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Best of Breed: The Hawker Hunter FR10.

Best of Breed: The Hawker Hunter FR10. By Nigel Walpole. South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Aviation, 2006. Photographs, Bibliography, Index. Pp. xiii, 215. $34.00 ISBN: 1-84415-412-2

This book describes the training and operational life of the Hawker Siddeley Hunter FR10 in the British Royal Air Force. The Hunter has been described by aviation historians as Britain's most successful post-war jet aircraft and the best fighter-reconnaissance aircraft ever built. Initial design work on the intended replacement for the Gloster Meteor began in 1948. Nine years later, Hawker began conversion of the Hunter F6 into a reconnaissance fighter, the FR10, incorporating a tail parachute, UHF radio, voice recorder, and three nose cameras. Delivery of 43 FR10s began in September 1960.

Walpole has ably captured the aircraft and its role but also the "ethos and personalities" of the Cold War pilots who flew the aircraft both in Germany and the Middle East during the 1960s. His intent was to describe the work and play "within the FR fraternity of the 1960s" from their commitments to NATO to Aden and Bahrain. Walpole makes no excuses for his views on how armed reconnaissance could and should have "contributed to the land/air battle." His main goal was to dismiss misconceptions on the role of the FR10 both then and today; he more than skillfully achieves this.

Walpole asserts early that the FR10 was the "perfect platform for the dual roles of recce and attack" and was in fact the "best of the Hunter breed." During operational training of Hunter FR10 pilots, every aspect of its potential was addressed; from reaching and acquiring targets to assimilating target information to most effective use of the cameras. FR10 pilots often operated alone and at ranges outside radio contact. They had to be meticulous flight planners, conduct comprehensive target studies, and have visual acuity and a retentive memory for the visual reconnaissance mission. Walpole brings to the reader's attention the nearly impossible taskings given FR10s. However, the FR10 proved its capabilities during various NATO exercises and in combat duty in Gibraltar and Aden.

Competitions within military aviation have always been a fact of life. One of these was the strictly reconnaissance Royal Flush held annually between the 2d and 4th Allied Tactical Air Forces. For nine years, FR10s participated against Republic RF-84F Thunderjets, McDonnell RF-101 Voodoos, Lockheed RF-104 Starfighters, McDonnell Douglas RF-4C Phantom IIs, and occasional French Dassault Mirages. During the initial years, Royal Flush was held on one base. This provided a venue for participants to cross-feed operational techniques and experiences. Changes made in 1964, where squadrons flew a common pattern from their home stations, reduced the effectiveness of the exercise considerably.

The jewel of Best of Breed comes in three of the later chapters which touch on FR10 combat operations: "Gibraltar Duty," "Action in Aden," and "Gulf Watchdogs." During the summer of 1967, Spain imposed a no-fly zone around Gibraltar. FR10 squadrons were required to keep a continuous presence of two aircraft in the colony to safeguard British airspace sovereignty along with harassment-free access to civilian and military aircraft. Four years prior to this, the British colony of Aden merged with members of the Federation of the Emirates of the South, forming the Federation of South Arabia. This federation was opposed by the people of Aden, and two rival national groups emerged. FR10's based out of RAF Khormaksar provided near-real-time information on activities throughout the area to infantry, Royal Marine, Parachute Regiment, and Special Air Service (SAS) units. In support of these units the FR10 proved their worth. Walpole points to particular missions where FR10 capabilities were well received. During one mission, an SAS patrol had been ambushed and surrounded with the FR10s coming in and carrying out continuous reconnaissance and repeated attacks until nightfall when the patrol was able to break free. Another mission involved FR10s assisting soldiers who were sent to assist the crew of an Army helicopter which had been shot down. Walpole acknowledges that during their stay in Aden, Hunter pilots were labeled as "terrible," "irresponsible," "hard living and hard drinking," but always blamed their behavior on the various "dangers they faced."

Best of Breed is an excellent history of the Hawker Hunter FR10 and its RAF service. Walpole does an exceptional job relating the various aspects of training an FR10 pilot went through at RAF Chivenor to their combat service in Aden and Gibraltar. Conversely, as he states in one of the final chapters, the history of the FR10 would not be complete if it were not for the ground troops who serviced and maintained the jets. Without their dedication and understanding of the mission, the FR10 would not have had such a storied history. Historians of aviation reconnaissance aircraft would be remiss not to have this volume on their shelves.

R. Ray Ortensie, Staff Historian, Air Education & Training Command, Randolph AFB, Texas
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Author:Ortensie, R. Ray
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2009
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