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Flying Fury: Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps.

Flying Fury: Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps. By James T.B. McCudden. Haverstown PA and Newbury UK: Casemate, 2009 [originally published 1918]. Photographs. Notes. Pp. 304. $29.95 ISBN: 978-1-935149-1

Royal Flying Corps Major James McCudden, Victoria Cross, well captured his varied experiences in this book, his World War I autobiography. Flying Fury is part of Casemate Publishers' series of reprints of the autobiographies of significant people from the first fifty years of flight. The book opens with McCudden's entry into the military when he enlisted in the British Royal Engineers after three years as a bugler with the Engineers. With encouragement from his brother, McCudden managed to transfer into the Royal Flying Corps as an aircraft mechanic. Though his time in this specialty was short lived, he provided a detailed look into the world of maintenance during the Great War. McCudden next became an aerial gunner flying in Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c aircraft.

Finally, McCudden was selected for pilot training. He weaves an amazing flight-by-flight story of the air war over the trenches. McCudden traced his development from a wingman to a flight leader as his skills as a pilot slowly improved. His stories of engaging German planes and missing soon change to stories of shooting down enemy aircraft. Along the way, McCudden had some fascinating experiences: he flew for a time with fellow British ace, Arthur Rhys-David (25 kills); witnessed the demise of German ace Werner Voss; and saw the Red Baron score one of his 80 confirmed kills. McCudden himself scored 50 kills and was fourth on the list of RFC aces.

In the five years McCudden flew, airplanes rapidly advanced He described what it was like to fly each one of the models he flew, including such famous types as the Bleriot, Farman, Sopwith Pup, and Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5. In fact, a recurring theme throughout the book is the frailty of the airplanes and how short the life expectancy of a World War I pilot was. There are numerous stories of pilots getting shot down, failing to return from a mission, or meeting misfortune when their primitive engines stopped in mid-flight. Unfortunately, McCudden fell into the latter category, dying in July 1918 when he crashed after engine failure shortly after takeoff.

In keeping with a request McCudden made prior to his death, his friend C.G. Grey, editor of "The Aeroplane," saw to it that these memoirs were published. Despite McCudden's request that he edit the book, Grey corrected only spelling and grammar. Hence, what we have are McCudden's raw and unpolished memories written a few months before his fatal crash. As a result, Flying Fury is an absolute unaltered gem. An additional strength of the book is that it covers nearly the entire war, including the very beginning of the Royal Air Force's rich history. While there are chapter notes at the end of the text, this edition lacks the log of McCudden's kills that is available in other editions. Even without such a log, the detailed descriptions make the book a great read, since the pilot's recollections appear to be fresh and without lapses. This is not a book for readers looking for a larger scale analysis of World War I. But it will particularly appeal to readers who want a "there I was" experience.

Dan Simonsen, Lt Col, USAF (Ret)

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Title Annotation:Royal Air Force United Kingdom
Author:Simonsen, Dan
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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