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PUBLISHED: 13:28 29 June 2011 | UPDATED: 14:09 10 October 2012


BRITISH BUILT AIRCRAFT: GREATER LONDON by Ron Smith(Tempus, £16.99) Review by Nick BloomWhat a good idea! District by district, the author has set out to list every aircraft manufacturer that ever existed within Greater London. Other parts of the UK are planned for subsequent books.

The great thing about this book is that it is written to entertain and instruct as well as to be a work of reference and scholarship. You could start at the beginning and read the whole thing through without getting bored, although you’d be more likely to dip in and out. Certainly, the copious photographs and illustrations make this a most inviting volume. I particularly liked the contemporary advertisements for flying schools and odd one-off aircraft designs. Among its other virtues, the Ruffy Baumann School of Flying at Hendon used to boast, "The best system: a limited pupils’ list which prevents our school from assuming overcrowded proportions—a dire condition for any educational establishment." So there’s nothing new about ‘spin’. Another Hendon establishment used to advertise with a drawing of a burning Zeppelin above St Paul’s, captioned with, "What the Zeppelins dread!!! A pilot taught at the HALL flying school."

The author has a nose for a good story. The Regent Carriage Company used to be at 126-132 New Kings Road, Fulham, and was involved in the construction of twenty Avro 504Bs. In 1918, The Aeroplane stated, "Its works are so ingeniously camouflaged through natural circumstances that location by the enemy would be impossible. I had trouble finding them myself."

Ever heard of Gwynnes Ltd? They used to be in Chiswick and were Britain’s biggest WWI engine manufacturer apparently, making Clergets and Bentley BR1 rotaries. Know which was the first British aircraft with a tricycle undercarriage? It was the Arpin A-1, built at West Drayton and first flown on 7 May 1938, powered by a 75 hp Salmson radial driving a four-blade pusher propeller—the aircraft had twin tailbooms.

The photographs include the main entrance building of the Fairey Aviation Company, on North Hyde Road in Hayes. You might have driven past that a hundred times and never known.

This is a delightful book, and I shall be dipping into it for a long time to come.

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