlast it, too).

See you out there... somewhere!

Image source: Midjourney.

John E. Gurdon, The Sky Trackers

This is the frontispiece illustration from John E. Gurdon, The Sky Trackers (London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1931). Gurdon was an RFC ace (28 victories, all in Brisfits) and after the war took up writing aviation adventure stories so he could discharge a bankruptcy. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, noting that 'Columbus, setting out in a sailing ship to traverse an unknown world, had no greater possibility of adventure ahead of him than have the children of the aeroplane age', called The Sky Trackers 'a breathlessly exciting and a very well written yarn of detective work by aeroplane in the Far East, [which] will certainly get hold of anyone who reads it'.((Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 10 December 1931, 4.))

The painting itself is by S. Drigin, a Russian émigré who seems to have done quite a few aviation-themed illustrations in a career mainly spent working in the pulp and comic industries. The (non-crashing and burning) aeroplane is identified in the text as a 'Weare Wolf two-seater' ('low wing cantilever monoplane, 275 h.p. Typhoon engine, cruising speed 125 m.p.h., carries fuel for seven hours, climbs like a lift, and is as nippy as a dragon-fly').((John E. Gurdon, The Sky Trackers (London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1931), 3.)) It looks to me to be somewhere between a Bernard 20 and a Bernard H.V. 120 (which was entered in the Schneider Trophy the year Sky Trackers was published), but I'm open to suggestions!

PS Thanks again to Bart Ziino for the book -- attending the AHA is getting to be almost worth it alone for the aviation treasures he finds for me!

R.100, St Hubert airfield, Montreal, 1930

If you've ever read anything about the last great British rigid airships, built between 1924 and 1930 as part of the Imperial Airship Scheme, you will almost certainly have come across a statement to the effect that R.100 was known as the 'capitalist' airship and R.101 as the 'socialist' airship. This was because the former was designed and built by Vickers and the latter by the Labour government (at least, it was conceived and flown under Labour; most of the construction was actually done under the Tories).

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[This review was commissioned by the Michigan War Studies Review back in 2016, but for some reason never got published. As MiWSR is now, sadly, defunct, I guess there's no harm in putting it up here on Airminded.]

James Hamilton-Paterson. Marked for Death: The First War in the Air. New York: Pegasus Books, 2016.

Vanishingly few aviation historians can boast a glowing cover endorsement from the likes of J.G. Ballard. James Hamilton-Paterson can; Ballard loved ‘his elegant and intensely evocative style: strangeness lifts off his pages like a rare perfume’. While Ballard had his own obsessions with aviation, he was presumably not writing of Marked for Death, published eight years after his death, but about Hamilton-Paterson’s earlier, more earthbound output. After a long and successful literary career, Hamilton-Paterson has turned to the history of flight for inspiration: first in Empire of the Clouds, the compelling and critical story of Britain’s attempt to keep to the forefront of aviation in the jet age, then in a fictionalised account of a Vulcan bomber crew at the height of the Cold War, Under the Radar.[1] In Marked for Death he has attempted something more ambitious: a history of ‘The First War in the Air’.

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