Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
From Jet Provost to Strikemaster
A definitive history of the basic and counter-insurgent aircraft at home and overseas
David Watkins Grub Street, 2017
This does what it says on the tin – it is a (very) definitive) guide to this stalwart of the RAF’s Training Command for so many years. As you might expect, the gestation from Hunting’s Piston Provost is given in some detail; the piston forerunner receiving a degree of praise I was not expecting. The gangly JP Mk1, with the smallest number of modifications from the piston version, was soon superseded by a slightly more attractive Mk2. It is of note that this successful series from Percival (later Hunting then BAe) started life as a private venture project (to meet OR 321).
The Mk1’s engine was an Armstrong-Siddeley Viper turbojet, originally an Australian design for a drone engine with an estimated useful life of only 10 hours! In its original form for the Provost it only gave 1640 lbs of static thrust, uprated to a barely capable 1750 lbs for the JP2. Throughout its service life it was known as the “Constant thrust, variable noise” machine, which gives a good idea of its power/weight ratio.
From the outset in its RAF service, the hierarchy wanted to explore its utility in providing all-through jet training – the service has been going round in (rolling) circles ever since!
Particularly in the early chapters there is a fair amount of overlap, largely between the narrative and accounts from various pilots. The book could have been made more concise and readable with some heavy-duty editing. Repetition possibly reaches its apogee in the discussion of Prince Charles’ training on the type – he was given two dedicated examples, which were wrapped in (metaphorical) cotton wool between his flights. In the early chapters mentioning the transition from piston Provost to the Mk1, there is strangely no mention of the bang seats, which would surely have been one of the key differences between the two models.
A chapter or two later comes a good explanation of why various aerodynamic tweaks were added to the JP5 – the addition of a slightly longer fuselage and a pressure cockpit did all sorts of things to the aerodynamics that the designers had not envisaged. From time to time there are glimpses of a more fun-packed RAF that now is drifting into distant memory. For example, the ‘Linton Gin’ formation team once performed an eleven-aircraft formation loop with the formation team of the Belgian Air Force at an ‘after-show’ event at a display at RAF Gaydon!
‘Idiot of the Book’ goes the owner of a flock of racing pigeon that set them off just over the hedge of RAF Dishforth, and brought down a JP3, nearly killing its crew. As is made clear in the book’s sub-title, it covers overseas sales and exploits of the type. There is therefore good coverage of the JP’s service in the Middle East, and some light is shed on the infamous airborne relief of the SAS and RA at Mirbat in the Oman.
Overall a thorough book that will appeal mainly to enthusiasts, who will relish the copious mentions of individual serials.
A 'zap' I still have from my (very limited) time of flying JPs at 1FTS at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. Not very PC!