ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN German by Aviatic Verlag, this engrossing book has been well translated into English. The principal characters are the pilots, but the aircraft they tested also play important roles. Most of the pilots are German, some (like Hanna Reitsch) are well known to English speaking readers, others probably better known in their own country.
The aircraft span an immensely wide field, from pioneering gliders and powered aircraft of the 1910’s and 1920’s to jets like Mystère IV’s, Mirage 4000’s and Falcon 900’s. However, the major interest for most readers will undoubtedly be the stories told by test pilots who flew Germany’s weird and wonderful experimental aircraft during WW2. The inside story of piloting the Messerschmitt Me 163, and the Bachem Ba 349 Natter rocket-powered fighters, is a fascinating, and in many ways a terrifying one. The development of the jet engine in Germany (which in the 1940’s was appreciably ahead of this technology in Britain), and German experimental ejector seat trials, are both well described and illustrated. So too are many extraordinary aeronautical blind alleys. Would you believe a rocket powered glider, specifically to fly a load of assault troops from one side of a river to the other, there to establish a bridgehead? Or another method of keeping soldiers’ feet dry when crossing rivers, a foot bridge which had several pairs of wings fitted to it, and was towed into place behind a Heinkel He 46 or Henschel Hs 126? Airlifting bridges is commonplace now, using helicopters, but in WW2, three tug aircraft delivered just such a bridge, which was constructed within half an hour, to span the River Rhine. In Britain, the best known piggy back aircraft is perhaps the Mayo Mercury flying boat combination, but in Germany, as Test Pilots describes, their Huckepack Verfahren was used for a great many applications. These pilots flew Messerschmitt Me 109’s mounted on gliders; high-altitude DFS 228 ‘spy’ aircraft (forerunners of the Lockheed U 2) which were carried aloft astride Dornier Do 217’s; Junkers Ju 88’s, stuffed with explosives and steered to their targets, as huge flying bombs, by fighters strapped to their backs. The descriptions of this test flying make excellent reading, even if the outcome of the test flying was frequently (fortunately, from the Allied point of view) extremely unsuccessful. James Allan.