SKY SAILORS

ALTHOUGH VIRTUALLY ALL the photographs in this book are of airships, the book itself is really about airshipmen, the crews who flew these unforgettable giants of the sky from yesteryear.

ALTHOUGH VIRTUALLY ALL the photographs in this book are of airships, the book itself is really about airshipmen, the crews who flew these unforgettable giants of the sky from yesteryear. Reading through the chapters one is taken from the late nineteenth century's little pioneering airships, through to the great airship days between the wars, when huge airships rivalled ocean liners for sheer size. The author covers the military uses of airships in both world wars, civilian users and brings us up to the situation today, where a few advertising blimps make up most of the small airship population. As has so often been the case in the past, a new generation of airships may be just around the corner, with the current developments by Zeppelin in Friedrichshafen.

Aeroplane pilots often forget how much we owe to the airshipmen of earlier days. In Sky Sailors, Ces Mowthorpe emphasises how it was the crew of the British R.34 airship which, with the 1919 double crossing of the Atlantic, who really pioneered transoceanic flying, more so than Alcock and Brown's one way flight in the Vimy.

The science of what we now know as meteorology was pioneered, under the name of aerology, in connection with the development of airship routes. When aeroplane flight times were still measured in minutes, airship crews were logging flights lasting several days, and it was the airshipmen who set the pace in many aerial navigation techniques we still use today.

The author puts the record of airship travel into perspective in one important way. He points out that the epithet 'dangerous' that has stuck to airship travel (largely because of the oft seen film footage of the Hindenburg fire) is hardly justified. The 36 who died that day were the only people ever killed in Zeppelin airships, out of the many thousands who circumnavigated the globe in these craft. On the other hand, the author does admit that there were, worldwide, only around 5,000 of the airshipmen whose story is the theme of this book, and that almost half of these men died sudden and dramatic deaths. All in all, this is a fascinating book, meticulously researched, yet still a compelling read about a band of men whose exploits in aviation are well worth remembering. James Allan.