Cold War Test Pilot (Hardback)
Surviving Crash Landings and Emergency Ejections: From Fast-jets to Heavy Multi-Engine Aircraft
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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.
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.NetGalley, Michael Neill
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.