Review by Stuart Forth.
If, like me, you still look skywards at the sound of an approaching aeroplane, and you stand in wonder at the sight of a machine passing across the sky before you, then this is the book for you.
In Fast Jets to Spitfires, the author, Ron Lloyd, takes you along for a ride through his career serving as a pilot in the Royal Air Force and as an instructor in his later flying years. Unlike other aviation biographies, Ron really does take you into the cockpit and explains what it is like to fly these aircraft. The pure joy of flight, and the enthusiasm and exhilaration at being in control of an aircraft, comes across in the graphic accounts.
Ron joined the RAF in 1957 and cut his teeth on the venerable Percival Piston Provost, an aircraft that gained him valuable tail dragger experience which was to prove valuable later in his career. His first jet experience came in the de Havilland Vampire, followed by the Hawker Hunter, before being posted to a frontline squadron, flying the Gloster Javelin in the night/all-weather interceptor role.
After Javelins came a posting to the Central Flying School to learn to become an instructor, something the author thrived at. This resulted in selection to fly the Folland Gnat to provide advanced training to RAF students.
It was during this instructing tour that Ron was to receive a phone call offering a ‘chance of a lifetime’ and the opportunity to put his tail dragger experience to good use. He was to spend the next four months flying Spitfires during production of the film The Battle of Britain. I found this to be one of the most fascinating sections of the book, having seen the film many times. The details of the filming are fully explored, including how the whole aerial production unit had to move to the south of France because the English weather wasn’t reproducing the glorious sunshine experienced during the summer of 1940.
On completion of filming, news came through that Ron’s request for an exchange tour with the United States Air Force had been accepted. He was posted to the 4782nd Combat Crew Training Squadron in Texas to fly the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger. On completion of the conversion course, Ron became an instructor on the ‘Deuce’, teaching students to operate the USAF’s first delta wing fighter. The position of instructor pilot gave Ron the chance to fly the T-33 on weekends to almost anywhere in the US his heart desired, something he took advantage of at any opportunity. Many tales of ‘sightseeing’ trips are included.
There followed the usual, unavoidable ground tour, spending three years with the Ministry of Defence in London. Ron missed out on a posting to fly Phantoms and instead was given command of the Yorkshire University Air Squadron, flying the Bulldog. Three years later, Ron left the RAF. He decided a future flying for the airlines was not for him so he set about building a new career as a business executive. Ron didn’t completely give up flying and found weekend work as an instructor at flying clubs around London.
What comes across throughout this book is the pure joy of flight. I’m sure this is what made the author such a successful instructor. I found it rekindled my desire to go flying and reminded me of why I became interested in aviation in the first place. This is an easy book to read with plenty of photos throughout its 230 pages, ideal for anyone with the slightest interest in flying, but beware! You may find yourself visiting your local flying club, with all the financial implications that may incur, after reading it. You have been warned.