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Jarrod Cotter
This is very much a book for the specialist rather than the general reader. It sets out to give an idea of what flying the Spitfire was like: looking at a number of marks of this outstanding aircraft. The core of the book is seven chapters; one per mark. Each follows a standard format. First comes a brief comment on the aircraft from Jeffrey Quill, the Supermarine test pilot who flew every single mark and variant of the aircraft. Next follow the pilot’s notes for that mark, with the chapter completed with remarks on the handling of that aircraft, often from contemporary pilots who fly the aircraft in displays. Each chapter is fleshed out with some superb photography of the Spitfire. The practical problem with this is that the pilot’s notes can become a little repetitive.

There are a number of other chapters and appendices. One chapter covers the early flight testing of the prototype, another the author’s actual experience of flying in a dual control Spitfire. But the standout of these chapters covers John Gillespie Magee’s magnificent poem ‘High Flight’ about the joys of flying the Spitfire.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

The appendices cover some more Spitfire related documentation, a description of the planning and execution of a typical display fight and – a real bonus – one on the female ferry pilots who delivered Spitfires to the front-line units.

The book is readable enough – and definitely of interest of aviation aficionados – but I can’t help but think that the author and publisher have missed a trick. Move the appendix about female ferry pilots into the main chapters, add a chapter about the challenges of maintaining these now ageing aircraft in flying condition, add an example combat report into each chapter about a specific mark and I suspect it would have been more attractive to the general reader.

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