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Test Pilots of the Jet Age (Hardback)

Men Who Heralded a New Era in Aviation

Aviation Military > Biographies P&S History > British History P&S History > By Century > 20th Century

By Colin Higgs, Bruce Vigar
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 184
Illustrations: 16 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526747754
Published: 2nd June 2021



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Today, as we board our flights to Adelaide, Zurich, and all points in between, we give little thought to the jet power that will take us there. But, this is only possible because just over 70 years ago a select band of British test pilots was prepared to risk all in the quest to fly further, faster and higher than ever before. Their quest was fraught with danger; disaster and death were never far away.

This book captures eleven of those stories as told by the pilots themselves – their words as to how they took British aviation to the forefront of a new era, the ‘Jet Age’. Britain’s aircraft industry was booming in the years immediately after the end of the Second World War and the demand for test pilots seemingly limitless as new aircraft types rolled off the drawing boards. Meteors, Vampires, Hunters, Comets, Victors, Vulcans and Harriers were some of the aircraft that became world-beaters. Today, these names and the role played by the test pilots in bringing these projects to fruition are all but forgotten.

The stories were filmed over a number of years and it is the edited transcripts of those interviews that form a unique and rare perspective on such a pivotal era in aviation. Most were veterans of the Second World War with illustrious service records. Now they faced new battles as they flew new airframes and engines to the limit and sometimes beyond. First, they had to conquer the ‘sound barrier’ which to many, scientists and the public alike, had assumed almost mythic status. Having done that, they were soon flying at twice the speed of sound, such was the rate of progress. It took discipline, technical know-how, an above average level of flying skill and according to some, a lack of imagination to make a good test pilot. Their stories are often insightful, always modest and often tinged with humour.

Featured in

Aeroplane - December 2021

Featured by

Royal Aeronautical Society

"Well worth the money!".

HeliData News and Helicopter International

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A really enjoyable book covering the early post war years of test pilots, detailing both the pilots and the aircraft types. Interesting facts made about the test flying including the handling and quirks of some of the experimental aircraft being tested.
I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in flying, as its a riveting read.

NetGalley, Kevin Stabler

'Highly readable book'.

Geoff Simpson, British Modern Military History Society

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A vital read for aviation enthusiasts. The book covers a number of famous and not-so-famous British test pilots at the dawn of the jet age. The well-known names include Peter Twiss. John Cunningham and Eric 'Winkle' Brown. The latter pilot being extraordinarily talented and holds, to this day, the world record for flying the most aircraft types (487). This record is unlikely ever to be broken.
The author eloquently writes about the dangerous technical transition from propeller-driven aircraft into the jet era. Many pilots were killed while testing new aircraft types - unfortunately discovering the unexpected, uncontrollable, aerodynamic characteristics of the designs.
I had the honour to meet John Farley, the Harrier test pilot. A fun & unassuming character and an excellent raconteur.
I really enjoyed reading the narrative sections from the pilots and was impressed with the respect that they all had for the design engineers.
The loss of the British aviation industry is a national tragedy.

NetGalley, Peter Coxall

A interesting collection of short biographies about a lot of unknown pioneers of the jet age in Britain.

NetGalley, Ron Baumer

About Colin Higgs

Colin Higgs has more than twenty-five years’ experience in the broadcast and home entertainment industries and for much of that time has co-produced, written and researched aviation documentaries together with Bruce Vigar of Leading Edge TV. Colin’s business, A Flying History, was created to make accessible the unique Peter Keating and John Stroud aviation photograph collections and Colin and Bruce's extensive archive of first-hand interviews with RAF veterans.

About Bruce Vigar

BRUCE VIGAR is a media professional with a career spanning over four decades. He has also had the privilege of interviewing a large number of veterans of conflicts in which they did far more in considerably less time. It is the latter that launched Bruce into writing when not producing and directing documentaries through his production company, LeadingEdgeTV Limited. Bruce lives in Kent with his wife, two adult children and three dogs.

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