IN MY ELEMENT - AN OLD PILOT'S TALE

THIS IS AN account of Captain Johnston's RAF career from 1936 to 1968.

THIS IS AN account of Captain Johnston's RAF career from 1936 to 1968.

To me, by far the most interesting part of the book was its opening chapters describing his background his father was the navigator on the ill fated R101 airship and career in the pre war RAF. A large section of the latter text describes the author’s wartime experiences with flying boats, much of it in Canada and America. The book's second half covers his postwar career. This I found only mildly interesting. It does cover the era of early jets, so enthusiasts of these aeroplanes might want to read it for that reason.

The author was a pilot, and flew a wide variety of types. However, he was primarily a navigator. The book covers both aspects of his career, in a ratio of about eighty twenty. The twenty per cent on navigation would, I imagine, be of particular interest to a historian of the subject.

Anyone considering a career in the RAF would also benefit from this book. I was struck by how many times the author was abruptly transferred into completely new roles by his employer, and how little control he was allowed over his fate. The RAF even decided when he was to retire; at age fifty!

I found the accounts of learning to fly at Cranwell (including learning aerobatics) to be exceptionally well written and vivid. There was an astonishing death rate among the author's prewar contemporaries; crashes seemed almost an everyday event in the RAF of the thirties. However, this is only a small portion of the book and what follows, was less entertaining. I quite enjoyed the thumbnail sketches of the wide variety of aircraft flown by the author (a little too sketchy), and the accounts of some of his flying adventures. The descriptions of early experiments in navigation and blind landing techniques were also of some interest. After reading the book, I did feel better informed in a number of areas.

A selection of what I liked in the prewar part of the book would include the author's description of his childhood clambering over airships and being taken for joyrides in various aeronautica by indulgent adults. After he joined the RAF there is a particularly vivid account of a badly executed slow roll in an Avro Tutor. His descriptions of flying the various marks of Hawker biplanes are interesting because one doesn't often find these aeroplanes described, but I would have liked more detail. I also found the descriptions rather too personal and immediate, and would have liked the author to have made more of an effort to set them in perspective.

Most Read

In the wartime section I liked accounts of piloting flying boat monsters such as the Short Singapore and various bomber types such as the Mitchell and Liberator; and his hectic first flight in a Spitfire (hectic because hitherto he had been flying much larger aeroplanes with much less sensitive controls).My selection from the postwar second half would include the account of an early Meteor becoming unstable in yaw; another of a Hastings losing two engines over water; flying a Dakota at five feet for radio altimeter calibration purposes; and the descriptions of flying a Valiant, Lightning, Canberra, Hunter, Vampire, and Jet Provost (among other early jets).

Towards the end of the book, the author comments that, 'The advantage of being an aviator is that one frequently has to conquer fear and resign oneself to anxiety.' Very true one only has to think of flying over the Channel in a light single, or getting mildly lost on a cross-country.

So all in all, quite a lot of interest in this book. Whether you buy it or not will depend on what aspects of aviation history most interest you. I would say that for most devotees of flying books it has a rather limited appeal. Nick Bloom.