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Forty-Seven Years Aloft: From Cold War Fighters and Flying the PM to Commercial Jets (Hardback)

A Pilot's Remarkable Story During the Golden Era of British Aviation

Aviation British History Colour Books Royal Air Force 20th Century

By Brian Burdett
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 382
Illustrations: 32
ISBN: 9781526753038
Published: 19th June 2019



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London-born Brian Burdett had only one career objective – to be a pilot. By the time he touched down on his last flight, Brian had flown more than twenty-five different types of aircraft both for the RAF and a variety of famous commercial airlines.

It all began for Brian, as it has for so many, with the Air Cadets, flying Tiger Moths. He obtained his civil license, and six months later he was accepted into the RAF. The year was 1954.

With the RAF he graduated from Piston Provost trainers, to the de Havilland Vampire and eventually the Hawker Hunter. It was to fly Hunters that Brian was posted to 257 (Burma) Squadron at Wattisham in Suffolk, where the jets were frequently scrambled to intercept Soviet intruders in the dark days of the Cold War.

His RAF career developed further with a transfer to Transport Command where Brian could fly the planes he loved the best – the big jets. After training on Handley Page Hastings, Brian was given the chance to fly the famous de Havilland Comet. With 216 Squadron, flying high above the ceiling for commercial aircraft, Brian flew the long-distance routes between the RAF bases around the world, through the Middle East, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and down to South Africa and Australasia. This included taking personnel to Woomera and Christmas Island nuclear testing sites.

After a period as a trainer at Cranwell, Brian became the youngest four-jet captain in the world. He then flew VIPs around Europe in the RAF’s VC10s, his passengers included the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, among other dignitaries. Brian eventually turned to the commercial world, flying Falcons, VC 10s, Tristars and every type of Boeing 747, for a variety of airlines.

His adventures are legion. From a double engine failure on take-off and still managing to land safely, to losing control in cloud and levelling off feet from the ground, to a mid-air near miss with an American aircraft that no-one knew was there, to spotting a strange object that remains unidentified to this day.

Brian’s last flight was into Los Angeles in an Airbus 340, in December 2000. He had 22,500 hours in his log book, after forty-seven years aloft.

A fascinating career in military aviation and commercial aviation spanning 47 years. This book could be the story of many a pilot through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s – Highly Recommended.

Read the full review here


The amazing biopic of Brian Burdett, who spent the best part of his adult life in the air flying a whole range of different aircraft and serving his country in the Royal Air Force before becoming a commercial airline pilot.

Books Monthly

20 minute author interview with presenter Bill Padley/mid morning show ‘ Let’s Talk’, click here to listen

Talk Radio Europe, 12th July 2019

It's an excellent book, a memoir covering Brian's years at school, involvement with the ATC in which he got a flying scholarship, entry to the RAF and his career there before a new one in civil aviation. His account of his flying life includes many anecdotes, amusing or sad.

The de Havilland Aeronautical Technical School, Summer 2019

About Brian Burdett

For London-born Brian Burdett his flying career began, as it did for so many, with the Air Cadets, with which he was flying Tiger Moths by the age of just fourteen. Brian joined the RAF in 1954, the start of a flying career which spanned the next forty-seven years. In this period, he flew fast jets such as the Vampire and Hunter, before switching to four-engine transports. After a period as a trainer at the RAF College Cranwell, Brian became the youngest four-jet captain in the world. Brian’s last flight was into Los Angeles in an Airbus 340, in December 2000.

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