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& Bullets

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


With reviews of books that cover these topics


Trials & Errors

Experimental UK Test Flying in the 1970s


Mike Brooke

The History Press,  May 2015

This is the third volume in Mike Brooke’s series of autobiographies covering his service career and after.  He was fortunate to catch the last period of widespread exciting work in the test flying arena – when MoD had a hunger for procurement (of leading edge technology). Mike went to the Empire Test Pilots Training School (it still quaintly retains that name) at Boscombe, after a career on Canberras and at CFS. Because he has already had published volumes covering these part s of his career, he dashes straight in to the ETPS phase – the reader is briskly left with no feel of his flying experience, let alone his education.


He describes well the rigours of that course and the characters he met – the chief ground instructor sounds like everyone’s least favourite school master rolled into one! Once into the flying phase the course introduces the students to as many unfamiliar airframes as possible. Brooke’s  views on the Buccaneer are interesting, at least for someone like me  who is fascinated by Blackburn’s products.


After  graduation Brooke is posted to RAE Farnborough, and we are treated to a history of that establishment. Which is odd, because most readers of this book will know a reasonable part of that history. Yet, on the other hand, there is no glossary, so the reader must surmise, as I did, that HMD is an acronym for Helmet Mounted Display. His part in the development of these gizmos and HUDs, are quite interesting.  His later work centres on trials for the radars that went on to equip the Jaguar, Tornado and Typhoon.


Again on the basis of right place, right time, his comments on the development of the ski jump for the Harrier are comical and fascinating. He also provides some insight into the failure of the Nimrod MR and AEW projects.


By the end of the book he has assembled a wide back catalogue of flying experiences so his comments on the F15, the recent cornerstone of the USAF, which he flies on one of his many overseas exchanges, are illuminating.


So there some moments of interest. Like many current and ex-servicemen, a career of writing in RAF speak (in Brooke’s case with the additional of TP speak), makes for a slightly stiff writing style. The book is not a page turner, but may have some appeal for those interested in what looks increasingly like the dying days of a vibrant UK aircraft manufacturing industry.

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