Gareth Stringer's 2009 blogGAR Entries

NOV 13 2009
A little reading matter............

Much to my better half’s chagrin I’m a bit of a bookworm – and as my small office here at home steadily fills with an ever increasing collection of titles she occasionally reminds me that it will soon rival a provincial library.

I can never bear to part with books though and, having been an avid reader since I was a plane-mad youngster, a good chunk of my collection is made up of titles about aircraft and, more specifically, flying them.

From the moment I became fascinated in aviation, particularly military aviation, the one question I always found myself asking was, ‘I wonder what it actually feels like to fly in a fast jet’? It isn’t something I have been fortunate enough to experience, yet (you know who you are!), but what I have done is to read much about it from many other peoples’ perspectives.

The book which remains most important to me is now long out of print and I actually only physically added it to my collection a few years ago. “F-4 Phantom – A Pilot’s Story” was written by RAF pilot Robert Prest, published in 1979 and a copy lived in the local library in Brookmans Park, Herts, where I grew up. Except it wasn’t there very often as I had the book on an almost permanently reserved basis! It’s a wonderfully down to earth piece of work and Prest describes far more than just the physical and mental demands of flying the mighty Phantom – discussing subjects such as emergencies, accidents, air combat training, ground attack, exercises and QRA. It’s a great read and I would recommend a trawl online or through second-hand book shops to try and find a copy if you haven’t read it – you won’t be disappointed.

Prest was undoubtedly inspired by another author I would highly recommend – Richard Bach. “Stranger to the Ground” is his dramatic tale of one pilot’s (his) flight from England to France in an F-84 Thunderjet; a mission to deliver important documents for a high ranking USAF officer. Interspersed with other anecdotes throughout, few have managed to explain what it really feels like to fly a fast jet in the way that Bach does.

Scanning the heaving shelves in my office, many of the other titles in my collection are directly related to specific conflicts. “Saggitarius Rising” by Cecil Lewis is quite simply the best book I have read concerning World War I and Lewis narrates his own harrowing experiences in that conflict, the birth of air combat, quite brilliantly. World War II has of course provided a plethora of reading matter and it’s a tough task to pick just one, although Geoffrey Wellum’s “First Light” would be a great starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about life for a young RAF fighter pilot at that time. Brilliantly evocative, Wellum tells his story immaculately.

I only have one pilot’s account of the air war in Vietnam that I return to with any regularity – John Trotti’s “Phantom Over Vietnam.” Trotti certainly pulls no punches in this account and the sections which describe combat missions are vivid and, in places, quite shocking

Harrier pilots seem to have a particular penchant for publishing and I see that I have books by the likes of Sharkey Ward, Dave Morgan, Jerry Pook, Nick Richardson, Rob Lea and, bringing the life of this iconic jet right up to date, the excellent “Joint Force Harrier” by Cdr Adrian Orchard OBE. Indeed, we are blessed with a range of titles covering the modern end of military air ops including Ed Macey’s two brilliant books on flying and fighting in the AH-64 Apache and Mark Hammond’s highly commended “Immediate Response” which details Chinook operations in Afghanistan.

One of the most compelling titles however is “Vipers in the Storm” by Keith Rosencranz who flew the F-16 Fighting Falcon in Gulf War I. Not too many authors have gone to the lengths Rosencranz extends-to in describing the many demands of flying in to combat for the first time but, for those who find it interesting, much of the technicality involved too. “Vipers in the Storm” truly puts the reader ‘in the cockpit’ and it’s a fascinating read.

I’ve only really scratched the surface here with a few favourites but suffice to say I find it enriching, entertaining and educational to keep reading such titles and some of them have also been very useful for research purposes while working on GAR features! More than that though, they all strive to put someone like me in a position I have never been fortunate enough (bright enough!) to occupy.

In other news this week, well, it’s been another busy one. The first of the features from Yeovilton went live on Tuesday and the second one will appear next week. In between completing the third piece we have all been working on one or two other projects while Karl and I also travelled to RAF Cosford where I interviewed the Chief of the Staff, Sir Stephen Dalton.

Oh - we also saw James May's full size Airfix Spitfire!

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2009-11-13 - Gareth A
Your bookshelf must resemble mine Gareth! Although mine is more orientated towards rotary of course!
No self respecting military aviators collection would be complete without Chickenhawk- the true life story of a US helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Almost part of the rotary training syllabus!
Lots of Reading time coming up so will be able to recommend a few on my return!

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