Books

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'.1

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').2 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!

  1. Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 10 December 1931, 4.[]
  2. John E. Gurdon, The Sky Trackers (London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1931), 3.[]

[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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Cover of Jonathan F. Vance, High Flight: Aviation and the Canadian Imagination

2023 will mark 120 years since the first controlled heavier than air flight, and 240 years since the first more or less controlled lighter than air flight. Much more importantly, it's also the year in which I am going to get my ever-growing stack of to-be-read aviation history books under control! I can't promise that I will only read aviation history books this year, but I will mostly. And in the spirit of accountability (as well as content generation), I'm going to list and reflect on what I read here on Airminded (apart from what I'm reading for strictly research purposes, anyway). Starting now...

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