Harald Penrose was chief test pilot at Westland Aircraft Ltd from 1931 to 1953 and his flying experience spanned man-carrying kites before the First World War to early jet fighters and helicopters. With lyrical prose matching that of Laurie Lee, he provides pen sketches of almost unsurpassed beauty. In describing his early flying in the few days after his first solo flight, he writes:
‘Flight succeeded flight, and assurance grew, and my climbs reached higher. Rising in great circles, the sun would throw the shadow of my head alternately on each lower wing, and cast on the drum-tight fabric of their surface the silhouette of struts and wires. As the world of green sank into remoteness, a universe of space, brilliant with light, became my long-dreamed heritage. This sense of breathless discovery was like opening a book of wisdom written in a strange, entrancing language of sunlit, cloud-patterned hills, and valleys that seemed to be imbued with the mystery of life as though some languorous spirit dwelt in their folds.’
Perhaps the most dramatic chapter in the book is ‘Winged Pegasus’ where he describes the altitude test in a two-seater Houston-Westland. The aim of the test was to ascertain if it could reach the height to fly over Mount Everest. The test took place over the south coast of England on a sunny December day in 1932. His aircraft reached the amazing height of 37,000 feet – more than seven miles high – where to his horror he ran out of fuel and the engine came to a stop.
‘But whilst I thought and hoped and wondered, the engine note insidiously changed and the pulse of life that vibrated throughout the machine became uncertain. It was happening. The engine was stopping. Five seconds later the power faded and vanished. Only the slipstream strove to spin the broad wooden propeller against the compression of the lifeless engine. Presently that, too, gave up the struggle and the propeller stopped altogether.’
From his first flight to the experience of flying a jet – the Gloster Meteor – Penrose’s well-chosen passages will be a delight to any aviation enthusiast.
|FORMAT||234 x 156 mm|
|PUBLICATION DATE||15 May 2016|
|ILLUSTRATIONS||19 black-and-white illustrations|