FRENCH AEOPLANES BEFORE THE GREAT WAR

IF BOOKS BE food for the mind, then this volume is fare from the delicatessen counter. Not a staple, nor even something many would have an appetite for, but a morsel of different and enriching taste; a treat for the jaded palette just waiting to be discovered.

IF BOOKS BE food for the mind, then this volume is fare from the delicatessen counter. Not a staple, nor even something many would have an appetite for, but a morsel of different and enriching taste; a treat for the jaded palette just waiting to be discovered.

How so? Leo Opdycke is the publisher of WW1 Aero and Skyways, both highly individual journals dealing with early aeroplanes and solid proof that content will always triumph over style. These publications provide a forum for almost everyone worth knowing in the field of early aviation study, or the building of replica aircraft and models.

French Aeroplanes Before the Great War is the distillation of over fifteen years work, as well as a lifetime's interest in pioneering aircraft. Those listed amongst the contributors include Britons J M Bruce, who also provided the foreword the late John W R Taylor and Harry Woodman. Given that, this reviewer would not even think of looking for factual errors. This book must be the definitive volume on the subject.

Rather, there is the simple pleasure in dipping into the astonishing diversity of design and concept that characterised France's enthusiasm for flying machines prior to the disaster of the Great War. The text is generously illustrated with photographs, some poor, many breathtakingly sharp and clear in the manner of glass plate negatives and big format cameras, but all so fascinating.

To give a flavour of the content, how about the Papin and Rouilly Gyroptère, built in 1913/14. This all metal machine was a single bladed helicopter fashioned like a sycamore seed. Blade tip reaction thrust was provided by a radial compressor and drive motor mounted on the opposite side of the pilot's dustbin like enclosure. To keep him facing in the right direction, a separate air jet drove the cockpit in the opposite direction to blade in fact the whole aircraft's rotation. To cap it all, this weird and beautiful device, all flowing lines and compound curves buoyed by a 'flying saucer' base, was designed to fly from water. Did it work? You'll have to read the book to find out.

The price may seem high but, like other Schiffer titles we've seen, French Aeroplanes Before the Great War is very nicely hard bound, with cloth covering and lovely old fashioned swirly patterned end papers.

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