The Little Book of Aviation

The Little Book of Aviation

by Norman Ferguson


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A fascinating mixture of facts, figures, and stories, this is a must-have compendium of all things aeronautical

Humorous, baffling, and astounding aviation stories are collected here, from the pioneering days of the Wright Brothers to the present day. It covers everything from great milestones, famous names who have served, and the greatest of aircraft icons. Readers will learn about phantom pilots and aircrafts, the origins of plane spotting, unusual aircraft names, great feats, enduring mysteries; lucky escapes, and great aircrafts in the movies.  It also includes a glossary of slang terminology. The trivia is limitless and will appeal to everyone, whether one needs help telling a Spitfire from a Messerschmitt, or knowing a Spitfire I from a Spitfire II!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752488370
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 09/01/2013
Series: Little Book Of
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 617,369
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Norman Ferguson is the author of Chronologia and The Glasgow Book of Days.

Read an Excerpt

The Little Book of Aviation

By Norman Ferguson

The History Press

Copyright © 2013 Norman Ferguson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-9285-8




120 – 175 – 200 – 852:

The distances in feet of four successive flights made on the most notable date in aviation: 17 December 1903. On this day, Orville and Wilbur Wright took the 'giant leap' that led to a revolution in transportation. The brothers from Ohio had worked on developing gliders before moving on to creating powered machines. On the morning of the 17th, on the beach at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, Orville took his position on top of the lower wing of the Wright Flyer. With a photographer standing by, the biplane moved off down metal tracks before lifting off. Orville described the flight as 'exceedingly erratic' with the aircraft difficult to control and subject to large pitching movements. Nonetheless, it flew for twelve seconds, enough to complete the first powered and sustained flight by a heavier-than-air flying machine. Flights continued but on the fourth and last flight of the day, which lasted almost a minute, the machine hit the ground heavily and became damaged. While it was being retrieved, winds caused further damage. It never flew again. It was repaired for display and after a period in the Science Museum in London was returned to America. It is displayed in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, alongside Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St Louis, the sound barrier-breaking Bell X-1 and Apollo 11's command module Columbia. Apollo 11, in fact, carried small pieces of fabric and wood from the Wright Flyer to the moon.


The first supersonic airliner was not Concorde, as might be thought. In 1961 another type was first to break the sound barrier. Flying from the location for so many aviation firsts – Edwards Air Force Base in California – a four-engined Douglas DC-8 was put into a dive from 52,000ft. The intentional test flight saw the airliner reach Mach 1.012 (660mph) before pulling up. No harm or damage was done and the actual aircraft later entered service with Canadian Pacific Air Lines.


The Scottish county of East Lothian is known for its scenic golf courses, historic castles and one of the biggest gannet colonies in the world at the Bass Rock. What's less known is its place in aviation history. In the early hours of 2 July 1919 the biggest airship in Britain left its hangar at the airfield at East Fortune. The 643ft-long craft soon took off and headed west. After a journey of four and a half days that encountered poor weather and engine problems the dirigible landed in the USA. The R34 had completed the first east-to-west aerial crossing of the Atlantic. It touched down with approximately one hour's fuel left.

Along the way two stowaways had been discovered, a kitten called Wopsie and a human called William Ballantyne – a crew member who had been removed to make room for an American observer but didn't want to miss out. He was found over water, otherwise he would have been given a parachute and sent homewards. A parachute was used by one of the officers who jumped to help the American reception personnel who were unused to dealing with an airship of that size.

The crew were fêted by the people of New York, and met the American President Woodrow Wilson. After several days of being entertained and re-equipping the airship, it was time to return. The journey home encountered no major issues. The R34 was scrapped in 1921 following an accident. In the Museum of Flight that now stands on the East Fortune airfield site, the airship's nose cone, in the shape of a heraldic crest, can be seen.


Air Balloon Tavern, Bristol
Airfield Tavern, Yeovil
Airport Tavern, Bristol
Dambusters Inn, Scampton
Happy Landing, Stanwell
Memphis Belle, Westbrook
Red Arrow, Lutterworth
The Air Balloon, Birdlip
The Airfield, Hatfield
The Airman, Feltham
The Aviator, Cheltenham
The Barnes Wallis, North Howden
The Concorde, Rainham
The Douglas Bader, Martlesham Heath
The Flying Fortress, Bury St Edmunds
The Tiger Moth, Brickhill
The Vulcan Arms, Sizewell Beach
Whittle Inn, Hucclecote


Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, Poland, Rhodesia, South Africa, USA.

Countries who provided Allied aircrew that took part in the Battle of Britain.


ack-ack – anti-aircraft fire

angels – altitude, e.g. 'angels one five' = 15,000ft

Archie – anti-aircraft fire

bandit – enemy aircraft

beat up – fly low-level over an airfield

prang – a crash

crate – aircraft

deck – the ground

drink – area of water

flap – situation involving panic

goon – German prisoner-of-war guard

kite – aircraft

Mae West – inflatable life vest

piece of cake – easy thing to do

scramble – rapid take-off

squirt – burst of machine-gun fire

Tail End Charlie – rear gunner

wizard kite – great aeroplane


William Gilbert Grace is regarded as one of the greatest cricketers ever to have played the game. Easily identified by his bushy beard and portly physical shape he was the most famous sportsman of his day. 'W.G.' ran up a long list of achievements, including 2,876 first-class wickets as a bowler and 54,896 runs with the bat. He was the first to score a hundred hundreds. Grace played cricket for forty-eight years and his last game was in July 1914 when he was 66 years old. His life without cricket was not to last too long, however. He became irritated with the Zeppelin raids that were flying above his Kent home and it was reported he would show his annoyance by shouting and shaking his fist at them. On the last Zeppelin raid of 1915, on the night of 13/14 October, fifty-five people were killed in London and the south-east of England. Grace suffered a heavy fall. He died of a heart attack ten days later.


Characters in the film:

Charlie, Chipper, Cougar, Goose, Hollywood, Iceman, Jester, Maverick, Merlin, Slider, Sprawl, Stinger, Sundown, Viper, Wolfman.

US Navy F-14 aircrew, Top Gun instructors and 'MiG' pilots involved in making of the film:

Bio, Boa, Bozo, Circus, Curly, D-Bear, Flex, Hollywood, Horse, Jambo, Jaws, Loner, Organ, Player, Rabbi, Rat, Secks, Silver, Sobs, Squire, Sunshine, Tex, Too Cool, Vida.


Rules of the Air:

'When flying in the air the pilot must obey certain rules like the motorist on the road who must keep to one side. If an aeroplane has to wait over an aerodrome, whether for room to land or for another aeroplane to join it in the air, it must circle to the left all the time. If it cannot wait, it must make a distress signal – perhaps fire a pistol – and it is then allowed to land.

'The pilot always moves on a left-hand turn unless he is more than 2 miles from the aerodrome, or more than 6,000 feet above the ground. The faster aircraft give way to the slower ones. When meeting or overtaking in the air, each aeroplane must alter course to the right, and no aircraft must dive to pass. No aeroplane must pass within 200 yards of any other and in the case of regular air routes this distance is 300 yards.'

(The Book About Aircraft, published 1933)


The de Havilland company built a variety of aircraft including the 'Wooden Wonder' Mosquito during the war and then later the world's first jet airliner, the Comet. In the pre-Second World War days, however, it was known for its range of light aircraft, particularly those named after a certain species of insect:

Cirrus Moth
Fox Moth
Genet Moth
Giant Moth
Gipsy Moth
Hawk Moth
Hermes Moth
Hornet Moth
Leopard Moth
Menasco Moth
Metal Moth
Moth Major
Moth Minor
Puss Moth
Swallow Moth
Tiger Moth

The Luftwaffe pilots flew many more missions than their Allied counterparts. The highest-scoring Allied pilot was a Russian, Ivan Kozhedub, who shot down sixty-two enemy aircraft. Kozhedub flew 330 missions, compared to Hartmann's 1,400+.


In March 1912, Heinrich Kubis became the first flight attendant when he served passengers on the German airship Schwaben. He went on to serve as chief steward on the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg, and was on board that ill-fated airship when it caught fire in 1937. Kubis managed to escape after first helping his passengers evade the inferno. He sat on a window ledge until the burning airship descended close enough to the ground to allow them all to jump. Kubis had also evaded injury when working on the Schwaben when it caught fire in 1912.


Of all the warplanes that Britain has produced, it is Supermarine's Second World War fighter that is the best loved and most easily identified. Its slim elliptical wings and neat fuselage, ending with a smooth, rounded tail – all pulled through the air by the Merlin engine with its classic engine sound – make the Spitfire stand out from its contemporaries. Its legendary position was not always assured. The design was difficult to produce and caused the pre-war Air Ministry to consider cancellation. In the manner of many other high-tech projects, it was over budget. Fortunately the project was allowed to proceed.

The aircraft had a narrow undercarriage track that made it more problematic to land than the sturdier Hawker Hurricane. Come the two planes' 'finest hour' – the Battle of Britain – there were considerably more Hurricanes in squadron service than Spitfires (thirty squadrons had Hurricanes while only nineteen were equipped with Spitfires). However, it was the sleeker fighter the press and public came to know better. Luftwaffe pilots who were shot down by Hurricanes preferred their conqueror to be a Spitfire as they had a higher regard for it, tasked as it was to shoot down German fighters, while the slower Hurricane was directed to attack bombers.


Since 1982 each aircraft operated by the RAF's XV Squadron assigned the code letter 'F' has also been marked with the words 'MacRobert's Reply'. This tradition goes back to the Second World War, when two Short Stirling heavy bombers were marked this way. The MacRobert in question was Lady Rachel MacRobert of Douneside, Aberdeenshire, and her 'reply' was due to having lost all three sons in flying incidents: two during the war. Roderic was a Hurricane pilot killed while on an airfield attack in the Middle East and Iain was lost while searching the North Sea for downed airmen. Lady MacRobert wrote a cheque for £25,000 to 'buy a bomber to carry on their work in the most effective way'. She later sent a further £20,000 to buy four Hurricanes. Lady MacRobert also gave a country house as a leave centre for RAF personnel.


'For the purpose in making some tests in dropping bombs on to warships, at Garden City, New York, Mr Clifford B. Harmon fitted a novel "gun" to his Farman biplane. It consisted of a steel tube placed vertically, the lower end being closed by a hinged door. An ingenious arrangement of mirrors shows the operator exactly when the tube is pointing directly to the object he wishes to strike, and by merely pressing a button the door is released, and the bomb drops to its mark.'

(Flight magazine, 3 September 1910)


Ten of the books available on why aircraft crash:

1 Why Planes Crash – An Accident Investigator Fights for Safe Skies

2 Black Box: Aircrash Detectives – Why Air Safety Is No Accident

3 The Black Box: All-New Cockpit Voice Recorder Accounts of In-Flight Accidents

4 Beyond the Black Box: The Forensics of Airplane Crashes

5 Air Disasters: Dramatic Black Box Flight Recordings

6 Air Disasters: The Truth Behind the Tragedies

7 Aviation Disasters: The World's Major Civil Airliner Crashes Since 1950

8 Military Aviation Disasters: Significant Losses Since 1908

9 Early Aviation Disasters: The World's Major Airliner Crashes Before 1950

10 Snakes in the Cockpit: Images of Military Aviation Disasters

Black boxes are not black but painted in high-visibility markings, usually orange and white, to aid their location following an incident. Their name reputedly derives from one of the earliest flight recorders, which marked an image on scrolling photographic film, deviating according to changes in altitude, speed etc. The photographic process required absolute darkness inside the box, hence 'black', so the theory goes.


The early summer of 1982 saw British aircraft in combat with their counterparts from Argentina. Far from the South Atlantic, another aerial encounter was to claim a 'kill', albeit an unintended one. An RAF Phantom from 92 Squadron, based in Germany, was scrambled as part of a tactical exercise. The fighter was carrying live weapons. During a combat air patrol two RAF Jaguars were detected and pursued. The Phantom slid in behind one of them and the pilot went through the procedures required to launch a Sidewinder heat-seeking missile. Pulling the trigger, the last thing the pilot expected to see was an actual missile leave his aircraft and streak towards the Jaguar up ahead. Within seconds the Sidewinder exploded causing catastrophic damage. Luckily the Jaguar pilot was quickly alerted to his situation by his flight leader and he ejected immediately, landing without injury.

An inquiry found that the Phantom's master armament switch should have had a piece of tape covering it, to prevent inadvertent operation. In the heat of the moment the pilot had gone through the drill forgetting his aircraft was carrying live missiles. The Phantom pilot and his navigator were both court-martialled.


The Civilian Aviation Authority collected figures in 2010 on which types of birds were most involved in bird strikes:

Gulls 297
Swallows 165
Skylarks 93
Swifts 81
Wood pigeons 71
Pigeons 70
Kestrels 49
Starlings 49
Meadow pipits 43
Rooks 38

Types included: Common Gull, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Great Black-headed Gull and 'Gull (unspecified)'.


'We are safely on the other side of the pond. The job is finished.'

Lieutenant Commander Albert Read, US Navy, pilot of Curtiss NC-4 flying boat, after first aerial crossing of the Atlantic, May 1919.


The first successful supersonic ejection involving a live test subject took place in 1962. The test pilot chosen for this landmark event wasn't selected from an air force squadron, but from a zoo: it was a bear named Yogi. This specific species was chosen as a bear's internal body structure resembles that of a human's. The test, which took place at 35,000ft, was designed to prove the effectiveness of an enclosed escape capsule fitted in the American B-58 Hustler nuclear bomber. Yogi survived her forced ejection into the 870mph slipstream and subsequent eight-minute descent to the ground, although she was later subjected to an autopsy.


'Enid' is the name for part of the Red Arrows' formation. The world-renowned RAF Aerobatic Team fly nine Hawk trainer jets and while they fly formations that include all aircraft of the team at times, they often split into smaller components. The front five form Enid. When flying as a nine-ship the Arrows have flown these formations: Diamond Nine, Big Nine, Card, Tango, Big Vixen, Corkscrew, Goose, Apollo, Vixen, Nine Arrow, Eagle, Fred and Concorde.


Designed as a civilian passenger aeroplane, the Douglas DC-3 first flew in 1935. It was originally known as the DST – the Douglas Sleeper Transport – equipped with fourteen sleeping berths and a honeymoon suite. It became a conventional airliner and was then adapted for military service. Almost 2,000 were used by the RAF to deliver supplies and drop parachutists on D-Day and at Arnhem. Over 10,000 DC-3s were built and some continue to be operated over eighty years after the type's first flight. The last scheduled passenger service to fly the DC-3 is operated in Canada by Buffalo Airways. Renowned British test pilot John Farley wrote: 'I consider it to have been the world's first truly great aeroplane.'


'It's practically standing still now. They've dropped ropes out of the nose of the ship, and they've been taken a hold of down on the field by a number of men ... The back motors of the ship are just holding it just, just enough to keep it from ... it burst into flames! It burst into flames, and it's falling, it's crashing! Watch it! Watch it, folks! Get out of the way! Get out of the way! Get this, Charlie! Get this, Charlie! It's fire – and it's crashing! It's crashing terrible! Oh my, get out of the way, please! It's burning and bursting into flames, and the ... and it's falling on the mooring mast and all the folks agree that this is terrible, this is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world ... Oh, the humanity and all the passengers screaming around here ... I'm going to step inside where I cannot see it ... I'm gonna have to stop for a minute because I've lost my voice. This is the worst thing I've ever witnessed.'


Excerpted from The Little Book of Aviation by Norman Ferguson. Copyright © 2013 Norman Ferguson. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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