Empire of the Clouds

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Empire of the CloudsI picked this book up on a whim – and because I’m a geek when it comes to aircraft. Between the end of World War II and the late ‘60s Britain built a lot of interesting aircraft. Most of them with a remarkable lack of commercial success. James Hamilton-Paterson’s book concentrates on military aircraft, the cover shows the big Avro Vulcan delta winged ‘V bomber’ which was designed to carry nuclear weapons, but only saw real action at the end of its life when it bombed the Argentinean forces on the Falkland Islands in 1982.

It’s the airliners which intrigued me, several of which I flew on as a small child. They included the first jet airliner, the Comet, and the big turboprop Britannia on which I made a number of flights. I must have been very young when I saw a Saunders Roe Princess fly over my grandparent’s house in Highcliffe-on-Sea down on the south coast of England. The Princess was a gigantic flying boat with no less than 10 engines although only six propellers. Only one of the three prototypes ever flew, making 46 flights totalling about 100 hours in the air. After the project was abandoned two of them sat for many years at Calshot Spit, which just happened to be very close to where my other grandparents lived, so I also remember seeing them there on several occasions. I liked Jonathan Glancey’s Guardian review of the book.

Howard Hughes in the Spruce Goose
My God, is that Howard Hughes?

Spruce Goose◄ Another giant flying boat, this is Howard Hughes’ ‘Spruce Goose,’ correctly the Hercules. I saw it and took these photographs while it was on display at Long Beach in Los Angeles in the 1980s. In 1993 it was moved north to McMinnville in Oregon (near Portland) where it now resides at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. The eight-engined Spruce Goose had a wingspan of 98 metres (321 feet) and made just one flight in 1947. The Princess, big though it was, was far smaller, the wingspan was only 67 metres (220 feet). That’s still bigger than a 747.