- Book reviewer
- Naval Aviation, Ship design and development, Book reviews, Aviation, Naval Technology
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Melbourne II, HMAS Sydney III
- February 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
A Century of Carrier Aviation: The Evolution of Ships and Shipborne Aircraft.
By David Hobbs.
Seaforth Publishing (2009). ISBN 978-1-84832-019-2.
Reviewed by Commodore (P) John Da Costa RAN (Rtd)
This large hard-cover glossy book (250 x 300 x 30mm) is an excellently researched and illustrated volume covering a century of the evolution of naval aviation, both with regard to the aircraft and to the ships which were developed to meet the challenges of this 20th century revolution in the nature of naval warfare at sea.
The author, Commander David Hobbs MBE RN (Rtd), a retired Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm pilot, has written extensively on naval aviation and has lectured on the subject to audiences around the world, including in Australia. During his RN service he flew both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters and, whilst serving in the Ministry of Defence, was responsible for developing techniques for the operation of Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) fighters from the Royal Navy’s Invincible class of carriers. After retiring from the RN, he was the Curator of the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton, Somerset, UK, for eight years. His background certainly suggests that he is well qualified to have compiled this comprehensive history, an adjective which is used advisedly.
The history begins as far back as 1905 when the Wright Brothers’ greatest achievement had been a 24-mile flight. In early 1907 a Lady Jane Taylor, acting as an agent of the Wrights, had negotiations with Lord Tweedmouth, the First Lord of the Admiralty, with a view to the sale of 50 aircraft to the British Government. However, on 7 March 1907, Lord Tweedmouth abruptly terminated the negotiations, stating: ‘I have consulted my expert (?) advisors with regard to your suggestions as to the employment of ‘aeroplanes, and I regret … after careful consideration,. that the Admiralty.., are of the opinion that they would not be of any practical use to the Naval Service.‘ (Question mark inserted by reviewer). Hobbs then proceeds to cover, in great detail, every significant development in both aircraft and ships, from the introduction into the RN of a rigid airship (R-1) in 1909 through to present-day naval aviation world-wide, including details of projected aircraft and ships out to 2019.
The author acknowledges that this history is written from a Royal Navy viewpoint. However, whilst pointing out that much of the early pioneering efforts regarding naval aviation, and most innovations which have led to today’s modern carrier operations, were carried out or invented by the British, the author willingly concedes that the practical implementation of those developments was usually carried out first by the US Navy, ‘which has perfected the art of carrier operations with the magnificent Nimitz-class ships’. He does make the point, though, that the three major design and technological improvements to aircraft carriers in the middle of the 20thcentury were British concepts and that the driving force behind them was that Britain had smaller carriers than the United States in the early 1950s, with no immediate prospects of new and larger ones being introduced. As a consequence, the development of the angled flight deck concept, the mirror deck-landing aid and the steam driven catapult to enable the launch of heavier and faster aircraft, were matters of necessity for the Royal Navy if it was to seriously stay in the business of organic aircraft operations at sea.
The Australian aircraft carriers Sydney and Melbourne also get brief mentions in this history; Sydney, as one of the earliest carriers to embark a helicopter for SAR duties (a USN 5-51 Dragonfly in Korean waters) and Melbourne, as one of the first carriers in the world to be constructed with all three new developments (angled deck, steam catapult and mirror landing aid), USS Shangri-La (early February), HMS Ark Royal (25 February) and both USS Forrestal and HMAS Melbourne later in 1955, shared that distinction. (As an RAN naval aviator, this reviewer was weaned on the story that Melbourne was the first, but Hobbs appears to sink that claim!).
In this history, Hobbs addresses, or mentions, every other major player in the history of naval aviation, including the Japanese, Italian, French, Russian, Indian, Chinese and Thai Navies.
The book is strongly recommended to all who have an interest in naval aviation and associated warships. The text is rich in technical and human detail and is profusely illustrated, many of the photographs coming from the author’s own collection and quite a few from the Sea Power Centre – Australia. It is written in a non-academic vein and makes for a towering reference book on all aspects of the subject.