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Lightnings to Spitfires (Hardback)

Memoirs of an RAF Fighter Pilot and Former Officer Commanding the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

Aviation > Aircraft > Spitfires & Hurricanes Aviation > Aviation Biography & Memoirs Aviation > Royal Air Force Colour Books Military > Memoirs

By Sqn Ldr Clive Rowley MBE
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 344
Illustrations: 50 colour & black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399015622
Published: 20th October 2021


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For forty-four years, Clive Rowley flew with the Royal Air Force and for thirty-one of those years he specialised as an air defence fighter pilot. Such was his love of fast fighter aircraft that, in order to stay flying, he transferred to Specialist Aircrew terms of service, relinquishing any chance of further promotion above his rank of squadron leader.

During those years Clive flew Lightnings, Hawks and Tornado F.3s but, perhaps more intriguingly, for eleven years he flew Hurricanes and Spitfires with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF), the RAF’s, if not the world’s most famous ‘warbird’ display team, which he ultimately led and commanded. Many readers will have watched him, perhaps unknowingly, as he flew these iconic aircraft, often alongside the Lancaster, at air shows and large-scale commemorations around the UK and Europe.

During the Cold War Clive flew the BAC Lightning from Gütersloh in Germany and in the UK, becoming an expert in the art of air combat in the process. Then for sixteen years he flew the Tornado F.3 as the RAF moved into expeditionary operations.

Packed with humorous and often hair-raising anecdotes, but also revealing the shock and sorrow he felt at the deaths of friends and colleagues, this book is a highly detailed account of life as a fighter pilot in the RAF in the last three decades of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Clive is open about the fears he sometimes felt in this dangerous world and how he allayed them to continue flying for more than four decades. This book is illustrated with wonderful photographs from his time on the front line as well as with the BBMF, many of which have never been published before.

If you have ever wondered what it is like to fly supersonic jet fighters, like the Lightning and the Tornado F.3, or iconic ‘warbirds’, such as the Hurricane and Spitfire, Clive Rowley brings you into those cockpits and shares his experiences.

This is a delightful account of one man's RAF flying career over more than 40 years, to be enjoyed by the aviation enthusiast and the more general reader.

4 Stars.

Aeroplane - January 2023

ALL aeronautical enthusiasts will have read and have on their shelves those classic aviation autobiographies, “Sagittarius Rising” by Cecil Lewis, “The Big Show” by Pierre Closterman, Heinz Knokke’s “I Flew for the Fuhrer” and Johnny Johnson’s “Wing Leader” and not forgetting Gibson’s epic, “Enemy Coast Ahead”. To close the Cold War gap in your library my recommendation goes to Clive Rowley’s “Lightnings to Spitfires.”

His autobiography ranges across his flying career from his days as an ATC Cadet ending with him flying them on air experience flights from RAF Cranwell. It’s an epic journey and will shatter many myths and illusions we groundlings have about being a fighter pilot. It also explains why the RAF has always been the best Air Force in the world and remains so to this day.

Intertwined with Clive’s story are some very clinical analyses of the aircraft he has flown, their strengths and their weaknesses. For me his review of the Tornado F3 is a masterpiece I have not seen since being present at a lecture by Jeffrey Quill on the Spitfire.

Clive gives a great insight into the problems of operating very high-performance fighter aircraft on the front line and of the family pressures involved. Anecdotes on preparing for the First Gulf War, the Falklands and the sadly regular loss of friends and colleagues give a somewhat harrowing edge to his story.

Lightnings to Spitfires will give the reader a very clear picture into the life of the RAF, its unique esprit de corps, its operations and development of its aircraft, which I have never read before between the same covers of one book.

The final section ends his story with an in-flight conversion of a Grob Tutor from a three to a two bladed flying machine. My only comment having experienced a similar excitement is Clive’s call sign should have been “Iceman”.

I highly recommend this book which will fill a great gap in the reader’s knowledge of air affairs in the late years of the Cold War and its aftermath. Finally, a comment on Clive’s last and legendary flight with the BBMF, yes, he did pass through the gap in the boundary trees, now known as “the Rowley Gap” and did those floodlights wobble during his flypasts? Yes, they did, I know because I was there!

Newsletter for the Metheringham Airfield Visitor Centre newsletter ‘ZN News’

"Much meat for the enthusiast, researcher or historian to digest."

Railway & Canal Historical Society - Air Transport Group Newsletter No 61 - April 2022

Featured in

RAF Memorial Flight Official Club newsletter - October 2021

About Sqn Ldr Clive Rowley MBE

SQUADRON LEADER CLIVE ROWLEY MBE, RAF (Retd.) served with the Royal Air Force for a total of forty-five years. In full-time service he flew continuously as a pilot from 1971 to 2006 and was still flying fast-jets when he was 52 years old. As a fighter pilot with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Clive displayed the unit’s Spitfires and Hurricanes for eleven years up to 2007. Nine years of flying as a volunteer reservist followed, completing a period in which Clive accumulated over 8,500 hours, all in aircraft which he ‘could turn upside down’. During his RAF service, Clive also commanded the Lightning Training Flight and was the Officer Commanding the BBMF. Since retiring, Clive has become a respected military aviation historian and writer.

Perfect Partner

Fast Jets to Spitfires A Cold War Fighter Pilot's Story (Hardback)

How often have you glanced skywards at the sound of a passing aircraft and wondered what it would be like to fly one of those gleaming metal machines? Or admired the skill and the daring of the fighter pilot swooping down upon his enemy in the awe-inspiring, unrivalled elegance of a Spitfire? Ron Lloyd has had the experience of flying the majestic propeller-driven aircraft of the Second World War as well as the roaring, sound-barrier-breaking jets of the Cold War – and in this exciting book, he places the reader in the cockpit, describing what it really feels like to be sitting at the controls…

By Ron Lloyd

Click here to buy both titles for £37.50
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