AMERICAN CLASSICS OF THE AIR

FOR ANYONE WHO likes looking at pictures of old aeroplanes this book is a positive feast.

FOR ANYONE WHO likes looking at pictures of old aeroplanes this book is a positive feast. Dealing with American built aircraft from the late 1920's through to 1969, it contains sumptuous photos of 44 different types under 39 headings. By far the largest proportion comes from the thirties and forties in my view the heyday of beautiful looking aeroplanes before blandness and practicality came to be the watchwords of the manufacturers.

The vast majority of the featured aircraft are prizewinners, but all are examples of restoration to the highest standard. All are pictured in their natural environment. Most of them are based in California, so the backgrounds tend to include deep blue skies, blue sea and lush green vegetation perfect for showing off immaculate paintwork. A few are pictured in Europe including Stinson 108 Voyager G BHMR, imported by Cliff Lovell, and Luscombe 8E Silvaire G BRRB, which somehow sneaked into the Luscombe Sedan chapter.

Each chapter gives information on the type and manufacturer, plus a history of the subject aircraft, giving ownership and restoration details. The history of the featured DC 3, for instance, tells us that not only was it Churchill's personal transport but it also carried our Queen, when Princess Elizabeth, three times. Between the introduction and the snippets in the individual chapters it is possible to glean a great deal about the history of civil aviation in America, and the men behind it, from the time it really got off the ground, so to speak, in the twenties.

Amazingly some of these types are still available today, so their designers must have had something right. Few of the original companies still exist, mostly being one man bands which were swallowed up in corporate mergers, but the type certificates are now owned by others who are producing them in small numbers.

I find it difficult to look on 1960's aircraft like the Cessna 150 and 172 and the Piper Comanche as classics, but I suppose that reflects more on my age than theirs. In fairness the examples shown are all beautiful examples of early models. Some purists will be upset by the inclusion of a Lippert Reed conversion clipped wing Cub as an example of a Piper J 3C rather than a standard model, but having owned such an aircraft I feel that all Cubs would benefit from having a couple of bays lopped from their wings.

The only thing I found annoying is that, having gone to the trouble of having an index, only 48 of the book's 112 pages are numbered and, with up to six unnumbered pages in a row, finding a particular chapter is a bit hit and miss. Surely a number at the bottom wouldn't totally ruin a photograph? That apart, it is full of interesting facts and lovely pictures about some of the best looking aircraft ever built, including my all time favourite, the Beech Staggerwing. Ernie Hoblyn.

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