It’s been 30 years in the making, so please forgive the intrusion of another book ad! The S&G has followed up its tale of the Ferrari 312T from last year with a new addition to the Haynes series of manuals for landmark aeroplanes and racing cars: the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 series.
The S.E.5 was unquestionably the most advanced fighter in the world when it appeared over the Western Front in April 1917. It went on to become arguably the most successful fighter of the war not only in the number of ‘aces’ created at its controls but also in the number of pilots who survived encounters when, in lesser designs, they would undoubtedly have been killed.
If anyone today has cause to think of World War 1 fighters, they will probably default to the Sopwith Camel (which has gone on to be flown in fiction by the likes of Biggles and The Great Waldo Pepper), and the Fokker Triplane (synonymous with the Red Baron) – rather than the more prosaically-named S.E.5.
As with most British military contracts, the design and production of the S.E.5 was fraught with intrigue, thanks to the dizzying whirl of parliamentarian and agent provocateur Noel Pemberton-Billing amongst others. The Royal Aircraft Factory was a government-funded tool to promote excellence in aircraft design, and independent factories resented it being awarded large and lucrative contracts – to the point where it was blamed almost exclusively for all the shortcomings in British aviation.
Nevertheless, the S.E.5 prevailed and its most high-profile and ardent critic, the ace Albert Ball, soon came to both hone and rely upon its many great qualities in battle. From the type’s debut with Ball and the other men of 56 Squadron, the S.E.5 would go on to become the Spitfire of WW1, not only flying over the Western Front but also flying in defence of London from increasing aerial attack, in the deserts of Mesopotamia and in the Russian civil war.
It became a popular leisure aeroplane in the 1920s, was the backbone of the skywriting phenomenon in the 1930s and then disappeared from view. Today the Shuttleworth Collection operates its S.E.5 as the last airworthy original WW1 aeroplane still flying, movie mogul Sir Peter Jackson has built three brand new machines to original specification and in the course of writing the book, Richard Grace at Air Leasing restored the licence-built American SE-5E formerly owned by the Hon. Pat Lindsay to flying condition after a quarter of a century.
With the enormous help and support of Shuttleworth display pilot Rob Millinship, Richard Grace of Air Leasing, Gene De Marco at The Vintage Aviator Ltd, the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust, the Shuttleworth Collection, the Brooklands Museum, Darren Harbar, the RAF Museum, the Imperial War Museum and a host of others, the book tells the story of the S.E.5 in full, the people who built it, the factories in which it was built, the places where it fought and the lives of those whom it touched on all sides.
Unlike ‘regular’ Haynes manuals, it is unlikely that the buyer is intent upon restoring or servicing an S.E.5 for themselves (but a fairly decent guide to doing so is included). More importantly, it should be of value to the many model makers who enjoy producing accurate miniature versions of the type, with a wealth of photographic material and drawings to work from.
Moreover, it is the result of this author’s abiding passion for the aeroplane and its achievements in the hands of unutterably brave young men like Ball and Edward Mannock. Its impact is still felt, from Pattishall Village Hall to the dining room table, where the Ball family cake recipe – included in the book – is a firm favourite.
So, if that sounds like your bag, please feel free to order a copy!