Test pilot airmanship

I finally got around to reading a book that’s been sitting in one of the towering piles on my desk for, maybe months? years? A View From The Hover: My Life in Aviation by British test pilot John Farley. I should have read it sooner.

It’s great. An engaging tour of a top test pilot’s professional life, with hard-won flying insights sprinkled in.

“Flying is an exercise in risk management.”

There are way too many pilot autobiographies that drudge through personal life, lists of planes flown, favorite sandwiches, and generally are not worth reading. This is not the case here. John, a clear concise writer, leads us through interesting flights of experimental British aircraft, with a strong emphasis on vertical takeoff/landing and the full life span of the Harrier ‘Jump Jet’. He includes some aerodynamics and general aviation flying chapters, all from a practical test pilot perspective that I found especially illuminating. Real insights on fundamentals like lift/drag and pitch/power.

view hover

“Trying to enhance a reputation by showing off outside your capabilities   (and those of your aircraft) is a pretty well trodden path to hurting yourself.”

Five-year student engineering apprenticeship at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) Farnborough, RAF pilot training and fighter squadron experience, RAF instructor, Empire Test Pilot school, and then the real business of test flying super cool airplanes. He is smart and has a first-rate aeronautical CV. But he is human, sharing good choices and bad, and doesn’t consider himself some kind of flying God.

“My first flying lesson was in an RAF piston Provost in December 1955 and my most recent was my last working flight because you can learn something about flying and yourself every time you get airborne. In between those two lessons there were a lot of flights, a lot of types and some fifty years.”

The book is well over 400 pages, so it’s quite detailed covering many unique aviation exploits. I learnt something about flying from most every page. It is all very British of course, and that’s part of its appeal.

“Ignorance seldom results in bliss when it comes to aeroplanes.”

Indeed. This book was fun to read, and helped erase some more of my ignorance.

Ski jump

(All quotes from A View From the Hover: My Life in Aviation by John Farley, 2nd Edition, 2010, Flyer Books, Bath UK.)

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