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Cold War Test Pilot (ePub)

Surviving Crash Landings and Emergency Ejections: From Fast-jets to Heavy Multi-Engine Aircraft

Aviation > Civil Aviation Aviation > Post-WWII Aviation Aviation > Royal Air Force Military > Post-WWII Warfare > Cold War Military > Post-WWII Warfare > Falklands

By Gp Capt Ron Burrows
Imprint: Air World
File Size: 22.2 MB (.epub)
ISBN: 9781399090711
Published: 30th November 2021


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The Falkland Islands had been invaded and a Task Force was already steaming south at full speed. On board the carriers were the Harriers that would provide essential aerial cover for the British troops and ships sent to re-capture the islands. They would be entering particularly hostile territory, and the type’s capabilities had urgently to be expanded and proved. This was a job that Ron Burrows and the test pilots of his elite Fighter Test Squadron at Boscombe Down were ready to take on.

From the 1960s through to the 1990s, Ron test-flew all of the RAF’s fast-jets of the era, in the process of which he survived two crash landings and two emergency ejections, as well as numerous other close shaves. A master of his craft, he rose to become the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment’s chief test pilot – and this is his remarkable story.

With four test flying tours under his belt and close-air-support missions flying Hunters in the Aden Emergency, Ron’s experiences extended throughout the critical final decades of the Cold War. Ron was a graduate of the US Navy’s test pilot school and in his long career he has flown an unusually broad range of US and UK aircraft from fast-jets to heavy multi-engine aircraft.

With his unrivalled knowledge and expertise, Ron is able to explain the methods, techniques, and demands of his profession, with many examples of what can and often does go wrong in aircraft development and testing. His descriptions of his near misses and catastrophic accidents are written with colour and candour. But he also tries to inform the reader about the skills required to fly and test fast-jets and about the development of cockpit displays and design, highlighting some of the issues and problems encountered in development and in operation. ‘If it could go wrong, it will go wrong’ could be the subtitle of this frank and witty account which flies along with the speed of one of those fast jets.

"A fascinating read, from a very different time".

Pilot magazine - September 2023

"You'll find near misses and catastrophic accidents, but also learn about the skills required to fly and test fast-jets, the problems and development of cockpit displays and designs."

Royal Air Forces Association - Air Mail, April - June 2023


"This one comes recommended as a genuinely good read."

4 Stars.

Aeroplane - April 2022

Test pilots are renowned for daring and their analytical minds but even more prominent is their sense of calm when faced with a dangerous situation. The author explains that the mindset is accepting that usually, “if something can go wrong it will go wrong!” And Ron had some interesting episodes during his long and distinguished career.

The author had a very interesting career both in the operational and test world but mainly the testing arena where he flew every RAF fast jet and 13 US Navy types while at US Navy Test Pilot School. After his illustrious 26 year RAF career he continued with civil aircraft instruction and later civilian test pilot instruction. This is a very easy and enjoyable read. Whether testing fast jets, flying Hunters in Aden, or instructing on Chipmonks, the author successfully keeps the reader enthralled. The author had some harrowing experiences with two ejections and many other emergencies. There is so much variety in the aircraft he flew and tested along with interesting insights into the procurement process of British military aircraft that this book is very unique and not one that this reviewer has encountered before. If you like reading about test pilots, test flying, and Cold War aviation then this is a book for you.

Todd Shugart - Aviation News

Article: Cold War test pilot to talk about extraordinary career

Northumberland Gazette

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Northumberland Gazette

The subtitle 'Surviving crash landings and emergency ejections: from fast-jets to heavy multi-engine aircraft' really does sum up this, the author's autobiography. When you've finished reading, you'll have to agree that he truly did 'do it all' and, better, that he relates even the most dramatic of the events that befell him in a perceptive, self-deprecating and totally engaging way. Burrows started his front-line career as an RAF pilot at Khormaksar, Aden on the Hunter, where he experienced his first 'Martin-Baker let-down' after an engine failure. His account of this ejection is as vivid and descriptive as any you'll encounter. Most of his flying, though, was as a test pilot, starting with an exchange posting to the US Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, where he had the misfortune of having toeject from an A-4B Skyhawk. There followed four tours at Boscombe Down, ending up as superintendent of test-flying and training. Needless to say during his time at Boscombe he flew pretty much every type the RAF had to offer. At the conclusion of his text, he reflects on the importance luck has played in his career.
This one comes recommended as a genuinely good read. Only occasionally does the author's recall fail him. Having worked on the requirements side of the EH101 helicopter, he notes that "versions of the Merlin continue in service today... including its use as a presidential VIP transport in the USA and India" Successful as the aircraft has been in other areas, those who work at the UK centre of helicopter excellence at Yeovil will remember with sadness that neither of these particular avenues came to fruition.

Denis J. Calvert, Aeroplane Magazine April 2022

Video review on Scale Modelling Now

Scale Modelling Now

"I recommend as another excellent account of flying during the Cold War, this time as a test pilot, but with interesting diversions beyond."

RAF Historical Society Journal

This offering from Group Captain Ron Burrows gives you an insight into the man and his career. Being lucky enough to be training this person in a new voluntary role, means that many of the stories related in this book have been given to me by the authors mouth, and despite that I still found the book an enjoyable read that is informative at what a career in the RAF could encompass during the golden years of the jet age. If you are ever in the Salisbury area of Wiltshire, and have a chance to visit the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection based in an old WW1 airfield, you may be lucky enough to meet this unassuming man, as he is also a volunteer there.

Read the full review here


There are not a lot of aviation memoirs from this time period. This one is excellent, covering the author's experience as a British test pilot. It is somewhat unique in that the author flew a very large variety of different aircraft types. The book provides a good selection of pictures too.

NetGalley, Sandra Hood

A fantastic account of the author's professional piloting career. From flying the very basic Chipmunk to test piloting the brand new Tornado (in the 1970s), the book covers details of each posting from fighting in Aden to flying a desk in the MoD.
A compelling read which is fascinating from cover to cover.
If you are interested in aviation then this book is a must for your bookshelf.
Highly recommended.

NetGalley, Kevin Stabler

I have a long standing interest in aviation and am currently a glider pilot. I have therefore read many of the memoirs of test pilots; this one is without doubt the best. I think it is worth reading if you have a more passing interest in aviation, simply because of the quality of the writing and the power of the story. I found it almost impossible to put down.

5 stars

Read the full review here

ARRSE (Army Rumour Service)

For those who, like me, have only a tacit level of understanding of a test pilot’s role, this book will be quite illuminating. Ron Burrows did not set out to become a test pilot and even through his career tried to get back to operational flying but clearly his mix of pilot skills, understanding of technology and analytical thinking are not common and as such the Military Establishment were determined to get the most out of their investment. Burrows documents the flight characteristics of the many aircraft he flew which, on its own, could be tedious but he manages to weave it into anecdotes of his life at different times so the stories are both entertaining and informative. Many of these death defying tales are told in such a “matter of fact” way it makes it almost sound like a job with slight risk but all within a relatively safe envelope. The truth, as we learn, is that the Test Pilot’s role is to define the edges of this envelope so that others can more safely operate. For the test pilot this means constantly living in the danger zone. Towards the end the Author recounts the high number of close friends and colleagues whose lives have been lost in flying accidents mostly due to pilot error. He says that this is rarely down to recklessness, rather understandable mistakes and errors of judgement at critical times. Of his own survival, he says this maybe down to “just plain luck” a statement packed with humility from a person in a profession which, above all, is deserving of bragging rights.
Aeroplane buffs, RAF enthusiasts and general Military readers will all enjoy reading this book which will enhance their understanding of aircraft types from the cold war period and the workings of the Military Establishment around that time.

NetGalley, Michael Neill

This is a great book, easy to read with a wide variety of interesting aviation stories. I am fortunate enough to know Ron as we have shared an aeroplane, are both Test Pilots and have both written books published by Pen and Sword (Check out ‘Test Pilot’ by Chris Taylor). Ron is an incredibly modest man which comes across well in his writing. He gives a comprehensive history of his aviation career from joining the RAF to fly Hunters in Aden, undertaking the Test Pilot course at the US Navy Test Pilot School and then going on to have three interesting tours as an RAF Test Pilot at Boscombe Down. He was lucky enough to be able to continue working as a test pilot for a while after retiring from the military and his experiences of meeting Argentinian pilots who flew in the Falklands Conflict is fascinating. The book is well written, especially when explaining the numerous close calls he had, and illustrated with 32 black and white photographs to support the text. I would strongly recommend the book to anyone interested in flight test and/or fast jets from the 70s and 80s.

Christopher Taylor

About Gp Capt Ron Burrows

Group Captain RON BURROWS AFC, FRAeS, JP, RAF (Ret’d) joined the RAF in 1962 and flew Hunter fighter/ground attack aircraft on close air support missions over the deserts and mountains of what is now Southern Yemen. In 1970, he graduated from the US Navy Test Pilots' School with a posting to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down. During his subsequent four test flying tours, he flight tested all the fast-jets and trainers of the time. He was the CO of the Fighter Test Squadron during the period of urgent flight trials that became necessary in support of the re-capture of the Falkland Islands, flight testing the VSTOL Harrier GR3 on the carrier-deck ski-jump and in-flight refuelling from the improvised Vulcan tanker. Following staff appointments in NATO and in the UK MoD, he was promoted to group captain in 1985 and became A&AEE's chief test pilot. He was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1976 and elected a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1987.

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