Airplane Stories and Histories
by Norman Currey
Inks and Bindings

"So for the first hundred years, we were teaching people how to fly airplanes, and in the second hundred, we’re teaching airplanes to fly themselves!"

As a pilot and aviation engineer for many decades, Currey is well-qualified to pen this volume, an intriguing memoir and historical narrative hybrid highlighting the world history of modern aviation. He shares many interesting anecdotes of the rare appearances of aircraft that he witnessed in the skies over Yorkshire during his youth.

Currey began his career by joining the Air Training Corps in the UK in 1941 and subsequently worked for much of three decades on the design and development of many types of aircraft for de Havilland, Avro Canada, and Lockheed. He is the author of "numerous technical papers and articles and one textbook." Designed for entry-level interest in the field, this volume covers the well-known pioneers of aviation history, such as the Wright brothers, Lindbergh, Earhart, Wiley Post, and others, but also introduces readers to the lesser-known but important luminaries such as Sir George Cayley (1773-1857), considered the father of modern aviation, who preceded the Wright brothers by fifty years in his attempts to design and fly aircraft in the UK. "Sir George Cayley was a born inventor. Not only did he prepare the groundwork for powered flight, but in his 'spare time,' he invented the caterpillar tractor, used on the tanks that were invented for World War I. He also designed, made, and tested missiles with cruciform fins, similar to today's missiles."

Currey also reminds readers of the many other aeronautical pioneers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Otto Lilienthal in Germany (1848-1896), Percy Pilcher in the UK (1866-1899), Octave Chanute, Samuel Pierpont Langley, and Glenn Curtiss in the US, and Clément Ader (1841-1925) in France, among many others. In addition, Currey tracks and discusses the technical progression of both well-known and lesser-known aircraft, both military and commercial, some of which he worked on after WWII. World War I and II enthusiasts will undoubtedly find his discussions of the evolution of fighter planes and jets particularly interesting, as he mentions a plethora of aircraft, how these were developed, and how they performed in specific battles and bombing campaigns.

The narrative also extends into the mid- and late-twentieth century, then into the current aeronautical milieu of drone (UAV) technology, now used by the military and law enforcement in over fifty nations. The development of larger unmanned vehicles such as helicopters is also discussed. "UAVs have already proved their worth, and the USAF is now training more people to fly them than to be conventional pilots. They save lives by watching enemy movements from a safe distance, attacking the enemy without human exposure, or observing natural disasters where volcanic gases or weather conditions could be hazardous. And like bomb disposal robots have been used for several years, they can be of great assistance in safely combating the terrorist or criminal elements in our midst."

The author's book is not a comprehensive study of aviation and aircraft development but serves well as a concise introduction for young adults and adults interested in absorbing the topic's highlights in digestible bits. The down-to-earth, anecdotal writing style and Currey's insider knowledge of the industry make for an easy and engaging read. The book contains many fascinating tidbits that can only be known and revealed by someone working in the field. The chapters feature many illustrations and schematics, and a modest number of bibliographic references for most chapters appear in the endnotes. Many readers will likely be inspired during the reading to stop and do online research of their own to expand their knowledge of the flyers and the aircraft they find the most fascinating. Even readers without a strong interest in aviation will find something of interest in the broad scope of information that Currey covers.

A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

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