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The Boy Airman (Hardback)

An Absolute Stranger to Fear


By Richard Petty
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 189
Illustrations: 150
ISBN: 9781473849051
Published: 14th December 2015



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The life of many combatants in The Great War was often short and brutish. But there were choices for some. Taking to the air was an attractive alternative to the slime, stench and gore of the trenches. The prospect of flying in the Royal Navy, the Senior Service, Nelson's Navy, must have been irresistible to any adventurous teenager – the best aeroplanes on the best ships with the best sailors that ever existed – or so he might have been led to believe.

The Royal Naval Air Service was sorely tested, and not necessarily by the enemy. The casualties of the sea and its perils, and of accident and mechanical failure, were catastrophic. But this critical battle between young pilots in their infant flying machines and unpredictable events forged the pathway for our modern conceits of war – missiles, drones, giant aircraft carriers, weapons of space.

A hundred years ago a young pilot took illicit photographs with his pocket camera and left a personal account of his life at sea with his 'kite'. This book tells his story illustrated by his long-lost 'snaps'.

Biographies of common individuals in uncommon circumstances often provide the necessary micro-prospective needed to understand times of conflict. The Boy Airman is partly that.

Over the Front, Autumn 2016 – The Boy Airman – reviewed by David Layton

It is the second section that contains the real value since Hugh Petty had a small camera and, against contemporary regulations, took a number of photographs of his aircraft and the ships from which they flew. Many of those reproduced in this section are rare. I certainly have not seen them before. There is also a facsimile reproduction of the cover and two pages from his pilot’s log book. The words of his 1927 speech give a tantalisingly brief but interesting description of his wartime career as a pilot including basic training at Crystal Palace, flying training and culminating with operations flying Sopwith one-and-a-half-strutters from Chatham, Inflexible and Marlborough. The descriptions of how sorties were flown spotting for the battleships’ big guns and the surrender of the German High Sea Fleet leave one wanting to find out more.

Australian Naval Institute - David Hobbs

As featured in

Yorkshire Gazette and Herald

'… this book, and the extraordinary photographs it contains, stands as a unique record of the early days of naval flying, and the terrible risks the young men of the Royal Naval Air Service took.'

The York Press

It is an extremely engaging retelling of a part of aviation history that is often overlooked.

FlyPast - March 2016

As featured in

Telegraph & Argus
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