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& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.


With reviews of books that cover these topics


Phantom Boys

Richard Pike (ed.)

Grub Street, 2015

The Phantom was a stop-gap procurement by the British MoD, but nonetheless went on to have a relatively illustrious career in air defence and ground attack (and as a Naval utility fighter). Many of its pilots had been previously been on the Lightning, and hence more than one story in this book concerns how these supermen coped with being told what to do by someone in the back seat! (The Mighty ‘Toom being a two seater). The book has a punchy start, in that chapter one features a crew ejection. A few pages later, Roger Walmsley was surely on some peculiar medication when he wrote: “I experienced unforeseen, strange emotions as the genesis before us seemed to arouse an awakened appreciation of our surrounds…..”.


Soon after there is evidence of lax editing: a story is repeated that has already been told, and Steve Gyles talks of a “dislocated coxis.” Even without the benefit of biology o-level, it seems to me he is talking about his coccyx!  


There are many hair-raising tales in this tome, and some must surely have already made it in years gone by into Air Clues, the RAF’s esteemed air safety magazine. An air intake blank missed on a pre-flight inspection being high up that list. Another tale to make an armchair pilot cringe is the ground attack run on  the Otterburn Range where the pull-out was delayed until height could be measured in inches. Richard Pike has included a few of his own stories, and his fevered style grates a touch, and he is overly fond of “commenced” – a word that should be banned from any book in the English language! I also suspect he has rewritten some of the efforts of his fellow contributors (as he may have done with the Lightning and Hunter titles). Apologies if I am off target on that one.


The final chapter covers the Queen’s Birthday flypast of 1978 that shows RAF Wattisham in its pomp. Very nostalgic given how relatively quiet it is now, with just Apaches to wake the songbirds. Another minor niggle in the appendix – RAF Honington most definitely did not close in 1966.


I think the Phantom takes the prize in recent RAF service for requiring the most engineering input per flying hour (something like 20/1 I recall). It was also rather an incontinent beast, leaking fluids when out on the pan. Hence it is surprising that there are no contributions from engineers in this title, and the aircraft’s needy needs are only alluded to in passing.  


Overall another good “Boys” title – proving that the fighter/ground attack boys have the best tales (or is that the most vivid imaginations?!) However I suspect a Canberra Boys title would make a good read – plenty of dodgy asymmetric training episodes and some quite hush-hush work. Not that I have seen Canberra Boys in Grub Street’s forthcoming schedule.



as flown by the Luftwaffe

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