Wednesday, January 18, 2012

eBook Review: Flying Fury

James T. B. McCudden, Flying Fury

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2390 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Casemate Publishing (October 19, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0040GJDOO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled 
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  (7 customer reviews)
  • Price: $9.99 

1. Short review: 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The first-person account from one of the First World War top aces. (The Aerodrome lists him seventh in confirmed kills among all Aces.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Historical roller coaster.

2.2. What I did not like: McCudden's account of his early years in the RFC -- 1913 to 1915 -- read slow and he tried too hard to be droll. It is useful for the details that you will not find anywhere else, but his story finds its pace once he gets into FEs.

2.3. Who I think is the audience:  History buffs, especially air combat history buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. That is odd since this is a book about killing.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book?  I would if there were any, but Major McCudden died when his SE5 crashed in July 1918.

2.6. Other:  James McCudden was the most technical pilot of the First World War. He had mechanical abilities that other pilots did not, and he used them. He tweaked the performance of his airplane and got more speed and more altitude from it than other pilots got from their SEs. He used that improved performance to hunt high-flying German two-seaters -- observation airplanes.  Of his 57 kills, 43 were two-seaters.

Besides his talents as a mechanic, McCudden also studied air combat; that is, the best practices for approaching enemy aircraft and for shooting at them (distance, angle, position).

Given all the study and practice of McCudden, I found it astounding how many times he reported that he returned to his aerodrome with his aircraft 'shot about'. Even in 1918 he returned from patrols with bullet holes in his airplane. From this I realized that survival in the air in the First World War was a matter of luck.

In Flying Fury, McCudden provided the definitive example of the role of luck in air combat. He remarked often on the fighting qualities of a German pilot who flew an Albatross fighter with a green-painted tail. McCudden respected this foe for the way he maneuvered to reduce his risk. One day McCudden caught 'Green Tail' leading a formation, dove on the formation, surprised them, and shot down 'Green Tail'.

In many ways, 'Green Tail' was McCudden's German equivalent: a student of air combat who worked to reduce risk. Both died in the war; 'Green Tail' because he was surprised in the air, McCudden because his engine failed on take-off.

There are many discussions on The Aerodrome website -- a site devoted to WWI air combat -- about the identity of 'Green Tail'. From what I gather there, all pilots in Jasta 5 flew Albatrosses with green-painted horizontal stabilizers and elevators trimmed in red. McCudden may have mistakenly conceived there was only one German pilot who flew a green-tailed Albatross.

The experts on The Aerodrome disagree on whom it was that McCudden shot down 18 February 1918. McCudden's description was consistent with the Albatross flown by Vzfw Otto Koennecke, but Koennecke survived the war. That alone is not definitive. He might have been shot down and survived. Rittmeister Manfred von Richtofen, aka the Red Baron, was shot down twice before his death 21 April 1918. But Koennecke was not shot down that day.

Some say McCudden's victim was Vzfw Martin Klein of Jasta 5. Others say it was Uffz Julius Kaiser of Jasta 35b. As with all things, you pays your money, you takes your choices.)

2.7. Links:

2.8. Buy the book:  Flying Fury


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