Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
Rate of Climb starts with a series of dedications that stops the reader in his tracks, so to speak – these are to the numerous former colleagues of Rick who have died in flying accidents in the line of duty.
I should declare that I know Rick, otherwise known as RP-E, quite well, and so this review may not be as objective as normal. From my knowledge of the man, I can safely say that it accurately reflects his personality: glass half-full (after he has drained the top half!), extremely gregarious, great networker, and indeed an archetypal former Lightning pilot.
Part of the interest of this book is that Rick comes from a rather unusual background. Heavily influenced by his father, a Battle of Britain pilot, he spent his childhood, from the age of 12, in South Africa. He had actually started a job in South Africa, after university there, before applying to join the RAF. He started Officer Training at South Cerney in 1965. Acklington followed, then fast jet training on the Gnat at Valley. He incorrectly describes the wings of the Gnat as dihedral (in describing its handling characteristics). They are the opposite - anhedral. Coming top of his FJ course, Rick was streamed to the fighter steed of choice of that era – the Lightning.
An unwelcome characteristic of the book is that the author frequently does a lot of name-checking: for example, when he arrives at his first operational squadron (No. 92), he spends two and a half pages running through the leading lights, giving potted biographies of each. Another example of this is a canter through the senior staff at Leeming (see below). This clogs up the narrative flow. When the listing of the former finishes, Rick summarizes: “Those that had the ability to fly the Lightning invariably had the ability to succeed in almost any walk of life” – the words of a true WIWOL (When I Was On Lightnings)!
There are plenty of good stories: one of the best is about the evening when Rick was detailed (with another young thruster colleague) to look after Princess Anne at a Ball held in her honour at the headquarters of RAF Germany. Bear in mind HRH was aged 20 at the time!
Rick was lucky to be in the right place at the outbreak of Gulf War 1. Just after he became Station Commander at Leeming, he was placed in charge of the air defence component out at Dharan, but had to hand this over just before the fighting started.
One of his last roles was as Inspector of Flight Safety, and this enabled him to remain current as captain on an enviable number of types – Tornado F3, Hawk, Tucano, and C130. After retirement from the Air Force, his networking skills came into their own, and he has had one of the busiest post-service careers of anyone I know. I can vouch for the energy he brings to some of these organisations. So Rick’s career, which has been very interesting, is far from over.
The book suffers from very light touch editing: an example is the degree of overlap of content between the Introduction and Chapter One. And there are numerous tracts that could have been rewritten in snappier fashion. Sorry to say, but Rick’s writing style is clunky. For some reason, the paper quality is not up to Grub Street’s usual standards.