The Big Book Of Flight by Rowland White (book review).

May 11, 2014 | By | Reply More

Author Rowland White admits from the start to having a love of flight in all of its forms. With this book, ‘The Big Book Of Flight’, he explores its history, mechanics and anything that takes his fancy, which is quite a lot. He claims it’s not comprehensive, just flicking the pages made me feel like there’s a lot of useful information here which is always a good sign. Unintentionally, a lot of the extra information can be found in the footnotes to the many illustrations.


There was so much I learnt or had to be reminded of. Charles Lindberg wasn’t the first pilot to travel across the Atlantic, although he is the most recognised. He only from New York to Paris where as US Navy Lieutenant Comander Reade did his flight from Newfoundland to Plymouth in 1919 eight years before Lindberg, so it’s all a matter of distance and tail wind.

Seeing the disused insignias of earlier air forces up to the 1950s, a few things struck me. Mostly, how many used the target motif and it becomes very obvious why Finland and Latvia changed theirs. The insignias after this period show a lot more circular choices which made me think that they’re selected because they take less space in that shape.

The changes in the phonetic alphabet causes all kinds of political ramifications when countries are used to represent letters.

It was sheer delight seeing the evolution of airline food and how they were fed on-board. Cutlery being changed from metal to plastic was largely because of weight than being used as weapons. Along with this, also came the on-board toilets but it does make me wonder how passengers could have lasted without them regardless of food.

The scale of a variety of aeroplanes compared to the airships is very revealing, although I wish it had been shown in age order. Likewise, the visuals to show the various species that planes have been named after and the number of aircraft built. The latter one is especially useful because you can which has the biggest circle. The list of aircraft nicknames is more list-like but still a handy checklist if your stories need a name authenticity.

The glide ratios of how far a plane can travel without engines compared to a glider shows how much weight than wings has to do with it. Equally, the various heights aircraft have flown is also revealing.

There are a lot of things I didn’t know. Pilots are only allowed to use injector seats twice because of the damage caused to their spines. Seeing which dials on an aircraft’s dashboard to pay attention to will make you think although I do wonder why White didn’t look at HUDs, too, although I suspect they are very similar.

I should point out that not only aeroplanes are covered, but also hovercraft and helicopters. For both of these, there are designs to show how to make your own so you can see the principles in action and wow your sprogs.

I do wish the demonstrations of lift, drag, thrust and gravity for aeroplanes and helicopters had been put side by side for comparison but at least they are in the same book and shows why the latter is slower but more manoeuvrable.

Seeing which countries design and make their own aircraft could have been intensified by using the circles approach as to how many of each was made per country because it would have indicated how they build (sic) from each other. Interestingly, both the USA and Canada are noted for building flying saucers. There is also a lot of information about aircraft that never got past the prototypes as well.

Some things I wish were included would be an index but occasionally, things just turn up and if you remember they are there, then a page flick will show them there, like the Aurora getting its own two pages, even if it’s not officially out there. White gives two pages for super-heroes who can fly but I wish he had focused on their actual exotic vehicles that can, that way we’d have had Fury’s air-car, SHIELD’s helicarrier (although it is mentioned elsewhere), the Avengers’ Quinjet, the Fantastic Four’s Fantasticar, Batman’s Batplane,  and Nite-Owl’s Owlship just to mention a few of the important ones. Strictly speaking, Dr. Manhattan levitated but he never actually flew under his own power on Earth.

This is a bewitching book. Some of the comparison graphics made me wish for a really comprehensive book but this one is still pretty close and will certainly prepare you with a lot of knowledge that you would really want to know both in the real and fictional worlds of aircraft and I am glad to have on my bookshelf.

GF Willmetts

May 2014

(pub: Bantam Press/Transworld. 320 page illustrated large softcover. Price: £15.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-593-07305-6)

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Category: Books, Culture, Science

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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